Wed 3rd Sep, 2008 in Features
Jessica Chapnik, an extraordinarily varied talent, is probably most widely known as the woeful Sam from Home and Away, but her subtle influence has made a profound contribution to Australia’s music industry. From the balmy climes of Argentina, she arrived in Australia as an innocent five-year old with a growing creative spirit. Her close-knit family nurtured her, encouraging her flamboyant talent. She was infused with a love for books, movies and drama, and her sister’s passion for music.
Her early exposure to such diversity saw her drawing inspiration from a myriad of entertainers. “Marilyn Monroe was my first childhood crush and obsession,” she recalls. “She was a kind of dream, and still is. Hitchcock films make me want to discover hidden things, dangerous things. Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan in the film Annie was a turning point. Hearing a Suzanne Vega song on the radio as a kid was my first experience of music as something completely magical.”
In pursuit of dramatic excellence, she was compelled to train at New York’s Atlantic Theater Company under esteemed writer and director David Mamet. The New York experience expanded her horizons, sending her on a musical journey with Old Man River, and recording and touring internationally with her best friend Sarah Blasko, securing her prominence in musical circles. A surprising twist of fate presented the opportunity to play the character Sam on Home and Away, making her an instant celebrity.
“Sam was an interesting character,” she reflects. “She was full of self-loathing and was so misunderstood. Sometimes it was hard to fight for her, with all her heaviness. I’d never had that experience before with a character. She was doomed to fail from the beginning. Her decline made sense. She was quite tragic. There is a lot of tragedy in old Summer BayÃ¢â‚¬Â¦” she laments.
The lights of LA soon beckoned, and she left the show after two years for her second writing rendezvous with David Mamet. Ben Lee was in Hollywood at the time composing the soundtrack to Australian crime thriller, The Square, and knew her sultry vocals would be perfect. “It was really special to be given these songs to put my voice on,” she explains. “From the moment Ben played me the first song, I felt like it was a project I really wanted to do. You don’t often get that feeling. It was sort of like falling in love. It was very out of my hands and beyond me.”
This collaboration led to a whirlwind Australian tour with Ben Lee, including Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass Festival. “Festivals are pretty crazy,” she declares. “I can’t say I don’t find them overwhelming. But it was wonderful to get to play. I watched Paul Dempsey play a solo set and his voice pretty much ripped my heart out.”
Not one to let fame distract her from her true path, she has continued to maintain her personal growth, and spent time with a Hindu spiritual teacher in India. This balance of humility and fame has manifested in her phenomenal success, and defines her career by the friendships she has forged along the way. “To work with friends has been pretty wonderful. It’s a blessing. Especially when you think they are amazing,” she enthuses. “You get to grow and have little breakdowns with the people you love.”
In future, she plans to continue discovering new and amazing things, and enjoy life’s unpredictable journey. “I’m not really sure what is next. Life is continually so much more interesting than my plans,” she explains. “I want to keep exploring all the things that interest me. I want to keep asking lots of questions. I want to do all that I do with love.”
Jessica says it is particularly important for emerging talent to be true to themselves. “There is no point in trying to bring something to the table that is a lie,” she professes. “I think that is all that anyone wants to see, the truth.”
The Square soundtrack is out now through Inertia.