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NIDA Alumnus Alexander D’Souza on His Role in Prosper

NIDA Alumnus Alexander D’Souza (Diploma of Stage and Screen Performance, 2022) plays Moses Quinn in the acclaimed Stan Originals series, Prosper. In this interview, Alexander delves into his preparation process, shares his experiences working with high-profile actors, including fellow NIDA alumnus Richard Roxburgh (Acting 1986), and discusses the joys and challenges of his first major role.

Congratulations on being cast in the Stan Original Series Prosper, can you please tell us a bit about the show and who you play in the story?

Prosper is a drama that follows the Quinns, the family in charge of a prevalent Sydney megachurch, ‘U Star’. As Cal Quinn, the founder and senior pastor, proposes an expansion into the US, the Quinns are forced to face the realities of their own ambition and faith, as well as come to terms with family secrets that may tear them apart. I play Moses Quinn, the adopted and youngest son in the family. He’s certainly privileged, knowing only lavish wealth and high-profile parents and is trouble running with the wrong crowd. But behind all that, he’s a child disconnected from his true origins, wondering how he fits into the great Quinn family.

From the moment of getting cast can you please share what the next steps were until your first day of shooting? And what kind of preparation you did?

There was certainly some panic for the first few days! But after that subsided, there was a whole lot of reading scripts and watching whatever I could get my hands on: youtube videos, documentaries, and articles. I wanted to find out everything I could about existing megachurches, the families behind them and especially the kids of those head pastors. From there it was about fleshing out a backstory, a timeline of events before and during the story and finding his physicality – from reading the scripts, Moses is often moving around and getting into trouble, so I thought it would be important to figure out how he walks, sits and otherwise interacts with that crazy world around him. I also stole some mannerisms from my younger brother and an older cousin who both remind me a bit of Moses.

From left to right: Alexander D' Souza, Ming-Zhu Hii, Jordi Webber, Emma Horn, and Andrea Solonge. Photo by Nicholas Coghlan.

From left to right: Alexander D’ Souza, Ming-Zhu Hii, Jordi Webber, Emma Horn, and Andrea Solonge. Photo by Nicholas Coghlan.

How was your first day on set? How did NIDA prepare you for working with such a large-scale production?

My first day on set was a mixture of emotions – nerves, excitement, worry. But more than anything, I had a great sense of gratitude — not only was I finally doing it, the thing I dreamt of since I was a kid, but I was also extremely thankful that all the hours of laughter, tears and everything in between at NIDA were moments that had gotten me here and that I had already learnt from. NIDA had provided me with the discipline and the toolbox to kick me off the starting blocks, but more than anything: an eagerness to learn. I knew that whatever came from this experience, I would be a better actor for it, and I certainly am.

How was your experience working with such high-profile actors such as Richard Roxburgh and Rebecca Gibney?

It really was a masterclass to step on to set with those two, and all the other cast members as well – when you have a group of very talented people bringing their A-game, it forces you to keep cracking on as well. And at the same time, there was absolutely no ego with anyone, it honestly felt like a family. Both Rox and Bec were so easy to work off and their experience just oozes out of them. Watching the series back, it’s incredible to see how natural their performances are.

What did a day on set look like for you?

As soon as I arrived, I would basically head straight into the make-up chair. One thing I noticed about Rox and Bec especially is how courteous they are to everyone on set and how much they try to learn the names of everyone in the crew. It really does help to know who does what because everyone is there to help you and make sure the show is the best it can be. After make-up, I’d head to one of the trailers to put on my costume and get some food and go over my notes and annotations on the sides for the day. The times of day on set are often very variable. Some of the locations, I’d be out there by 4am and on other days you might be staying until 11:30 at night, so you need to try and keep that spirit of ‘play’ alive as much as possible by soaking in every second you can. A couple of dance battles off-camera with Jordi Webber (who plays Benji in the show) definitely helped with that!

Can you discuss the collaboration between the actors and the director? How did the director guide your performance and contribute to the creative process?

