PULLING off a World War I film with the budget equivalent of “the catering bill for a Hollywood movie” is no mean feat, admits Denai Gracie.
The 35-year-old actress, producer and writer, of Bonython, is fresh from production of “Forbidden Ground”, a small-budget war drama shot in Dubbo.
Denai stars in the film as Grace Wilkins, the troubled wife of sergeant major Arthur Wilkins (played by Australian actor Johan Earl), and produced the film alongside Earl.
Since its December release the film, distributed by Canadian-American entertainment company Lionsgate, has surpassed expectations; screening around the globe and picking up two awards, for Best Production at the 2013 Intercultural Film Festival in Sydney and Best Cinematography at the Australian Cinematographers Society Awards.
“We were amazed when we won the awards, because when we set out to make this film, we just wanted something we could show the people and say ‘this is what we made from nothing’,” Denai says.
Denai, who was born in Sydney but has lived in Canberra “on and off” since she was eight, has produced four other films, including 2007 sci-fi thriller “Gabriel” and more recently, another sci fi film, “Infini,” starring Luke Hemsworth (brother of Hollywood heartthrobs Liam and Chris).
Her love of the film industry began in Canberra, where she studied screenwriting at the University of Canberra and starred in small-scale theatre productions such as “Annie”.
“Back then there wasn’t much else around for aspiring actors, but I loved theatre, it was so much fun,” Denai says.
Then came TV commercials, small roles in television shows and later, film offers.
“I started doing a mixed bag with film – whether it be a small role, co-producing, or script revisions – I found I loved it all, but film was my greatest love,” she says.
When she’s not on set, Denai teaches horse riding “to pay the bills” and has just finished writing a screenplay, about how far parents will go to find their missing child, which she wrote from her parents’ Bonython home.
She admits she would move to LA “tomorrow” if she could.
“The US move is definitely in the works, many of my friends have done the leap there… I’m just in the process of trying to find management and we’ll see where I go from there,” Denai says.
She admits the film industry is often brutal and unpredictable.
“I try and go into every audition thinking ‘I’m going to have fun’, because I love what I do and the minute you start thinking of it as work, it’s not worth it,” she says.