Rahel Romahn was named the 11th recipient of Australians in Film’s Heath Ledger Scholarship in an online ceremony today.
Born in Kurdistan, Romahn and his parents fled the country and lived as nomadic asylum seekers for years until they were finally accepted into Australia.
Since discovering a passion for acting, he has worked across film, television and theatre, appearing in Mr Inbetween, Little Monsters, Australian Gangster, Ali’s Wedding and the stage play 7 for the Sydney Theatre Company, as well as The Principal, for which he received an AACTA and Logie nomination.
More recently the Sydney-based actor has had roles in Here Out West, God’s Favourite Idiot, and the upcoming AppleTV+ series Shantaram.
Romahn beat out Max Brown, Mabel Li, Andrea Solonge, Zoe Terakes, and Harvey Zielinski for the US$50,000 scholarship package, which includes $US10,000 cash prize to support living expenses while studying, a return economy flight to the US, plus educational and career preparation, ranging from private acting coaching to immigration assistance.
In accepting the award, he paid special tribute to Ledger, whom he described as “one of the most incomparable, benevolent and talented souls that ever blessed this earth”.
“Throughout my life, I have learnt a lot from the leaders of the craft of acting,” he said.
“From Heath, I learned the power of vulnerability, the importance of bravery and the necessity of supporting the ones around you.
“These are extremely vital aspects to being a performer in our industry.”
He also used the opportunity to highlight the importance of inclusivity, expressing his pride in the industry for “putting diversity at the top of our priority list”.
“It is so simple, we are all human and deserve to be treated with respect and safety,” he said.
“Discrimination has gone on long enough and I believe we are getting closer and closer to becoming one big family who finally accepts and learn to understand and love one another.”
There were a record number of applicants for the 2021 scholarship, with a jury led by Chris Hemsworth, Jacki Weaver, UK casting director Nina Gold, director Rachel Perkins, and US actor Alia Shawkat tasked with making the final decision.
Weaver said the calibre of the finalists made the deliberations difficult.
“We were moved and entertained by their performances and know that they all have a big career ahead of them,” she said.
“There can only be one winner and we are proud and excited to award Rahel with this scholarship.
“He embodies the qualities of excellence in acting combined with the passion and dedication to excel on the world stage. I wish him every success and can’t wait to work with him.”
Previous winner Charmaine Bingwa, who was on hand to present Romahn with his prize, described the scholarship as “one of the most beautifully transformative experiences”.
“In a short space of time, it put me on the path to working with world-class talents on world-class projects.
“I am forever grateful to Heath, his remarkable legacy and his benevolent family.
“I’m thrilled for the next recipient and the incredible opportunities that lie before them.”
The Heath Ledger Scholarship is supported by the Australians & Hollywood exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive, currently in Canberra.