We were very lucky to work with two wonderful directors across the series – Jennifer Leacey directed the first four episodes and Shaun Wilson directed the second four. Both were a joy to work with and taught me heaps, having two different directorial styles. Moses undergoes a great deal of transformation across the series and so, with Shaun especially, we would meet and sometimes chat over the phone about where we could take the character and what kinds of things we wanted to explore with him. With Jen, opening the series, it was important to establish the family dynamic and where Moses fits in, and Jen’s direction allowed us to play and workshop the different relationships within the Quinns. On set, when we’re setting up a shot, we’d do one or two rehearsals with what we’ve imagined before arriving so the DOP (Director of Photography) and camera operators can set up what they need to capture, as well as to give Jen or Shaun a chance to give some direction to us and make sure we’re telling the story as best we can. I’ve seen an interview with Greta Gerwig (I think…) where she says, and I’m paraphrasing, when an actor gets given direction, there’s often this incorrect assumption that what they thought initially or prepared is wrong and that’s not the case. Instead, the actor should look at their direction as ‘ok, I now know where to take this.’ It really is all about collaboration, otherwise what’s the point of it all?

NIDA Alumnus Richard Roxburgh (Acting,1986)

NIDA Alumnus Richard Roxburgh (Acting,1986) is Cal Quinn in Prosper, a Stan Originals Series. Photo by: Lisa Tomasetti

How did the set design and costumes contribute to your understanding of the character and the overall tone of the project?

Both were hugely influential. Again, working with such talented people, there was a real level of detail in their work that made mine a whole lot easier. The locations were incredible to work on and it really helps to immerse you into that world. I remember Bec saying that on stage at our amazing ‘U Star’ location, it really felt like a divine energy was present, and feelings like those give you less to ‘act’ – which is everything you could want. Funnily enough, I turned up to my first costume fitting imagining Moses would be wearing a completely different set of clothes to the ones they had in mind. But after trying the ones sorted by the costume department, I saw Moses from a new perspective, and it gave me an insight into the kinds of people he looks up to as well as the message he wants people to receive at first glance of him.

What was your most memorable or challenging day on set, and how did you navigate through it?

It’s hard to kind of pinpoint a most memorable day because the whole thing was truly some of the most fun I think I’ve ever had in my life! But I do remember one of the more taxing days in my final week of shooting. We had to get through four or five scenes in that one day, and of course it’s all shot out-of-sequence and there’s costume and makeup changes throughout, and on those days, it can seem like this giant mountain to climb. But it’s honestly the same trick as breaking down a script, you just take it moment by moment. When you’re on set, you worry about the thing in front of you. After that’s done, great, move on to the next. It’s all problem solving on the go. And, at the end of the day, sometimes it’s good to remind yourself we’re not performing neurosurgery here, we’re playing dress ups: no one’s gonna die if it’s not “perfect”.

Can you share a funny or memorable behind-the-scenes moment that happened during the production?

In episode three, there’s a scene where we all celebrate a family member’s birthday and the props team had laid out a beautiful charcuterie board with cheese, crackers and some different assorted meats. The scene was starting to cut into our lunch break and Jordi and I were getting quite hungry. So, ingeniously, we started to eat some of the platter – after all it still made sense in the scene. It wasn’t until after we finished filming that scene, and of course we were being quite smug about how smart we were, that a member of the props department explained to us that what we ate was stale food that had been kept out in the sun for a few days. I can’t speak for Jordi, but I certainly didn’t feel all that smart later that evening!

What advice would you give to aspiring actors?

Just to go for it! It’s a serious slog, but if you’re willing to put in the hours and study the craft as much as you can – practising and failing, reading books, watching the great actors, directors, writers – you will find success and satisfaction in what you do. There’s a scene in The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco, when one of the characters – an older actress who lives some distance from set – after just fainting during filming due to unworkable conditions, is asked “why bother”? And she says, “Because we’re actors… even the worst day on a movie set is better than the best day anywhere else.” And I couldn’t agree more.

Are there any roles or genres you’re interested in exploring in the future?

That’s a great question. And my answer is ‘I don’t know’. I’ve learned that you just have to follow your curiosity, whichever weird or quirky path it may take. I do hope my next role is something a little different to Moses, I just want to keep stretching and pushing myself because I know that’s where the most satisfaction is. And if I ever get the chance to revisit Moses, I would be very excited to see what can happen next!