Vol. 35
Naomi Belet type portrait

March 2019

Actor. Writer. Director. Vocalist.

When you’re out ordering unneeded tequila way past your bedtime and you strike up a conversation with your waitress, who also happened to move to Sydney from Adelaide in their teens, it’s easy to dismiss their acting aspirations as nothing but small talk. However, if my journey with Caffeine & Concrete has taught me anything, it’s that the process toward success is the success and when Naomi invited me to her upcoming show, I recognised that she was someone demonstrating all the attributes I’ve recognised in others who are living lives of an authentic self, even if her journey is only in its infancy.

Having had the pleasure of seeing Naomi perform her piece Nothing Lasts Forever which she describes as cathartic, I witnessed a deeply personal act which includes live music, multi-media and touching performances by Naomi and her two co-stars. They had us near tears at times and crying with laughter at others.

Fast forward, and the tequila has been swapped for coffee, obviously, in hip Sydney suburb Marrickville to talk all things creative. Before I could get the recording started Naomi had rattled off at least ten things I wanted to remember, now lost in the vacuum of everyday conversation. Bursting with enthusiasm for every detail, her body language expressing every word, Naomi is a performer through and through.

Enjoy this passionate interview with a talented young actress, writer and songwriter who is working hard on and off the stage and screen to leave her mark on forever.

Naomi Belet--- 9 February 2019

By Lorenzo Princi

What do you do?

I’m a WAITRESS [laughs], you would know (referring to how we met). What do I do? I feel like there’s no way to answer that question without being pretentious… like… I make art! How else do you sum it up because I do lots of different things but they’re all in the realm of art. That's the only thing that makes sense to me, that I know how to do.

I have no choice. I’m stuffed. I have to find some way to do art because I’m not capable of anything else. So, you know, depends on what I’m doing. Sometimes music, sometimes-- I was trained in film; sometimes it’s post production. I like co-writing, I’ve always understood structure well. Also I like-- people come to me and say, “here’s a script”, I like helping them you know. I think that’s one of my major things, I like seeing the potential in other people’s stuff and like bringing it out.

It’s like with the show (Nothing Lasts Forever), I wrote the part for Bernie (Van Tiel, Naomi’s co-star) because I think we make the best art if we’re making the thing that only we could make. There’s so many people trying to do this but if they just-- if they’re just, “I should do a show because I should do a show and I’m just going to do a copy of someone else’s copy of someone else’s copy” then it doesn’t make any sense to me. Why would I do that? You’ve got to do-- tell the story that only you can tell and instead of trying to shoehorn your art into like, “I have this weird, esoteric idea I want to do”, instead, you’ve got to create from what’s directly around you because then you get all these intangible extras that you never could have thought of yourself.

“Tell the story that only you can tell.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 35

So, you do a mixed bag of art but let’s go back in time a little bit, though you are still very young, you spent time when you were even younger as as a musician. When did you discover music?

I guess… well, I went to a-- have you seen Whiplash? Where JK Simmons plays that crazy-- I went to a Whiplash school and it was Jazz as well so, Marryatville High School Special Interest Music Centre

Lorenzo: Right, and you guys won some awards.

Naomi: Oh jeez, you did your research, yeah, that’s a point of pride I guess. Yep, we were that school that would like-- so that’s like in national Jazz competition and Marryatville has like, I don’t know, three big bands and two vocal ensembles and, like, it’s disappointing if we don’t place you know. We were supposed to-- we were like champs five years in a row or something. I was just a vocalist though. The thing about musicians is, vocalists aren’t real musicians, like there’s a bit of an attitude about it and even a Whiplash school, Marryatville, I wasn’t technically allowed to be a vocalist as my primary, I had to play Violin and Oboe for years. I don’t now, I would not know where to start.

How did you find that experience, being in a competitive environment like that?

Oh, no, it wasn’t competitive within school. I don’t think so. But it was just like, music. Over sixty percect of my lessons were music. They put us on this music program. We were all in homegroup together and then like, we didn’t get to do-- we did like half the amount of history and we did like no other arts and I did like every kind of music; improvisation, baroque music. Composing but I was terrible, I was like the worst in the class. No I was! Especially at like composing and arranging, I just didn’t understand anything…

It’s funny because I always say that now-- so like, improv is the greatest example; we had this class specifically dedicated to Jazz improv where we just go and you know, improvise and I would just be like, “I can’t do this” and they would be like, “Naomi, you have to,” and I would just, “I can’t!” It was terrible and it was the same when I went to acting school, I really struggled with Improv.

