With his latest film GO! premiering at Cinfest Oz later this month, there’s little doubt that Cooper Van Grootel’s career is on the rise. Having been acting since before he was a teenager and as an individual heavily influenced by the great work and legacy of the late Heath Ledger, Cooper’s passion for what he does comes across in every role he takes on and every performance he gives. Ahead of GO!’s premiere, he spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about his favourite memories on set, the one TV show he’d have loved to have starred in and the one piece of advice he’d pass on to upcoming actors.

TITL: You’ve been acting for several years now, but was there ever a time, growing up, that you considered taking another career path or has it always been about performance and film/TV work for you?

Cooper Van Grootel: I began acting when I was about 11 years old, but before then I always wanted to be an AFL player, which is the Australian Football League, equivalent to the NFL in the USA. However, once I started acting, I couldn’t think about anything else and it’s been my passion ever since.

TITL: Which one film or TV series, you watched, made you ultimately realize “Yeah, I want to do that”?

CVG: This is a funny one. I was actually extremely fascinated by the movie Coraline; its story-line, the characters, the way the film was created and put together so well. It kind of sparked a fire in me that made me want to do what these characters were doing. Whatever that meant. So I began my search for a film school, where I found Filmbites, a film school in Perth run by Hallie McKeig. I stuck with Filmbites for 7 years up until I was 18 and that’s when I left for America.

TITL: Which actors might you say most inspire and influence you when it comes to your career and your work? What is it about them that encourages and motivates you so much?

CVG: Heath Ledger. I think I can really relate to that guy in a lot of ways. We’re from the same home town, we left Perth for America with the same burning passion, Hollywood. Heath Ledger is a really motivating person, proving that if you set your mind to something, it can be achieved.

TITL: Can you recall the first project you ever auditioned for?

CVG: I’m not 100% sure what my first audition was for, but it might have been a short film back in Perth, when I was 11 years old. I didn’t get the role, but the whole process of auditioning in front of people, with a camera, a blank room and just your imagination, fascinated me. 

TITL: Do you find the audition process comfortable or is there always an uncertainty/air of pressure around each one?

CVG: For me, it’s a bit of both. I find it super exciting just being given the opportunity to express my ideas in this craft and give it a shot, but at the same time, it can make me nervous and anxious. I just try and have fun with the whole process.

TITL: Your break-out came in 2014 with The Legend Of Gavin Tanner. Can you recall your favourite time on the show, and are there any lessons/particular experiences you’ve taken from that period and continued to learn/grow from as a result? 

CVG: The Gavin Tanner set was just a whole bunch of fun, everybody was having a great time. I think with every role you book, you learn a lot about yourself. I remember having to get up at 6am to shoot and my mum was there with me every day to watch over me, so I learnt that my parents are so loving and supportive of this craft. I am very grateful for that.

TITL: You are perhaps best known for playing Brayden in the series Mystery Road, which was and is a huge hit with an impressive cast. What was and is it about the series, do you think, that has helped it to become so popular?

CVG: Mystery Road is an incredible TV show with some of the best acting I’ve ever watched, it truly blows me away. I think it has done so well because of its suspenseful moments and heart-breaking issues which are highlighted in the show about Australia’s society. It really does keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what will happen next. I’m so grateful to have worked on such a professional shoot.

TITL: Your latest film GO! is having its world premiere on August 28th at Cinefest Oz. Do you ever get nervous ahead of big events like that and feel at all anxious about what those in attendance, including critics, and what they might think?

CVG: 100%! I’m very excited and nervous at the same time. I hope people enjoy the film as much as the cast and crew enjoyed making it. I think Cinfest Oz will probably be one of the biggest film festivals I’ve been to so it’ll be a whole new experience for me; I can’t wait! 

TITL: What can you tell me about the film and who you play in it?

CVG: A good way to describe GO! is kind of like the original Karate Kid but go karting instead of karate. A teenage boy, Jack, moves to a small town with his mum. Jack discovers a passion for go karting, where he meets a mentor who shows him the way of the sport. I play Dean, the antagonist of the film. It was an amazing opportunity and I tried my best to find the heart in the character even though he was the antagonist, as my goal was to do this character justice. One of the craziest parts of the experience was having my hair bleached white – it added to the character and was a lot of fun going through that experience with production.

