Yiana Pandelis and Reece Noi (Photo credit: Ben Mezups)
Yiana Pandelis was 14 when she did her first acting workshop at Melbourne’s Active Performance Studios.
Her performance made a lasting impression on one of the attendees, casting director Cinzia Coassin, who was amazed to discover afterwards that Yiana is hearing impaired.
So years later when Coassin received the script for Unsound, she immediately thought of Yiana as ideal for the co-lead Finn, a young woman who is hearing impaired and undergoing the difficult process of transitioning to male.
After reading the script by Ally Burnham, a NIDA graduate who received funding from Screen Australia’s Gender Matters Brilliant Stories program, Pandelis did several self-tests and auditioned for a previous director in Melbourne last year.
Development took longer than the producer Tsu Shan Chambers expected, with Screen Australia’s support on the script, and Ian Watson took over as the director. Watson concurred the casting of Yiana and of Manchester-born, former Game of Thrones star Reece Noi as Noah, the co-lead.
The romantic drama is now shooting in Manly. Finn meets and falls in love with Noah, a disillusioned musician who runs a centre and nightclub for the deaf community. Initially they tread carefully as this is Finn’s first relationship as he embarks on his trans journey.
As the two become closer, with no shared language to fall back on, they only risk hurting each other as they learn to be true to themslves.
This is the feature film debut for Yiana, 22, who is part of the LGBITQ+ community, after she appeared in several Active Performance Studios shorts and plays and worked as an extra in Nowhere Boys and Neighbours.
To prepare, she had her long hair cut short, learned Auslan, which is how her character communicates, and dispensed with her hearing aids as Finn is initially separated from the hearing world.
Unfazed by taking on her first lead, she tells IF on the set: “I am getting a lot of support from family and friends. Ian trusts you will do what he says when he gives you directions and doesn’t add any sort of pressure.
“Finn is going through a challenging period and he is in a lot of pain. He hopes to find himself in his relationship with Noah.”
Asked how she came to grips with playing a trans man, she said: “I tapped into my masculine side.” Without giving away any spoilers, she expects some moviegoers will find the ending “slightly sad but empowering.”
On a trip to LA to attend a workshop at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting last year she took the opportunity to meet up with Noi, who moved there 18 months ago after Game of Thrones.
Associate producer Jess Orcsik, who, like Noi, is repped by Industry Entertainment Partners, helped introduce him to Coassin.
“It’s a character piece and a beautiful love story and I liked the idea of exploring that,” Reece tells IF. “Noah is flaky and afraid of success and of making a commitment. But he is a good person and tries to do the right thing.”
Three years earlier he had consulted a medium in Manchester who told him he would one day go to Australia. No chance and no plans to, he replied.
The cast includes Paula Duncan as Noah’s mother Angela, Todd McKenney as Lewis, Finn’s father, Christine Anu as Moniqua, a fiery singer who mentors Noah, Xavier Messariti, Olivia Beasley, Ana Maria Belo, Rachel Sang, James Fraser and Terry Serio.
Noi played a minor character in one episode of season four of Game of Thrones but he so impressed the showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, they cast him as the emancipated slave Mossador in season five.
As so often happens in the HBO show, the character had a grisly death, beheaded on the orders of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Despite the scale of the production he described acting in it as an intimate experience.
Before coming to Oz he played a key role in the Netflix series Central Park Five, which chronicles an infamous case when five Harlem teenagers were wrongfully convicted of raping a female jogger in New York’s Central Park in 1989.
He auditioned for two of the five leads but creator/director Ava DuVernay decided to cast him as Matias Reyes, who claimed in 2002 that he committed the crime alone, resulting in the five having their convictions quashed. Reyes is serving a 33-year sentence for a string of violent rapes and one murder.
To prepare, Noi watched a two-minute taped interview with Reyes – the only such recording – and listened to audio tapes which DuVernay gave him. “He is a very dark character,” he says.