But this just comes from the perfectism thing because I was-- I mean everything we are as artists comes from who we were as children, and me as a child was not collaborative. I was-- I would just sit and think by myself, that’s why I said I understand structure before because I spend so much time analysing everything in my own way or whatever. But it’s a shame, you need both and that was my major lesson to learn and I’m obsessed with improv of all kinds - like improvising music, improvising with actors; I do like a stage combat fight class, improvising that, improvising movement, any kind of dance, anything because that’s where the playfulness comes from and if you can’t improvise, you can’t-- you can’t create with another - you're only ever going to be two artists, like screaming across a bridge and forcing ideas. Whereas it's like, I don’t know, having a child; you’ve got to have this and this and you’ve got to create and have an artistic baby together...

So, when I moved to Sydney to be an actor, I didn’t have a piano any more and I-- I never wrote music in school. I just-- I didn’t play piano either, I just did violin or whatever, and then it was like a year out. I was bored, I had a gap year; I taught myself.

When I moved to Sydney I didn’t do music anymore because I didn’t have a piano, so let’s just say I lost contact with music. It was a shame right, because I’d spent years training, training my voice, and I kind of lost it all and then last year-- have you seen photos of the Jam Night thing I do with Bernie?

Lorenzo: Yes.

Naomi: So, last year Bernie Van Tiel-- “star of Jade of Death and The Motherload, out now!” (spoken in an announcer's voice) [laughs]. Bernie was like, “Hey, do you want to come for some jams?” And the first one I remember was just me, Bernie, Jerome the guitarist (from Nothing Lasts Forever) and Jordan, who was front row (at Nothing Lasts Forever) and we just, you know we just played music until all hours of the morning and it was just so pure. So then we’d do it every month and I wrote all these songs because I was like, “I want something to play at jam night” so it kind of developed out of there. The format of the show even draws upon that (referring to the musical nature of Nothing Lasts Forever).

“That’s where the playfulness comes from and if you can’t improvise, you can’t create with another, you're only ever going to be two artists, like screaming across a bridge.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 35

You did a lot of YouTubing with your original songs and some covers, did you enjoy it and did you find an audience?

Oh, well that is interesting! I still get some random emails sometimes. I honestly did it because I wanted to do something. Like, my gap year was-- I’ve always been shy. My four closest friends all moved away because they were creatives; one moved to Sydney, three moved to Melbourne. I was like, “I have no one to hang out with” and also, fun fact about me, I was one of the first fifty thousands users on YouTube back when I was ten-- like ten or eleven. There’s nothing I know more, I have so much useless, specific knowledge. I could teach a course on early YouTube history.

That was the other thing I totally lost contact with after I moved to Sydney because I didn’t have a computer, but it was always going to happen. I did the videos just because I needed something to do, and I was teaching myself piano and it gave me a goal. I was like, “Oh, every week I’ll learn a new song on the piano.” That’s the only reason I can play the piano now, I started with the most basic songs and then I was like, “I need to learn how to do rhythm, maybe I’ll do a Stevie Wonder song next time?” And it just built up my skills. It just gave structure to a-- you know seventeen year olds on a gap year are completely lost at sea and any type of structure they can cling on too is like…

“If you want to develop as an actor, you must also develop as a person.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 35

You moved to Sydney to study acting, why the move from Adelaide?

Yes, I studied at International Screen Academy in Waterloo. Yeah, my mum always says she was sure that I would come home in two and a half weeks but I didn’t [laughs]. Well, it’s where everything is. I mean, you're from Adelaide, you understand. I mean, especially acting. Music, really you can do anywhere if you just find the right equipment, but artistically-- I’m sorry Adelaide people, it’s just… no one is taking risks. I mean to be fair and not to be a complete maverick, I don’t think Australia in general takes risks with art and there’s more, there’s a bit more inspiration (in Sydney). Adelaide is just very, “let’s do what we’ve always done, again and again and again.” Which is strange because we have the Fringe (Festival) but… yeah, I don’t know…

It was that but it was also-- I had my own personal struggles in Adelaide and I really needed change and it was, it was exactly what I needed to completely get out of that and just change and I can’t recommend it enough as a young person. Like, becoming independent, paying your own way. It’s like, it sucks but also you realise you can do anything you want because you go, “Well, I did that and now I’m here. I can’t believe I’m here, and I can visit the Opera House every week, now I could move to Paris if I want!”

