For Jessie McLachlan, the path to becoming one of Australia’s preeminent film and TV actresses began when she was just 6 years old. It was then she started to refine and perfect her skills by undergoing speech, dance and theatre lessons. Before her 8th birthday, she’d become a National Irish Dancer, and McLachlan found her groove by auditioning and performing in front of her Grandmother, Ann.
“I had found a home in performing,” she said. “It gave me a sense of euphoria, a high, but a certainty feeling.”
McLachlan parlayed those feelings and experiences into a coveted career many pursue and few achieve.
She’s accumulated an impressive filmography highlighted by her acting roles in more than 40 TV episodes for series including Village Roadshow’s “The Shire,” Seven Network’s 28-year running, award-winning drama, “Home and Away,” the hour-long comedy drama, “Packed to the Rafters” and Nickelodeon Network’s “Dance Academy.”
She’s starred in Dan Castle’s award-winning drama feature, “Newcastle,” and in Tom Simes’ feature family drama, “Run, Broken Yet Brave.” She’s been recognized for her singing, dancing and modeling as well that has collectively culminated into a rare package of a true do-it-all actress.
“It has given me a greater in-depth understanding of my passion to create,” McLachlan said. “It has allowed me to use each of my experiences in 20 years of performing to lend an emotion, movement, feeling or expression to a performance and do it with conviction.”
Performing often is a family affair and so was the case for McLachlan. Her elder sister, Zoe, studied film and TV in high school and college. Those choices influenced and paved the way for McLachlan’s introduction into acting.
“I was always in her films and projects,” she said, “so that really sparked my film interest. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
One of her early performances came in a play called “Parramatta Girls,” which was about women who had served time in Australia’s most notorious girls’ detention center as children. “It was a really powerful piece I did when I was 15, and something I am the most proud to have been a part of,” said McLachlan.
Inspired by the “Harry Potter” franchise during childhood and influenced by the on-screen work of greats such as Helena Bonham Carter, Daniel Day Lewis and Martin Scorsese, a shortlist of some of McLachlan’s favorite films include “Schindler’s List,” “Philadelphia” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”
She says the best actors are “those who protect their creative essence, especially in this industry. Those who use every scene as a lesson and find the growth and learning from each frame, even if they are an Oscar winner. Remembering passion is humbling.”
Continuing her specialized acting training into adulthood, McLachlan has studied under the esteemed tutelage at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (Sydney, Australia), Lee Strasberg (New York), Stella Adler (Los Angeles) and with the renowned acting coach Michelle Danner, in Los Angeles.
“I wanted to keep learning and be challenged by different techniques. I live my life by being ‘water’ flexible and being able to adapt and I want that to be able to carry over into each character I play,” she said. “Michelle Danner has been my favorite. She really challenges me to lose myself in a character, and she sets in motion out of the box perspectives.”
In 2006, McLachlan acted in her first film, “Spaced Out,” a sci-fi comedy directed and written by Scott Grenke. While 14 years old at the time, she played the role of an alien character in the cast. The experience proved valuable and guided McLachlan’s pursuit of acting for film and TV.
“I learned so much on that set and from my fellow actors,” she said. “It was also a moment of clarity and really affirmed my passion for film and the direction I would like to take my career.”
Two years later, McLachlan was starring as Rachel in the drama feature, “Newcastle,” that won a FilmOut Festival Award and followed the story of a group of Australian surfers. In 2009, she starred as Anna in the feature film, “Run, Broken Yet Brave.” From 2010-2011, McLachlan played the recurring role of Samantha Braxton for 27 episodes of “Home and Away” and she also starred as Jayde on “Packed to the Rafters.”
“I worked with Jessie throughout the third season of the Seven Network’s wildly successful family dramedy, “Packed to the Rafters,’” said Logie Award winning actress Brooke Satchwell. “Jessie performed the leading character of Jayde Smith, a worker at the yacht club owned by the Rafters and a former fling of son Ben Rafter. After taking a gap year following high school graduation, Jayde returns, still wanting and caring for Ben, who is now engaged. The role required an actress who could convey the emotional burden and yearnings of such a character, and Jessie not only thrived in this dynamic but also excelled in any expectations that were made of her and her character.”
McLachlan’s acted in leading roles in short films including in Jeremiah Cleman’s “Modern Day Saint,” Antonio Orena-Barlin’s “Suburbia” and Omer Zekirovski’s “Tibor – Your Not from Gosford Are Ya.”
McLachlan worked with Logie Award winning actress Jodi Gordon on “Suburbia,” a short drama about a man who gets his girlfriend a job as a florist, but later finds out the unassuming front of suburbia isn’t what it appears.
“Jessie’s leading performance as Monica was as impressive of a performance as it was crucial to the driving plot of the film itself,” said Gordon, who played Tara in the film. “I was thoroughly impressed with the way in which she translated Monica’s character traits from page to on camera. The film was nominated for Australian Film Institute Award for Best Short Fiction Film, an achievement that would not have been possible without Jessie’s extraordinary performance throughout the film.”
Comparing feature film roles to those of her TV and short filmography, McLachlan said, “The pace in filming has a different tempo. Morphing into the character is also a different process. A challenging aspect I found with short films is ensuring the layers of the character are portrayed. I put a lot of pressure on myself in really wanting the audience to feel the joy, pain or journey with the character.”
It is international audiences who have enjoyed the characters McLachlan’s portrayed and they’ve each been made possible through her own journey as an actress.