Karlisha Hurley arrives to our interview fresh from a pre-release screening of her latest film, Wrapped, directed by Calen Coates. In it, she plays the lead role, Abby, who overcomes her insecurities and learns to stand up for herself by stealing back a birthday present from a drug dealer who has robbed her. The unopened present was from her mother who had recently been killed in a car accident. Abby’s journey is just like life itself; it’s both comedic and tragic.
A particularly captivating scene in Wrapped is during the kidnapping of the two lead characters, Karlisha and Sawyer, played by actor Danny Irizarry. The scene is an emotionally difficult one because of the detail Karlisha has to go within the character to honestly portray the actions and depth of the overall situation. The diversity of Karlisha’s skills are superbly conveyed here as she speaks to Sawyer. Not only is she frightened and angry about the situation she finds them in but she begins to openly grieve about her mother’s passing and exposes her own guilt and self-destruction as she blames herself. Karlisha’s natural reaction combined with masterful technique captures the audience’s sympathy and draws them into her character so deeply they are mesmerised into willing her to succeed.
The role marks a continuation of a trend in Karlisha’s career – that of appearing in compelling film projects, while also staying in the public consciousness through a successful run of commercially driven projects befitting any young Hollywood star.
“It’s not necessarily planned – I just gravitate towards what roles I’m interested in and they are often gritty, challenging and highly emotional roles. As it happens, those types of roles and projects – I guess, the more ‘indie’ ones – are what attracts more commercial opportunities.”
It’s a common pattern: big-budget producers generally want to borrow from the street cred of artistically driven actors like Karlisha. Oscar-winner Casey Affleck has built a career on it, much like Oscar-nominee Chloé Sevigny or Michelle Williams.
While Karlisha has jumped from edgy film projects like Red Wire (directed by Gary O’Toole), Hello Tom Sullivan (directed by David Raynor) and Hostages: Don’t Take Another Step (from Kristine May), shot all over the world, she’s most recently garnered the attention of audiences in her role in O.A.R.’s music video – Miss You All the Time – which attracted nearly 4 million views.
Indeed, it would be entirely untruthful to say that Karlisha turns her back on the mainstream parts of the industry. For one, the industry has embraced her with awards from the Hollywood International Moving Pictures Film Festival, the same year that Constance Ejuma of Black Panther and Robert Clohessy of The Avengers, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Place Beyond the Pines, with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, won acting awards. Adding to that triumph, Karlisha maintains a tie to her home country by playing a major role at Australians in Film (AIF), the esteemed organisation that has solidified Australian A-listers’ places in the film and TV worlds of Los Angeles.
“AIF is so supportive, I’m really lucky to be an Industry Member there.”
Karlisha’s ‘industry membership’, reserved only for VIPs in the same vein of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, is one such watershed in the career of the young Miss Hurley, who in the past several years has had work screen at a number of international and American film festivals.
Among these were the San Francisco Film Awards and LA Independent Film Festival for projects like Hello Tom Sullivan and Karlisha and Morgan, directed By David Raynor. Industry insiders acclaimed Karlisha’s work, which in the performance of Karlisha and Morgan – playing two roles in the same film – demonstrated a nuanced sense of her craft few other young performers are able to showcase.
One example was the scene in which she plays ‘Morgan’, the spirit of a dead teenager who has suicided after being bullied at school; she is angry and wants the world to stop ‘sweeping under the carpet’ student suicides and do something about addressing their cause. The intensity of Karlisha’s anger balanced with her empathy for the victims and shown through the deep control of her revealing stare, her emotional facial expression and reactive body movement are all captivating and disturbing, demonstrating an award winning performance of a quality well beyond her years.
The Other Project, Hello Tom Sullivan – in which Karlisha rescues a disadvantaged teenage boy, Tom Sullivan, from bullying – called for Karlisha to deliver an immense level of strength and sympathy for the role of Cynthia. When Cynthia and Tom meet for the first time, you can see a genuine evolving spark between the two characters, showing a high level of skill and technique delivered naturally by Karlisha. When introducing a character to an audience, it can be difficult for an actor to portray exactly the emotions and qualities of the character as envisioned by a director, but Karlisha depicts the essence of the character beautifully. As Cynthia walks Tom home after rescuing him, Karlisha’s body movement and emotion when talking to him gives the audience a perfect idea of what her character is like; her quirkiness and innocence, rising beneath her need for affirmation and acceptance.
Producer/Director Lucinda Bruce (The Faceless Man, 350 Days and FSM) says: “Karlisha has an amazing presence about her. Her acting is beautifully structured and I can’t wait to see all the projects she has in the making.”
Editor of Sharknado William Boodell, who directed Karlisha in Sister Mercy, says: “Karlisha is truly a remarkable performer able to work under high pressure on difficult material with great finesse.”
Performances such as these have not gone unnoticed by mainstream media, as Karlisha has been featured prominently in publications like the Northern Territory News, Surfcoast Times, Leader newspapers and Cinema Australia.
“I’m so grateful for the amount of interest and support I get from the media. Honestly I’m just happy they love hearing about my latest films and enjoy my contributions to the Hollywood film industry as much as I do.”