Taya Calder-Mason has always loved her own sport. She played touch football when she was four years old. She keeps in shape with boxing (non-contact) workouts at Tuff’ N Up gym in Newcastle West.
She’s always been fiercely independent, too. The blue-eyed 19-year-old blonde from Bar Beach has wanted to be involved in acting and drama since she was a child.
So it comes as little surprise that watching a Youtube video tagged #LikeAGirl triggered a reaction in her that’s sent her on a journey to make her own short film, Fight Like a Woman, which she is filming next month in Newcastle.
The youtube video by filmmaker Lauren Greenfield was commissioned by Always, a leading brand of women’s feminine hygiene products by global consumer products giant Procter & Gamble. Although only three minutes long, it packs a punch – the fact it has been viewed over 64 million times is testimony to that.
The video shows a casting call where various young adults (and a young boy) are directed to “run like a girl”, “fight like a girl” and “throw like a girl”. They all mimic stereotypical comic actions. Then, a group of young girls are directed to perform the same actions, and all perform in true athletic form.
The punchline is: When did doing something “Like a Girl” become an insult?
The video hit home for Calder-Mason.
Her reaction to the girl imitations: “Why does this still exist in this day and age? This is ridiculous.”
It motivated her to write a script for a short, and serious, film about women and boxing. “I began writing two months ago. I wanted to mix boxing and acting for a while,” she says.
With help and encouragement from fellow Novocastrian actor, writer and director Robert Roworth, Calder-Mason has the key roles cast and has begun rehearsing for the shoot, now planned for the second week in August at Tuff’ N Up gym.
The cast includes Calder-Mason as the female boxer, Matthew Clarke as her male opponent in the ring, Paul Antony Rogers as her coach, and Brenton Price as the opponent’s coach.
The film will focus on a single match, starting with the referee telling the two boxers at the walk-up, “Let’s make this a fair fight”. The female boxer responds, “If you’ve got any balls, you’ll treat me as an equal, take me seriously” and then it’s into the action.
“It’s not going to look like an airy-fairy fight. You will watch it and go, ‘that looks painful,’” Calder-Mason says.
The young actor has been training in the boxing gym for conditioning purposes for years, and has done some limited sparring in full gear. She’s a natural southpaw, but can box orthodox style.
She was hoping to have a rough cut of the film completed before her next business trip to Los Angeles where she will be working to gain agent representation in the US. She’s been to LA eight times so far, including attending Beverly Hills Playhouse in 2015 for actor training.
She’s learned alot about herself since that 2015 trip.
“I figured out a lot about what roles I would get,” she says. “I would not be cast as the lovely, pretty girl next door, or friend. It’s just not what I am. You can be the girlfriend, but you’ve just got to have a bit of backbone in her character.”
Who is that character? “Strong, bit of kick-arse . . . more likely to stab you than kiss you kind of person.”
She admires the work of Scarlett Johansson, who is both pretty and strong. And talks frankly about being projected as a cross between Elle Fanning and Jennifer Lawrence.
“It’s about making your own path,” she says. “Figuring out what you’re strong at.”
Her ultimate role at the moment would be in the blockbuster TV series Game of Thrones.
Calder-Mason may seem like a dreamer, but she hasn’t just appeared on the acting scene. While she works three days a week as a receptionist at Dr Wendy Lee’s cosmetic medicine clinic in Charlestown, she’s frequently off to auditions in Sydney and picking up roles in various shows.
It’s about making your own path, figuring out what you’re strong at.
She has a key role as a blind girl in the yet-to-be-released Australian feature film, Beast No More. She’s had a role in the second season of Here Come The Habibs on the Nine Network. And a role in an episode of the Deadly Women series on Netflix.
Under the name Ms Taya, Calder-Mason released her first EP, Organised Chaos, in 2014. When she left St Francis Xavier’s College in Year 11, she was attending school two days a week, and spending time in Sydney working on her music.
Her upbeat track Jungle of The Mind was featured in the 2016 American Girl movie Lea to the Rescue, but she changed direction, concentrating more on acting.
Her music dream has ended.
“I was always interested in drama and acting and music. Originally, I thought I wanted to be a pop star. I love film. I love music, I love storytelling.
“I love what cinema does to people.
“But I don’t like singing in front of people - at all. I like writing music on piano, but it’s just for me. I don’t feel the need to go out and do it.”
THE PASSION WITHIN
The Newcastle Herald database has pictures of Calder-Mason when she won a heat of the Model for Life competition at age 7 and starring as Alice in a stage production of Alice in Wonderland at age 13.
For Calder-Mason, school was not a vehicle to help her pursue her acting dreams. She says it was the opposite.
“My mum said she should have pulled me out of school earlier,” she says of finally quitting school at age 16. “I was very naughty . . . I had a problem with obedience.
“So many teachers kept asking me what my backup plan was. I just couldn’t handle it. Why are you asking me? What is so different about my industry? I don’t have to have a degree, is that the basis for it?
“It was funny, of all the people in my life growing up, the most unsupportive people were teachers. I was in the school principal’s office easily once a week. I was bored.”
She switched schools four times before dropping out.
The path to success in acting is not direct, or clear cut. It’s competitive, but you have to live with the choices you make.
“I’ve turned down two roles in the past month because they just didn’t fit who I was,” Calder-Mason says. “One was, I don’t know if I should say it, a role of a girl. It was a great director, great story, it’s going to be a real big hit on TV, and the scene, a small role in an episode, she was basically in it for not many lines, mainly sex, so I said no.
“I’m not afraid to say no. What you say no to shows who you really are. Instead of what you’re willing to do. There are things you do because it’s good for your career. My agent is really supportive of that. I said this doesn’t line up with where I want my career to go. I feel like it’s a couple of steps back.”
When you’re hungry to succeed, it takes courage to reject a role. Calder-Mason doesn’t have any shortage of that ingredient.
“You don’t want to be a sex object,” she says. “I have to know what I would say no to . . . you have to have your limits. I don’t want to look back and regret anything I’ve done.
“I want people to watch her because everything she’s done is good.”
She points to Australian actor Margot Robbie, who broke through the industry to gain roles beyond just being a “sexy girl on screen”.
“It’s a fight we have every day,” she says of the roles for women beyond sex objects.
“I always say, what would my nan say? Would nan be proud I did this role?”
IN THE RING
Besides finishing a movie role she is currently performing, Calder-Mason is focused on her short film, for which she will probably have credits as writer, director and actor.
She’s working out four days a week at the boxing gym, lifting weights for the first time, and eating more steak than ever.
Soon she will be practising the choreography of the “fight” in the film.
“The fight is like a dance sequence,” she says. “Jab, hook, cross, that kind of stuff.”
There’s a pretty good chance Calder-Mason will look like she’s taken a beating in the film. But you’d have to bet she will give as good as she gets.
“I think it’s a story the universe could handle at the moment,” she says. “Why not let it be.”