TITL: How did you find working with the likes of director Owen Trevor and your co-stars Francis O’Connor, Dan Wyllie and Richard Roxburgh?  Any fond or favourite memories from your time on set?

CVG: Working with such professionals was daunting, but at the end of the day everybody wants to do a good job and I think it’s important that you feel comfortable and relaxed. That’s what Owen and the other actors brought to set. I could really be at ease and was able to explore and play with my character. I remember one of the first days shooting, I had to punch Will Lodder, who plays Jack. After I delivered the punch, I slicked my bleached white hair back into place and from that point on, it kind of became a character trait where in multiple scenes, I slowly slicked my hair back in a menacing way. I think it worked well and Owen loved it.

TITL: Of all the roles and characters you’ve played so far, which one stands out the most and why?

CVG: I recently shot a short film here in LA, called Pink Elephant. I think this role stands out the most because I proved to myself that I can achieve my goals over here in America; it’s just a matter of believing in yourself and setting your mind to it. I made so many great friendships on set, life-long ones I hope. That and I finally got to play the protagonist!

TITL: If you could star in any TV series or film, past or present, which would it be? Which actors/crews would you most like to work with?

CVG: I would love to have been on Breaking Bad. Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston are two of my favourite actors. They made that show so exciting – I am truly envious of their work. Heath Ledger was going into directing before he passed; he had an amazing vision, so I know he would have been an incredible director and it would have been an honor to have the opportunity to work with him.

TITL: Are there any upcoming projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?

CVG: I just had an audition in LA sent to a director so I have my fingers crossed at the moment!

TITL: Away from acting, and particularly after long periods away from home/on set, what activities or hobbies do you like to pursue? How important is it for you to have that “unwind, me” time?

CVG: I love to surf. Surfing is another passion of mine, but I never wanted to pursue it professionally though. It’s a great way to clear your mind and rid bad energy or thoughts. I think it’s vital that you have an outlet away from acting. Acting can be physically and emotionally draining, so for me, surfing helps keep the balance. I also like to play the guitar. 

TITL: Finally, as someone who is gradually becoming more established in the industry, what advice would you give to those starting out? What one piece of advice that you were once given or have heard would you pass on as encouragement and for motivation?

CVG: Try not to worry too much about the future, focus on giving your best performance and enjoying your time in the now. 

You can keep up to date with Cooper by following him on Instagram.

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With virtual reality services and technology becoming more commonplace in our society, director Yedidya Gorsetman has done something pretty impressive and created, with the help of writer Mark Leidner, Empathy Inc., a film where VR is its central focus. The film has recently been praised by Variety and ahead of its wide release tomorrow, Yedidya spoke to ThisIsTheLatest about the creative process involved in making the film, his views on VR in general and his thoughts on the future of the film industry.

TITL: Where did the first ideas for Empathy, Inc. first come from and how did you set about bringing them to life? 

Yedidya Gorsetman: I was working with the writer Mark Leidner, a good friend. For our second film, we’d been brainstorming plot devices that could deliver a big hook but were doable on an indie budget. For example, we were exploring time travel between two periods in the present day, mind-reading, people from the past or future in the present day, and actors playing multiple characters, to name a few. Then one day Mark sent the idea for Empathy, Inc. It blended a sci-fi plot device with business conspiracy which is a sub-genre we both were fans of –Wall Street, The Firm, etc. In addition, it had a big theme that we were ourselves curious about: could you really “learn” empathy and better your soul by buying “empathetic” experiences? It also had a bunch of fun stuff that would allow that technology to be abused by bad actors in interesting ways. It ticked off all the boxes for the type of story we wanted, and had the resources to tell, so we started outlining. The script came pretty quick. Then it was just a matter of executing with our stellar producer Josh Itzkowitz and the rest of our cast and crew.

TITL: How did you find the collaborative process between yourself and writer Mark Leidner? Did you find that you both had similar ideas from the start or was there some compromise involved when it came to creating what’s now about to be shared with the world? 

