Award-winning Indigenous actress and playwright, Sandy Greenwood is passionate about the beauty and trauma of First Nations stories to the fore.
Gumbaynggirr, Bundjalung, Dunghutti, Greenwood woman hits career high at 40 and helps young Indigenous actors find their way.
She grew up on the north coast of New South Wales, where she began to dream of a life in the spotlight.
Greenwood has since performed with top theater companies in Australia and has also worked in the United States and secured a variety of roles: his film credits include Killer Elite and Little Black Dress.
She said the path had been difficult.
âI’m a fair-skinned native actorâ¦ so I started 20 years ago and nobody knew what to do with me,â Greenwood said.
“I know a lot of the light-skinned Indigenous actors who are coming in now don’t have this struggleâ¦ so I’m proud to have been brave and to keep going.”
Matriarch: “This story just came out of me”
About four years ago, Greenwood was living in Los Angeles when she felt compelled to return home to Australia.
“It was great [in the US] for a number of years it was difficult but also exciting because I was studying theater, working on movies, doing great things and meeting a lot of amazing people, âshe said.
âBut nothing was really fulfillingâ¦ nothing really spoke to me, and it was a struggle for various reasons.
It turned out to be a decision that changed my life and my career.
She created a successful one-woman show, Matriarch, which won the Green Room Award for Best Independent Theater Actor, with the screenplay nominated for Best Screenplay.
âThis story just came out of me and kind of had a life of its own,â Greenwood said.
The show explores the lives of four generations of Gumbaynggirr women, the matriarchs of Greenwood’s own family: herself, her mother – a member of the stolen generation – her grandmother and great-grandmother.
Greenwood plays all of his family.
âIt covers 150 years of history,â she said.
âSo a lot of tragedy, a lot of heartache, but a lot of beauty and strength too because a lot of healing comes from being in the countryside and connecting with culture and family, so that’s a theme which also crosses it.
“I wanted to pay tribute and testify to the strength, resilience and radiance of the beautiful women from whom I come.”
“The public is ready to hear the stories of the First Nations”
Greenwood said she felt there was now more appetite in Australia for First Nations stories.
“[Matriarch] really resonated with audiences across the country, âshe said.
âWhen I left Australia for LA it wasn’t so much so it was great to come back and to be received so warmly and positively.
âI think humanity is changing and there is so much goodwill in this country now, we are moving away from the old attitudes of the past, where it was deeply racist and where we were silenced.
Greenwood is currently involved in a production at Sydney’s Belvoir Theater that explores a story about Indigenous identity, set in Palawa country in Tasmania – although the latest COVID-19 restrictions have had an impact on rehearsals.
âIt’s about indigenous peoples identifying themselves later in life, finding out through their family tree that they have an indigenous heritage,â she said.
“You must be incredibly resilient and strong”
Greenwood said that in the future, she hopes Indigenous actors and projects continue to thrive.
âJust like other mentors have helped me, I love being able to help young Indigenous actors and give them any advice, advice or tips,â she said.
âYou have to be incredibly tough and strong, and you have to really believe in yourself. I’m tough as nails.
Greenwood said she would also like to work internationally again.
âI’ve always loved the United States and I still have a green card and audition for American projects so I wish I could do anything to be honest,â she said.
“I feel like I’ve come back and telling my story and having healed a lot from it and I’m still very focused on an international career in film and television.”