Orange Is The New Black star Yael Stone undoubtedly wrapped up 2019 on a high with the triumphant final season of the now-iconic Netflix series.
After six years playing New Jersey inmate Lorna Morello, Sydney-born Yael not only hung up her prison uniform but, in essence, boldly stepped away from her successful US acting career altogether.
Yael’s bold move
Amid the destruction of Australia’s devastating bushfires in January, the 35-year-old declared that she would give up her green card visa and her New York home in a bid to reduce her carbon footprint and help fight the climate change ‘war’.
It’s no secret that the American film and TV industry dwarfs Australia’s, making Yael’s move a brave yet risky one. Weeks after she resettled down under, however, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down what little local work there was on offer.
While the virus impacted everyone, no matter their job, the Aussie arts scene was hit particularly hard by restrictions on travel, crowd sizes and other social distancing regulations.
In late March, The Guardian reported:
“Screen Producers Australia believes at least 60 shoots around the country have had to postpone or cancel, with around 20,000 people being stood down, put on unpaid hiatus, or losing their jobs altogether.”
Yael, who got her start on homegrown TV shows including All Saints and Spirited, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her first job after lockdown — recording an audiobook with Audible — was a whirlwind of emotions.
“I feel socially anxious anyway but after being in our house for three months and not talking to anyone else I felt so giddy recording [Winding Road],” she says.
“It was exciting to be with other creative people and creating something together. It was really joyful after feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m not sure if I’m going to work again. How is this going to be for the rest of my life?’”
Written by film director Clare Sladden, Winding Road tells the story of the disappearance of a famous musician, William Hamilton, through the lens of two podcasters as they attempt to unfurl the mystery surrounding the 25-year-old case.
With its distinct true-crime podcast flavour, the 10-episode series features Yael as William’s elusive daughter, Norah, alongside Stranger Things star Dacre Montgomery as podcaster Adam and Aussie icon Noni Hazlehurst as Norah’s aunt, Rachel.
It’s not the first time Yael and Noni have paired up, having played a dysfunctional mother-daughter duo in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane in late 2019.
“Noni is just the best, I had such a deeply rich time working with her on The Beauty Queen of Leenane.
“There’s so much to learn from Noni and she’s also just an incredibly cool, funny lady.”
Now that Yael has had a taste of the world of podcasts and audiobooks, she’s hooked.
“I’d love to do more stuff like this, I think it’s really fun. There’s something freeing about releasing yourself from how you look physically, it can be a lot always focusing on the outside in a world of TV and film where there’s a lot of HD close-ups,” she explains.
So, does that mean she and her co-stars showed up to record in their pyjamas?
“Everyone was so well put together. I had forgotten how to dress,” she laughs.
“I can’t speak for my sister, she may have worn PJs,” she admits.
Yael’s sister, musician Elana Stone, teamed up with Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning to provide the soundtrack to Winding Road which is so evocative that it almost becomes a character in and of itself.
“It was so nice [working with Elana], we haven’t done enough together. She’s just incredible, I might be slightly biased but I just think she’s truly talented, heartbreakingly, wildly talented,” she gushes.
Back on track
With COVID restrictions easing around the country and a funding injection of $53 million into local film and TV production as part of the federal budget, things are very slowly starting to get back on track.
Yael finished shooting Blaze, a film by Australian artist Del Katherine Barton a couple of weeks ago, and, more recently, wrapped a couple of days on a film with none other than Mr Taken himself, Liam Neeson.
“I did have a moment when we first started and I was like, ‘This is Liam Neeson acting into my face with his face!’ then I was like, ‘Let’s get it together, time to work,’” she recalls.
“But sometimes it’s nice to be nervous because it means I care and it’s exciting. I try to tell myself that so that, you know, I don’t spew!”
Winding Road is available now on Audible.
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