YG: Mark and I have worked together many times since our first movie Jammed. I don’t know how other creative teams work, but we spend most of the writing trying to understand how plot, setting, and character interact, and we’ve developed a shared language around that. So we argue and debate pros and cons of any decision to the point of exhaustion, but it can also be fun because we are often starting from the same set of assumptions. When something doesn’t work, identifying the issue is usually harder than fixing it. Diagnosing issues can take months because we have blind spots due to inexperience, but fixing it is usually just a matter of brainstorming and then choosing the most practical solution. During the outlining phase of Empathy, Inc., we had to have a lot of hard conversations about our objectives with the story, what was primary, what was secondary, what was tertiary, etc.—before we both landed on the same page. Once we knew our hierarchy of objectives, though, we usually agreed on the best way to get there and were very aligned throughout production and post.

TITL: What was/is it about actor Zack Robidas that made you feel he was perfect for the star role in the film? 

YG: Zack was the 3rd person to read for Joel on the first day of casting. And he read a pretty insignificant moment from the film. But when he started his monologue it was obvious that he was our guy. I think Zack really understood Joel’s character—a charismatic man who knew how to make people like him, whose flaw was that he had to be successful in order to love himself, and he thought he could solve every problem that arose by himself. On the surface, there’s something attractive about someone who can work miracles and make things happen. But Zack also saw the other side of that: a deep insecurity driving a compulsion to succeed. I think it was that depth of understanding that Zack brought to the character that makes Joel feel real. It was very subtle in the casting session, but since we had spent the last 6 months thinking about this character every day, we recognized it immediately in Zack’s performance.

TITL: The film has already been critically acclaimed with Variety recently hailing it as an “ingenious indie thriller.” Even before its wider release, did you ever expect the film to get the response from critics that it has? 

YG: We figured that the film would at the very least find a small but passionate following. We also hoped for mainstream consideration but didn’t know if we’d get it. We mistakenly believed a film like ours had to screen at a festival like Sundance, Cannes, or SXSW to get theatrical release or major press, and when we got rejected, it was a hard pill to swallow. I remember thinking, “That’s it. We did the best we could with what we had and it just didn’t break through. Onto the next thing.” But we kind of got a break when we ended up screening at Cinepocalypse, an amazing genre festival in Chicago, and Josh Goldbloom, one of the festival heads, really liked it. He introduced us to Dark Star Pictures in LA. They loved the film, wanted to do a theatrical release, and even wanted our feedback on the marketing side. It suddenly felt like we were in good hands with people who not only believed in the movie but were also interested in our input. Working with them has been like a dream, and we’ve been humbled by the recent positive reaction to the movie. We always thought there was something unique about it, but we had no sense of how real world audiences would respond. To have any amount of mainstream recognition is something we’re grateful for.

TITL: What’s the nicest/best thing anyone could say to you/write about this film? 

YG: That they continued to think about the film the next day. Those are the movies I love the most. The ones that stay with you. When people have told me that, it makes me feel like all the anxiety and the gruelling hours were worth it. Knowing someone was affected by one of our characters makes me happy because I feel like I’ve paid forward something that films have given me: a sense of wonder or a sense of emotional expansion without which life would be less interesting.

TITL: Do you personally feel that, in this technology obsessed society we’re a part of, VR will continue to grow in popularity and in the number of things it can/might be used for? 

YG: It seems likely as long as people fantasize about changing their circumstances. In our film, we take that to an extreme in a way that I’m pretty sure is impossible, but the metaphor is nonetheless true. Every year VR technology seems to offer new ways to forget who we are. The question is whether it will deliver any real meaning, which is a theme I hope our movie explores.

TITL: Would you agree that there’s too much reliance on things like VR already, and that human interaction etc. between actual people in the real world is slowly being cast aside? 

