Cody Fern was worried he’d just stepped in it.
Ironic, considering what he just said that gave him pause was about confidence – “I don’t have a problem with confidence”, he declared in an assured manner only seconds earlier.
But he knew how that sounded. He quickly corrected, “I don’t mean that in an arrogant way at all, it’s not about arrogance.”
Fern, 32, has enough to be confident about, having come home from LA after an insanely busy couple of years in the US, bouncing from role to role on American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, House of Cards and then two seasons of American Horror Story, Apocalypse and 1984.
Now, the WA-born actor was on the set of Eden, a new Australian drama filmed just outside of Byron Bay, sitting next to co-star BeBe Bettencourt.
His remark about confidence didn’t come out of nowhere, he had just been asked about being in prolific TV producer Ryan Murphy’s repertory of actors, which sees him sharing screen time with the likes of Sarah Paulson and Kathy Bates.
He’s also worked with disgraced actor Kevin Spacey, on the final season of House of Cards before Spacey was sacked and his scenes cut – “I worked with Kevin Spacey for months, saw what he was like on set, so there’s that train wreck, you know? But that’s a whole different story, that’s for the memoir”.
But Fern was keen to explain that “confidence” statement, linking it back to when he first started acting in Australia and being told that wasn’t “Australian enough for productions”.
“Whatever that meant,” he said. “I’m like, ‘well, I’m born and raised here, so which boxes do I not tick for you?’. And that was my struggle for a long time in Australia, and it really pissed me off.
“That can warp you because you what happens is you start to say, ‘I can’t do this or I’m not good enough or this is never going to be allowed’. So, you have to find a way to shut out all the noise and be focused on what you want to achieve, and you can’t let that go.
“Whatever slings and arrows are along the way, you have to have the confidence to shake that off and say ‘no’. Because you get to LA or when you’re working with somebody like Ryan Murphy, they don’t have time for you to be insecure.
“Actually, this goes to the larger message of the arts. It’s actually not about you as an actor, it’s not about you, it’s about the audience. It’s about their experience, it’s about the story. It’s much bigger than just you and your insecurities.
“I think there’s artistic confidence, which is knowing what you’re going after, and then there’s artistic arrogance, and you want to be careful about that.”
Fern has spent the afternoon filming a scene in which his character is dressed in a skin-tight body suit, so a little confidence comes in handy.
There’s something of a meta layer in Fern’s character in Eden, Andy Dolan. Andy is a hotshot Hollywood actor in mid-breakdown and returning home to let it play out – he’s supposed to be in rehab but it’s not going so well.
“There’s something about a character like this,” Fern explained of Andy’s neuroses. “We all reach those moments in our lives, sometimes more extreme than others where there’s a level of self-willed annihilation. And if you can overcome that, it’s like a rebirth and you’ve defeated that thing.
“I’ve been on that precipice many times – it’s the most exciting place to be as a human being, when everything is just out of your grasp. You want to figure out who you are, you want to succeed, and you want to overcome. It’s a really exciting place to be as an artist.
“Where Andy is, it’s not healthy. He’s in the middle of that storm.”
It didn’t take much convincing for Fern to board Eden, about a five-minute pitch from one of the series’ directors, John Curran, over video call.
But there’s something about being asked to be part of Eden now that strikes a nerve because it was an opportunity that wasn’t open to him only a handful of years ago when he was still based in Australia instead of in the US. Eden is Fern’s first Australian TV role.
“Because of my success internationally, now a lot of Australian scripts pass my table,” he said. “In a way it angers me because when I was here, there was a lack of recognition that there’s homegrown talent, that the country can foster, support and get behind and bring up those who will then go overseas and have their successes.
“And it’s annoyed me that when I was here, all anybody wanted was the same person who had been in the same show and the next show and the next show. Not to take anything away from their talent.
“But this country needs to do a lot to inspire support and nurture local talent. That’s what this production is doing extraordinarily well.”
Eden is a mix of established local talent such as Samuel Johnson as well as Australian actors who’ve had more successes overseas than at home, including Fern, Keiynan Lonsdale and Christopher Baker, as well as new-found talent such as the two leads, Sophie Wilde and Bettencourt.
“The reason I’ve resisted coming back for a long time is because I really think that it’s valuable to support local talent,” Fern explained further. “I’m so grateful for this but at the same time, there’s the part of me that goes, but there’s somebody else who can take this right now within the country, who can do an amazing job.
“That’s happened with BeBe and with Sophie and with others on this production, which is extraordinary because it could’ve gone out to someone we’ve all seen before.
“There’s a version of that which is exciting but it’s not as exciting as seeing get on the horse for the first or second time.”
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The writer travelled to Byron Bay as a guest of Stan
Originally published as Aussie star wasn’t ‘Australian enough’