When you start out your young life like that, not the lazy way, then you’re setting yourself up for a life of going after what you want instead of, “Oh, but should I? Can I?” It’s fine, when you’re in high school, everyone says, “Oh, I want to move to Sydney” just because it sounds like this big, far away thing but it’s just another thing people say, you know, that Revolutionary Road thing of just, “oh we will! We will one day go to Paris, we will.” Everybody’s always saying they will but if you just do it-- It’s like, even the show (Nothing Lasts Forever), I can’t imagine the amount of people who are like, “Oh, I want to write a show, I want to do a web-series, I want, I want, I want” but they don’t!

Like, as Kevin Jackson says, “the aspirations of angels and the habits of animals” but seriously, it’s the same thing with your own-- I think-- I’m so pretentious [Laughs]. I think that as an actor because-- okay, any other art form-- any art form has form and content, that’s the two elements. You have the heart of whatever it is and then you have how that’s expressed. So like, in music that’s; rhythm, melody, lyrics, whatever. In graphic design, that’s the shapes or whatever, the colour-- I don’t know anything about graphic design [laughs] but with acting, it’s the most-- it’s the hardest one to pin down. You have voice, movement, body, whatever and then the heart, right. So, unfortunately, if you want to develop as an actor, you must also develop as a person - constantly. It’s your responsibility. Like, I view it like being a monk-- everything must be-- I can’t be inauthentic in life. I can’t have a false moment, otherwise my acting will start to be false. So, I am forced to live as authentically and challenge-ingly as possible.

“All it’s really trying to do is get a real human element in the frame.”

How did you find your time at International Screen Academy?

Acting school is really weird and hard to explain to people who didn’t go to acting school. There’s all these things about it that, like… We are the same people, the same ten people for like three years and you know everything about them. Like, I know all these things about these people that like half the people they end up in relationships don’t know and I know and I see them everyday. You kiss half of them because you have to in scenes.

But you party together, you live together and it’s all these people who want to be actors. This is the other element. I mean, you have the craft, you have all this obsession and that’s great, although wanting-- but then it’s this other element of like, acting school is essentially people who aren’t necessarily actors yet, but want to be-- music makes more sense right? It’s just people who put the time in and keep developing and find their own style or whatever. Most musicians I know kind of reap the benefits of whatever they put in.

Acting is so weird; you know, it’s half based on looks, or luck. I don’t know, I still think you can work hard and find a way in, like, you just got to find your thing but the thing about acting school is all these “kids”, we don’t understand that and I don’t think half the teachers understand that. So people are trying to figure out how to be the next Cate Blanchett… and everyone in the class thinks it’s them. Everyone is like, “oh yeah!” and they’re most obsessed with trying to prove they’re that, then working on the acting. It’s hard because acting is so intangible, people get so lost in everything surrounding it, instead of the acting itself and then the other thing is that acting is the ultimate ease so you can’t-- you have to do the work but then let it go. As opposed to everything else, where you just do the work. And also (in) the acting world, you can’t seem like you try. With music people respect it, “Oh fuck! Look at how you spent ten hours getting that riff down” in acting it’s like, “Oh, I don’t even know what I did, it just came out, like I don’t even prepare. I just--” [laughs].

And then there's this interesting thing about film acting, I mean people generally respect-- I’m more film, just because I love film, I’ve always loved film - I just love film. I want to make films as well but I still like-- I used to hate theater, I used to be very cynical about it, “it’s not truthful, blah, blah, blah” but I had this amazing director in my last year of acting school called Janine Watson and she convinced me, she changed my mind, I’m like, “okay, theatre’s great.” But in theater, especially if you go to New York, or whatever, people respect theatre actors as a craft. It is, you can’t just walk onto a stage, you can’t. You’ll fail, your voice-- people want be able to hear you. You have to be able to repeat it. It’s impossible for amateurs to theatre act, so people do respect that, but film…

I understand film making as well. And I say this all the time; it’s like how many times have we seen a TV show about hot young people and you can say it’s trashy or whatever, like The OC or-- I don’t know I haven’t seen many of them, what’s the one right now? Pretty Little Liars? Riverdale! That’s the one. I haven’t seen it but people say it’s trashy but it’s also SO watchable. Why is that? Because-- it’s the same thing with that rise of all these twenty-something adorable YouTubers who are just like, I don’t know, filming themselves eating marshmallows. Millions of views!

It’s because, you know how some people have that belief that they can’t have photos taken of them because it will steal their soul? Film making is just as-- there are all these technical elements but all it’s really trying to do is get a real human element in the frame and the thing about youth is, there’s just so much there. If you just put a bunch of hot young people on camera, it’s not just that they’re hot, it's (that) young people are so lost at sea and trying to find their identity and they’re not settled down in relationships. They’re not settled on anything, so they are constantly, without knowing it, throwing all these energies around and the bounce off each other and create something interesting to watch. So, with film acting, half the time you don’t need an “actor”.

