Why Isabel Lucas turned her back on LA
Leaving a successful US TV series is big call for any actor, but for Isabel Lucas finding a work-life balance was more important than chasing stardom.
The Melbourne-born actor played the spy Samantha Cage in the first two seasons of action-adventure series MacGyver and although she enjoyed the challenge of action and accents, she pulled the pin in 2018, tired of the six-day-week, five-month-stint grind of network television and feeling she had nothing more to give.
The reboot of the '80s classic rolled on without her - the fourth season premiered last month in the US - but Lucas has no regrets about walking away.
"It was a good experience and I learned a lot from it," she says.
"But it was 15-hour days - you'd start at 5am and wrap around 9.30pm - and six days a week. I feel exhausted just talking about it. And then Sunday I was just operating to learn lines for the next week and learning different accents."
The decision also enabled Lucas to once again base herself in Australia.
Like many homegrown actors before her, including former flame Chris Hemsworth, she'd parlayed her Logie-winning success on Home and Away into a successful Hollywood career, with a breakout role in Michael Bay's third Transformers film in 2009.
Over the next decade she juggled big-budget blockbusters including Immortals (alongside Henry Cavill and Luke Evans) and Daybreakers, with more art-house fare such as revered director Terrence Malick's Knight Of Cups, but eventually living in the image and career obsessed Los Angeles proved too much.
"It's just like being in a little fishbowl and over a long time it's not healthy," she says.
"It's not a natural, healthy sense of community, we don't function naturally that way."
"I appreciate being able to work over there and be based here. It just felt right to be based in Australia and to travel there for work to film and to shoot projects. For me it's just prioritising lifestyle and what fills you with joy and what is replenishing creatively and for me it's having shorter visits to LA but more frequent, as opposed to being based over there."
Now she chooses to follow the work - wherever that may take her - and splits her time between her eco-friendly home in Byron Bay and her home town.
"All my family is here," she says of Melbourne.
"I love this city - I feel like there is a real authenticity to the people. There's an incredible arts culture and also an environmental awareness or conscience. Those are the things I find unique about Melbourne."
Lucas' tree change also coincided with a shift in her career and life priorities.
The long-time activist for environmental and human rights causes including Sea Shepherd and Plan Australia says she not only feels a responsibility to use her platform to support the causes that are meaningful to her, it's also become increasingly important to her that her films have something to say.
"I have been very selective about what I do and don't want to work on," she says.
"There's a lot of films that, like reality TV, are just sugar-coated and have very little substance and don't really talk to anything deeper. They have maybe more of an egotistical layer rather than a soul layer of what we all have in common and what is really important to talk about."
It's with that in mind that she has signed on to play revered scientist Marie Curie in the coming Australian biopic Radiant, to be filmed this year in France, Poland and Australia. Directed by Polish/Australian filmmaker, Annika Glac, it will follow the life of the trailblazing two-time Nobel prize laureate (the first woman to win and the only woman to win it twice) from the time she won the top prize in chemistry at the Sorbonne in Paris, through her marriage to fellow scientist Pierre Curie, his death and her subsequent affair with married Frenchman Paul Langevin.
"It has conscience and a very strong message and I also feel that Radiant is about those people in the background," Lucas says. "She wasn't from a rich family, she wasn't well off at all and she just worked hard and was determined and courageous and she really was brilliant. She found a way and you never know what's possible. We need more gracious giants, we need those people to step from the background who do hold wisdom and speak to what's relevant and important for this time."
Lucas says she counts herself lucky to have never had a MeToo moment as a young woman trying to carve out a career in Hollywood, and says she's noticed a marked improvement in the number and quality of roles and projects driven by women in recent years. She says her research reading letters written by and to Curie - as well as a recent fact-finding mission to some of the key locations in her life - have left her in awe of the physics and chemistry giant's achievements, particularly as a woman working in an overwhelmingly male environment in the early 1900s.
"She did have to face a wall of judgment from a very misogynistic, patriarchal society," she says. "We navigate that today still but in a very different way and again I think she did it with tenacity and grace.
"She was a very soft-spoken, gracious woman and just brilliant. Obviously a genius and her determination and her courage paved the way for many, many women. It's very inspiring learning and an absolute thrill as an actress to have this opportunity."