The acting industry is one of the most diverse industries. It's hard to find someone who doesn't fit in with it. However, there is still room for growth in areas of representing LGBTQ2S+ films, actors, and actresses. Maiah Stewardson is no stranger to acting in LGBTIQA+ films as she has acting credits to her name such as My First Summer (2020) which explores a coming of age beautifully shot against the lush Australian outback. In her interview with us, we discussed all things acting including what acting means to her and how it has helped the LGBTIQA+ community.
I first met Maiah when she came into my Brunswick Studio last year for an outift to wear to the premier of 'My First Summer'. She spoke about her role and how she wanted to wear some bright colourful patterns to reflect her ray of sunshine character Grace. I have watched Grace blossom throughout the film and it has been really interesting to see Maiah take on this role. I’m often coming back to her on your socials for her vibrant energy and authentic voice. I was very eager therefore, to pick her brain about acting in general and other creative projects she is working on.
E: So, you came for the preview of My first Summer, this is a beautiful Australian film, so beautifully shot. I loved it. And you played Grace, a ray of sunshine who comes in. I remember when you were going to the premiere you asked to wear a lot of print reflecting the character. Just talking about the character and who she is: what do you resonate with her when you were reading the script?
M: well, auditioning for this role actually was quite strange because I had a whole bunch of messy and intense things happening in my life. Before the pandemic people went for the audition in a room and the majority of my auditions I self-tested at home and when you do it your ability to really connect with the casting and even your ability to connect to the idea of the script can sometimes be compromised. At that point in my career, I was not the best in self-testing. So, I got this script and I’m in Melbourne and my edu was like “your audition will be tomorrow, can you do it?” and I was like “Yes! Of course, I can do it” I was in the city for the first time ever and I’m sure this will be great sending it through. Every time I tell this story I feel it all over again, but I think my friends were out that night, I sat in my room remembering the script 3 times, back-to-back eating ice cream. Reading the story, the thing that really came to me was that I really knew that character, I felt her, I knew exactly who she was and my favourite thing about her was that she wasn’t afraid to be transparent about where she is emotionally. And I was a young person that felt like I was hindering everybody else with my melodrama and how high my emotions could be, and now it makes sense that I’m an actor because emotions are kind of my gem. But this character was so unapologetic for who she was and the fact that she didn’t have her own world, she was just expressing herself in the best way she knew how, and you can see that all the way throughout the text and through the way she guides this new connection with Claudia, and how she expresses herself in what she’s wearing, which is why it was really beautiful, because I was able to wear some of your stuff because it is so wonderful, expressive and fun.
E: yea, I think it’s really beautiful and I also think she seems quite protective over Claudia, they find safety in each other and this is really beautiful.
M: I hope that resonates with young people regardless of gender or sexuality when you connect with somebody and you feel like your soul is fully locking into each other and that you are really holding space for each other. I think those connections are so vital. It has been really interesting having people right me during the pandemic and say “I’m so isolated” or “I live in this country and we’ve been in lockdown for so long, and this feeling about connections inspired me to reach out to people and my life” or “for me to meet friends online”. I’m so happy that I made connections, finding people in your life is resonating in this climate now.
E: oh yea. Cool. I was listening to your podcast the other day and you had this episode when you spoke about biphobia and you mentioned about going back when you were in high school, you came out being bisexual, you talked about the struggles with people thinking seriously that title. 6 years later, do you think in that space there has been any progress with biphobia?
M: yea. For a little context, currently I really resonate with identifying myself as a queer person, but I’ve also been very transparent about the fact that I’m totally just working myself out and coming into myself and that process changes every day. I remember coming out at the end of year 12 as bisexual and then like feeling this pressure to identify as a lesbian. And all of these terms used to kind of protect myself from the fact that at the time unfortunately my school environment wasn’t surrounded by the most awesome people for me, so I received so much biphobia and it was even funny but it was so much internalized and I was just so afraid of feeding this stereotype or receiving criticism because I wasn’t feeding it the way other people though I should. That was quite sad and I really feel for younger me that I didn’t have an older mentor, I wasn’t watching queer media and seeing holistic and authentic representations of queer people and I think that if I had had access to that kind of material, I would have felt a lot safer and I would have been so much gentle on myself, because I gave myself a hard time. I certainly know that biphobia and transphobia exist unfortunately in the fabric of the way a lot of people view young people, but I see young people stepping into that power, identity, sexuality in a way that is so inspiring and I don’t mean to use that word lightly but I look at young people right now who know themselves or that comfortably say they are working it out, and that fills me with so much joy. So, I feel like even if we haven’t got the progress from external factors, I see young people owning themselves in a way that certainly I never did and I think that’s certainly the progress that matters, you know.
E: I definitely think that people just give themselves time and this sexuality which is fluent, it’s a journey.