It’s hard to explain but there’s a whole-- some kinds of film acting require acting and some don’t as much, but you can always see an actor. You know what I mean? Because if you throw a real-- okay everyone can act (but) my point is, it’s not a negative thing, I’m not saying, “Fuck all the pretty substanceless people.” I’m saying they’re interesting in their own right because it’s just about human elements but then if you also get someone who is also conscious about what they are doing, then you get someone like Timothée Chalamet, that’s what happens because they can also say something with what they’re doing. It’s just that, because if they’re aware of what they’re doing, yet still manage to make it intangelably free, that’s how you get Timothée Chalamet, if you can combine those two things. You can always spot a thoughtful actor. Even if they’re in a trashy TV show.

“I like seeing the potential in other people’s stuff.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 35

So, this brings us to your own shown, Nothing Lasts Forever which you wrote, starred in and produced, that’s a big effort, something no one can take away from you now, what was involved and why did you do it?

That’s what I mean, it really did spring from that Jam Night thing and it was also because I was so frustrated-- what was that thing you said to me (in reference to reaching out for an interview), “when I looked up your play, I realised you’re not just an aspiring actress” that’s a horrible thing, but it’s also true. It’s like, I felt like I had so much to say and so much to give but no one’s giving me a look in and it’s like, I don’t blame them, like what actual reason do they-- they’re busy people, why the fuck should they give me the time of day when there’s a hundred other, thousand other girls saying, “Me too!” And this is not arrogance, I just think I have something to say, I don’t know if they do? But there’s no way for this person to know if I have something to say until--

And it wasn’t about proving myself. Life makes sense to me when I make art and I need it, I just have to! Again, pretentious I do art for the sake of art and it was so cathartic as well, like that story in my own life. Turning that into art; I basically just made people watch me whine about my problems for an hour and a half. But, you turn it into a nice melody and everyone is, “Ah!”

What were the logistical challenges of putting on a production like Nothing Lasts Forever?

Definitely, that was a challenge because-- yes, not just “written and directed” but also produced by me and that is the bit, for the love of god, next time I need someone else to do that. It’s like, I’m just-- I need a sensible person around because I just can’t be bothered. I’m just like, “I don’t want to send emails, I don’t want to write budgets, I want to think about the show” and even talking to me I go on tangents; artistically and emotionally.

I did it because I had to, I mean I liked making the poster [laughs] that was fun! But I was lucky, I have a friend Alyssa Stevenson - shout out! Who I went to acting school with. The thing about acting school is, and my specific course was film acting, like eighty percent acting and twenty percent filmmaking, so there are lots of people in our class that have gone on to do other things. So Alyssa is an actor but she’s also a producer, she works for Stan and she’s produced a couple of indie-theatre shows and she’s a friend of mine and I was like, “Please just give me some tips.” So she was like, “You need to do this, you need to this.” I mean she was great, that’s what I mean, how would I have done it, she made, like, a schedule for me, “By this day you need to email these people.”

That’s what I mean, having people around me. Again, I’m no one so to put this on I needed to have my visions as clear as possible so I could go to people and say, “This is this, I need you to do this specific thing.” Because people don’t have time to waste, people don’t have time-- time is not an infinite resource.

So, for example, in theatre, lighting is usually done-- you get a week in the theatre and you bump in and the director and the lighting designer sit there and go, “Oh, what can we play around with?” They spend a day playing around and then they plot them, the next day you do a tech rehearsal. I was like, “I have one day in the space” [laughs] because I was self-funding it and I was like, “I only have one day.” So I was like, “I’m going to have to design the lights” but I don’t know anything about lights, so I had to learn that.

So, I asked the venue, “What lights do you have specifically?” And then I asked my friend Tom - I went to acting school with him - and asked, “What’s easy, what will work?” And then I went through the script and drew pictures and highlighted all the cues so on the day he could just go; “Cue, cue, cue, cue…” because if I didn’t do that it wouldn’t have happened.

Like, you don’t have a choice. I’ve always worked that way. It's like, to have the end product which is written for the audience—by the way—so many artists are like, “Me, me, me...”, “No one cares about you, who cares about you, there’s a million people in the world, why should we care? Think about the audience.”

So, it’s for them and you’ve got to have the end product there with space for creativity obviously, otherwise it gets rigid and then you’ve got to reverse engineer everything otherwise you get lost and you’re not going to get the result you want.