YG: I feel like there’s always a huge plus and a huge minus to any advance in technology. I don’t think it’s helpful or accurate to pine for a long lost time when everyone you knew lived in your hometown and no one had any devices. I think those days had their own horrible problems and we romanticize them at our own peril. It’s probably always the same: some new tech will enable people to satisfy some long unsatisfiable urge while shutting off other urges, or creating new problems like addiction, manipulation, or incoherence. In 100 years, whatever technology we have today that seems cutting-edge will be being pined for by those upset at the new technologies unseating it. I put my phone away when I’m talking to someone I respect or who I want to know better, and that’s about where I stop worrying about it.

TITL: How does this project differ from any you’ve done in the past and is such a difference something you chose deliberately? How important is it to you that you can and do stretch your creative wings, as they say? 

YG: Our first film Jammed was a light-hearted comedy. Empathy, Inc. has a couple funny moments, but it’s much more intense and dependent on plot. Practically, we pivoted because it’s hard to find a distributor who will even watch an indie comedy, let alone take one on. But I also believe there is a benefit to stretching yourself creatively. After having made two films, there’s still so much I don’t know that I want to learn, and every time I’ve stretched myself creatively in the past, I’ve learned a ton. In Empathy, Inc. I had to learn how to direct action and special effects on a level I hadn’t before. No matter what genre our next project is in, I’ll certainly be pushing myself to learn new things.

TITL: With Empathy, Inc. about to go on release, have you started looking to/for your next project yet, or are you just going to enjoy seeing and hearing people’s reactions to this for a while? 

YG: Although we are currently focused on the release, we have a new script in the sci-fi/fantasy ballpark that we really like. We would be excited to bring it to life, should the opportunity come along. Like Empathy, Inc., it’s focused on a conflict between speculative technology and morality.

TITL: Finally then, where do you see the future of the film industry heading? With more and more individuals looking to make their mark on the business, either as directors or actors, and with films becoming ever more “current” in terms of their subject matter, such as VR, do you ever worry about there being “too much” of it all and somehow being over-shadowed? How are you working to help make sure yourself and your work stay relevant and catch the attention of both fans and critics?

YG: At this point in my career, I generally don’t worry about the state of the movie industry. It’s so far beyond me, and its changes are so unpredictable. My worries are personal, familial, political, and when I’m making a film, I worry about that film. But that’s where I try to stop the worry. I’m not even sure things are any different now than they ever were. Film has always responded to current concerns, and it probably always will, as it should. As for good movies being overshadowed by the sheer amount of movies out there, I generally believe that distributors and audiences and filmmakers are savvy enough to find each other and lift each other up where there is a spark in the work that captures their imagination or conscience. Good stories tend to get told and shared because they are such a huge source of meaning in our lives. I don’t think that’ll ever go away.

Check out the trailer for Empathy Inc. below and for more information on the film, visit Facebook and Twitter. You can also keep up to date with Yedidya on Twitter.


They say pain and heartache can be great motivators. For Red Tan, it’s true. As a young widow with a young son, the loss of her husband and her ambition to be an individual her son can look up to and be proud of spurred her on to follow her dreams of making her mark on the music world – a dream she has now fulfilled. Her recently released debut single “Don’t You Dare” will soon be followed by an EP of the same name, and she’s already making tour plans for 2020. ThisIsTheLatest caught up with Red Tan to talk song-writing inspiration, her thoughts on social media and her long-time goals and aspirations.

TITL: What would you say is your unique selling point as an artist? What one thing makes you stand out from your many artistic counterparts?

Red Tan: Since I wrote all my songs, I have an inspiring or empowering story to tell on each one and that I think is my USP. The audience will be captivated by emotions because I sing like a storyteller.

TITL: Which bands and artists are you most influenced by and how do they impact the music you make? 

RT: For this EP, my influences are Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa and Blackpink. 

TITL: You’ve been studying and performing music since the age of 16 and have since gone on to win two medals at the World Championships of Performing Arts; how has this helped you grow as an artist and shape you into who you are now?   

RT: WCOPA has opened me up to the idea that I can make it internationally even if you only have limited resources. You just gotta be resourceful and ask assistance from people around you who believe in your talent. As an artist, it made me mature and more purpose driven. It made me open to explore different genres and blend with them. 