M: exactly, and I like to draw parallels between coming out and coming of age. And I truly believe we all always are going to come out, learning ourselves about gender and sexuality and identity. Lots of people are gonna have this process ongoing for the rest of their lives and I’m a believer that you constantly grow up and come of age, no matter how old you are. I mean, 13 yo are so wise and so grounded who totally lived 3 lives before and I think about people in their 50s and 60s who are still just working themselves out and that’s one of the amazing things about humans.
E: yea, and I think even you use the platform Instagram and podcasts to have a voice in this community. Why do you think it’s so important to have raised this awareness and talked about these subjects in the LGBTQ+, what do you think?
M: I think for me it’s more that I like to explore topics and ideas that are relevant to me at this point of my life because the one thing that I can do authentically and honestly every time is talking about where I am. I’m really trying to be conscious on my Instagram and podcast to be as true to myself and what is relevant to me at that point in my life and naturally my identity and finding my place in the creative space, but also as a human and a young person pressing issues in my brain and my world. At first, I was so worried about doing that, the content I make is not pre planned, I really like coming here and existing and there’s a layer of taking the mask off and doing that. I’m very conscious that although I’m a writer and an actor in terms of my career when I come on social media, I leave both things at the door and I just exist as myself, and that freaks me out because any kind of criticism and feedback you get is like that big closer to home. So, I really like being able to exist in the space that way and I’m really thankful for how generous my followers and people who listen to my content are in accepting that and I hope that it inspires them to step out into the world and be exactly who they are in that moment. But I have also a lot of questions about my podcast, I think for people who don’t know I kind of created this podcast called Social Distance Podcast at the very beginning in the covid, and its main focus was connecting with people who are facing jobs who had to pivot their whole career, and talking about connections and making stuff. I took a break from it and then when I came back and my followers started growing I had so many where? and I’ve been tossing up the idea of bringing it back, and I was very excited for bringing a new name, a new team and a slightly different driving factor, not so much focused on people making stuff in the pandemic which is just an extension of what I do in my Instagram, but I talked about where am I and things that interest me and excite me.
E: oh cool! I feel the authentic approach, you talk about sexuality even mental health.
M: I have so many messages about that: mental health, sexuality, friendship, creative stuff… and I really love that because that’s really like my bread, my day job is like working on mental health so I’m kind of around it all the time. But I’m really glad it comes across as authentic because that’s how it’s really made unless I have a guest. Sometimes I get worried about being a little funky.
E: no, you are great, it’s fun.
M: okay, I’m glad. At this point I’m so glad I have this wonderful editor and a friend of mine that is starting creating writing and she started coming out from a research point of view, so topics will be structured like storytelling, and a bit of funny stuff, a bit of general catch up, and then I dive into the topic but I have somebody else who’s helping me with the research element, so for those who wanna do critical thinking there will be more of that and then I won’t need to edit it which is great cause I hated that.
E: oh, yea I know. I really loved when you had people calling up messages, that was really cool. There were people in a relaxed situation and giving their perspective and everyone has his own.
M: yes, totally. Because I ended up doing these episodes where some people called in, I just continued getting direct messages and emails, so what the new podcast has is that every week whenever episode I’m doing, we can advance and announce it and there’s like a little portal and people can just send their opinions and experiences. I think the way I’m doing, without a cohost I kind have the listeners as my cohost and I made some wonderful friends with the last episodes by sending voicemails to random people and ending up having super fascinating conversations and friendship, and I’m very excited to have that in the new.
E: so, when do you think you will be able to start it?
M: I’m hoping to throw out the first two episodes by the end of the month. But I’m promising nothing and I’m aiming for 2 episodes a month and we have a book club that is collaborating with a friends’ press who were an independent publishing group in Melbourne. So that would be really fun if people wanna read. That will be called bad readers book club, and that’s for people who were believed being bad readers, we want to change this idea and that will be very nice.
E: oh, that’s cool. Great, lot of exciting things coming up. Will the podcast have the same name?
M: no, I think we are gonna call it let me ask you this which is the most common phrase from the old one. So, all the old episodes and all the other people who subscribed will just go back and listen.
E: oh nice, cool! Thank you so much for coming on tonight. I really appreciated you’ve taken the time and talked about so many interesting things and topics. I hope people will follow our podcast and of course your Instagram.
M: yes, I try to have a very balanced Instagram, I genuinely try to keep a healthy screen hygiene on my profile and that’s hard.
E: . Huge thank you to have coming on and sharing all your beautiful story and stuff. Anything else you wanna add?
M: no, just thank you so much for having me, it’s has been really really lovely and I hope you and people who joined this are taking much care of yourselves and of the people around you as you can. And that we are all compassionate and kind during this time. I’m excited to see just like the empathy in human kind skyrocket over this experience. And I’m excited to hug everyone when covid is over.
This interview with Maiah has been so dense and full of interesting and absorbing points for reflection. Make sure to have a lookout for her new podcast and you can follow her at @maiahstewardson)
We'd like to give a huge thank you to Maiah Stewardson for taking out time in her schedule!