I’ve always done this, it’s like when I made YouTube videos I made mostly covers. I made, like one YouTube video about my life because I wanted to and I was inspired by, specifically, itsamemyleo. He’s a great YouTube filmmaker and I wanted to make a film about my life kind of but the thing is, I didn’t have editing software, so I literally had to use (Windows) Movie Maker which is like garbage! You can’t do anything, the thing about Movie Maker is-- have you ever edited things?

Lorenzo: Yes, lots--

Naomi: The thing about Movie Maker; you can’t cut clips! You can’t make a cut! You have to trim it, cut it and paste it and then trim it again and try and make it line up, it’s just like a disaster so it took me so many more hours than it should have and I couldn’t even edit audio, so I had to go into Audacity and like put things together and then try to like, add it as a music track. It was ridiculous, but because that's how-- it forced me to be so clear because I had to know what I wanted to go through the stupid process to get there and then, it gives you clarity that when you finally get the good editing software, you go, I know what I need. It’s good to learn with a handicap.

“The narrative is controlled by whoever has the loudest voice.”
Caffeine & Concrete Vol. 35

So, you’ve done the show and as always, we end by asking, what’s next?

Well, I’m writing a feature film about YouTube [laughs], not-- it’s called Fangirl, it’s about a… fangirl. Because the narrative is controlled by whoever has the loudest voice and so we’ve started to see lots of things from the point of view of a YouTuber right, of say, like, “This is what it feels like to--” and this is all interesting to me, “This is what it feels like to have your private life published” and “I’m burning out, blah, blah, blah” this stuff I’ve heard a million times from their perspective. No one’s telling the perspective of the obsessed fangirl.

I just think the internet is interesting because-- I mean I will say this about YouTube specifically; back when I-- I mean you can write it off as a joke, but back when I got started using Youtube; the kind of people who would bully me for that are now the people who are vlogging their Gucci clothes and it’s like, “Fuck you” [laughs]. I’m such a loser! It used to be such a-- back in the day, you can remember it if you go and watch 90's comedies because it’s always the geek, lame, like, weirdo characters who are like, on a computer.

Now, everyone’s on a computer, everyone's on the internet. You watch these sitcoms and it’s like, “I’m on the internet!” “You’re a loser!” [laughs] but because of that, people used to be more honest on the internet than they were in real life. It was all their darkest secrets. People had no concept of, “Don’t put something online.” It was like, all of their weirdest shit on the internet and YouTube was like that too. You had videos of people talking about their intimate love lives, you had people opening exam results on camera, just like, people-- it was so authentic and now, obviously, everyone knows, it’s like the most disgusting corporate shill ever, people being paid to talk about how much they love this lipstick. But like how interesting is that, in the space of ten years? The journey, the development from, most authentic, to least authentic is so fascinating. Like, right in front of our eyes and it’s also a total microcosm of the internet at large. So, I’m like, I just think it’s so fascinating.

But the thing about the internet is, there’s lots of people on again who have the voice to control the narrative and for so long, the heroes got to tell the stories on the internet. There's so many people, and I understand this because I went through a year of my life where I had no friends or whatever and all I would do was go online and it’s like, there are so many lonely, lonely people on the internet. It’s so sad, you can go to subreddits on Reddit of people who struggle to have conversations in real life and they go on there and they support each other and they go, “Today I smiled at the receptionist at work” and everyone goes, “Yay! Good for you!” and they’re THAT lonely right and the internet gives us a place to belong, and it’s like early on, on YouTube, we were genuinely connecting, and then at some point-- I don’t blame these YouTubers, from their perspective they're just trying to have a career but then it becomes, “oh I love you guys, my fans! I love you guys!” and I just thought it would be interesting to right a story about someone, who-- if you’re a teenage girl, you’re a bit delusional, someone who genuinely believes it because it's so sad, these people are vulnerable but there are people making careers off… people’s vulnerable loneliness and it just speaks to, at large, however everyone is, “So disconnected now and social media makes us less connected, bluh, bluh, bluh, la, la, la” [laughs].

I kind of cleanse, I don’t really go on the internet anymore, I’m trying to find the middle ground like Goldilocks. I was on it all the time, then I went on it, not at all for two years, like I didn’t have a computer and now I’m trying to reignite, because I do love it, it’s interesting...

Lorenzo: Do you feel there’s a bit of pressure and that you can’t really switch off, especially as someone who’s trying to promote shows, etc…

Naomi: Yeah, I’ve got to have some kind of “online presence” [laughs].

Find Naomi on Twitter and Instragram @naomibelet and on YouTube.

Proofreading by Luke Yates. Photography by Lorenzo Princi.