Heath Ledger Scholarship finalists named

L-R: Harvey Zielinski, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Ezekiel Simat, Gemma Bird Matheson, Kipan Rothbury, Aaron Glenane, Brenna Harding, Bethany Whitmore, Charmaine Bingwa, Nicholas Denton

There were a record number of applications including an increase from diverse and under-represented communities for the Heath Ledger Scholarship, now in its 10th year and worth $US30,000.

So the judges had a tricky task in narrowing the list to the 10 finalists, who were announced this morning. The recipient will be announced on Thursday, September 20 at a dinner at the Chateau Marmont, with all 10 present.

The finalists include actors from culturally diverse backgrounds and the LGBTQ community, including the very first transgender finalist, Harvey Zielinski.

They are: Aaron Glenane (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan), Bethany Whitmore (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Girl Asleep), Charmaine Bingwa (Little Sista, Nekrotronic) Kipan Rothbury (Significant Strangers), Brenna Harding (Puberty Blues, Black Mirror), Ezekiel Simat (High Life, Lambs of Gods), Shalom Brune-Franklin (Doctor Doctor, Thor: Ragnarok), Nicholas Denton (Glitch), Harvey Zielinski (Starting from…Now) and Gemma Bird Matheson (Neighbours).

Australian actor Eka Darville (Jessica Jones, Empire), who will host the dinner at the Chateau, said: “The submissions this year have set the bar at a whole new level and our call for diversity has been heard loud and clear, so thank you to all who applied.

“We’ve seen so many faces that haven’t submitted before and received a record number of submissions. The unenviable job of picking a winner from our stellar lineup of finalists now rests in the hands of our judges.”

Kirsty McGregor, president of the Casting Guild of Australia and a HLS10 judge said: “Our industry will only get stronger as we embrace, celebrate and support new talent and ensure the faces we see on our screens reflect our community. The finalists include actors from culturally diverse backgrounds and the LGBTQ community, including the very first transgender finalist.”

Last year’s winner Mojean Aria starred opposite Rachel Griffiths in Subtext Pictures’ SBS crime drama Dead Lucky, which premieres in the US on Sundance Now on September 20.

Among earlier recipients, Cody Fern is starring in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: Versace , American Horror Story: Apocalypse and will next be seen in House of Cards opposite Robin Wright.

Ashleigh Cummings is starring opposite Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman in the Warner Bros/Amazon co-production The Goldfinch; and Bella Heathcote is the lead in the new Ridley Scott CBS drama Strange Angel.

The panel of judges comprises Elizabeth Debicki, Rose Byrne, Matt Damon, Naomi Watts, directors Gregor Jordan and Jeremy Podeswa, US producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura and casting directors McGregor, Amanda Mitchell, Jason Wood, Carmen Cuba, Barbara McCarthy and Ann Fay, patron of the HLS.

Established in 2008 by Australians in Film in memory of Ledger, who served as an ambassador for the organization, the Scholarship is awarded to an actor who exhibits distinctive and unique potential.

The prizes will include $US10,000 towards living costs, rent and transport assistance in Los Angeles, two round-trip economy airfares from Australia to Los Angeles, group acting classes and personal coaching from Lisa Robertson Studio, movement and voice classes with Kennedy Brown and dialect coaching with Joy Ellison.