A firm film festival favourite
IT SEEMS you can take the girl off our silver screens - but you can't take the star out of the girl.
Actress Simmone Jade Mackinnon arranged to meet me in the park on a sunny afternoon, and she arrived with her famous curls tucked into a baseball cap and her jeans rolled up.
But despite the casual dress and the move back to Coffs Harbour, she still gets recognised as the face from TV hit McLeod's Daughters, and more recently, from her stint on Neighbours.
"I was at Toormina Gardens and ran into a fan from Germany," Simmone laughed.
"She just wanted to meet me and give me a hug."
Simmone not only gave the girl her hug, but also a lift home and lunch the next day.
This improvisational attitude to life makes Simmone an excellent choice for judge of the Janison Short Sharp Film Festival this weekend.
Not only does she have experience on both sides of the camera, she also knows a good story when she sees one.
"We've been quite astounded by what we got," Simmone said of the film submissions.
"There's a certain amount of local content, with Aussie and international films fighting it out for the best in each category."
Simmone said she never imagined she'd be in a position to judge film - she never even thought she'd be an actress.
A dedicated ballet dancer who moved from her family home in Bonville to study dance full-time in Brisbane, Simmone said she needed a break after two years of touring with musical Cats.
"My body was tired after the constant touring, so I told my agent I was taking a break from work," she said.
"But within a week she'd called to tell me about a TV commercial. I thought the idea was ridiculous, but she said all I had to do was look at a chip."
Filming that commercial soon led to other work, and after the strict and gruelling regime of professional dancing, Simmone was hooked.
When infamous TV show Baywatch arrived in Australia, Simmone signed on.
She ended up filming a season of Baywatch Hawaii, as the spunky Aussie helicopter pilot Allie Reese.
With one eye on her little boy playing in the sandpit, she performed a spot-on parody of a modelling pose and explained why she quit the show.
"They wanted a spunky Aussie lifeguard at the start, but then they just wanted another Pamela Anderson," she said.
From there Simmone found herself on an increasingly interesting ride through roles and countries.
"I found myself working in Lithuania with Gerard Butler on Attila, his very first American movie. He looked fantastic with his long dark hair and eyeliner," she said.
"I've been able to live in these amazing places all over the world."
Working on McLeod's Daughters was a whole different chapter for Simmone, who rented a house as far away from civilisation as she could get, only trekking into town for the occasional girl's night out with her co-stars.
"That was how I wanted it," she said.
Conversations with McLeod's Daughters writer Posie Graeme-Evans led Simmone to the writing course she's currently studying.
She offered the same advice to budding scriptwriters as Posie gave her.
"Look, if you've got something there that niggles you, a story that keeps tapping you on the shoulder... do it. That's the story that needs to be told."
Janison Short Sharp Film Festival is on Saturday night at the Jetty Theatre.
For more, go to shortsharpfilm