TITL: Tell me a little about your debut single “Don’t You Dare.” Is there a particular story behind it and what made you feel the song was a good fit for a first release? 

RT: It’s something edgy but kinda warm. The verses are passive aggressive. I want it to stand out because the lyrics are the exact same reason why I am doing this EP and pursuing my singing career. The story behind is not to give up and to use all these challenges, situations, or even haters, as stepping stones to push yourself harder and do more in life.

TITL: The track is taken from your upcoming EP of the same name, which is dedicated to your late husband. Not giving anything away, how would you sum it up? Do you have a favourite track or does that tend to change from time to time? 

RT: This is my first EP and I think each song has a special place and meaning. It’s hard to say which is the best. They are all the best for me. Haha!

TITL: In terms of your lyrics and general song-writing, who or where do you find most of your inspiration? 

RT: Everyone and everything. Sometimes listening to other people’s experiences or my own experiences good and bad. Sometimes I will just look at my son and write down everything I want to tell him and voila! I have created my lyrics already.  

TITL: How easy or hard do you find the song-writing process? Can it depend on the subject you’re wanting to write about or your frame of mind at the time? 

RT: I can do both. I can also base my writing on the mood of the music my engineer makes. It’s quite challenging but once you find your perfect spot and the right momentum, it does get easier and I think the words become more powerful when it’s based on your personal experiences. 

TITL: To what extent does love and family, seeing as you’re a young mum, impact and influence what you do and what projects etc. you decide to give your time and attention? 

RT: My son is a big factor in my overall decision making. He’s my whole world. One of the benefits of being an indie artist is the freedom to decide and choose projects on your own terms. One for which must not require me to be away from him for too long. My family’s support has been good. They helped me in everything so haven’t had to worry too much. I am doing this for them as well.  

TITL: How has moving to London impacted your career and ability to connect with other artists/those in the industry? Have you noticed any similarities or differences between the music worlds/industries here and back home in Manila? 

RT: I learned so much in London; the ins and outs here is totally different as compared to the music industry in the Philippines. I want to share these skills which I developed in London to my home country and encourage artists there that they too can make it worldwide. Hoping to also expand the Filipino music and culture across the world. 

TITL: You’ve already performed as a jazz artist in Dubai and Malaysia, but if you could put together your dream show with four bands or artists, living or dead, who would you choose and where would you play? 

RT: My dream show is a mixture of my favorite genres with a powerful female cast like Ella Fitzgerald, Natalie Cole, Lady Gaga and Beyonce at Wembley Arena in London. 

TITL: Do you have any performances/tour dates lined up? Where can music fans next check you out? 

RT: Nothing concrete but there are plans for the next year. 

TITL: What are your thoughts on social media and is being part of the technology-obsessed society we all seem to be a part of something you like/enjoy or something you prefer to stay away from? 

RT: I love social media. It’s made the world a smaller place which is good. I am able to promote easily and more effectively and make things happen fast as compared to how it was before. It’s amazing how my songs can go international easily through digital media.  

TITL: Aside from your EP release, what does the rest of the year have in store for you? 

RT: Hopefully get some kickstarter funding and build great collaborations to do a worldwide tour. Also planning to finish an album by mid-2020.

TITL: Finally then, what are your long-term aspirations as an artist? Given how hard you’ve worked to achieve and get to where you are now, what’s left on your bucket list, both personal and professional, for you to tick off? What message or legacy would you like your music to leave behind many years from now? 

RT: I want to write more meaningful and empowering songs and express a wide range of inspiring ideas when it comes to my performances. My music is a salvation to me personally and I would like it to be a salvation to my fans and supporters as well. Especially to those who are ignored, misjudged and rejected, to those suffering from mental health issues, and to those who are fighting their own battles. I want to send a message across and remind them how beautiful, worthy and important they are. As clichéd as it may sound, I dream that my music would lessen suicidal incidents and help a lot of people as much as it has helped me in my healing process and in gaining back my strength, confidence and wisdom. Also, the profit that I will earn from streaming will also be used to provide food and education to thousands of less fortunate children in the Philippines.

Check out “Don’t You Dare” below and for more information on Red Tan, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.