Why you should care

Because we all know how much Hollywood loves the men from Down Under.

Aussie director Baz Luhrmann knows how to pick ’em. Remember Romeo + Juliet? Ah, young Leonardo DiCaprio’s soul-blue eyes. Or Moulin Rouge!, which gave fresh steam to the careers of both Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.

Now comes what may his newest stud and the next big name from of our friends with those great accents. He’s Australian Thomas Lacey, a 21-year-old who plays the torrid dancing bad boy Scott Hastings in the Luhrmann-directed Strictly Ballroom: The Musical, which premiered in Sydney last April. Indeed, people are yelping about the kid’s triple threat potential: singing, acting, dancing — a combination few stars can pull off. His credits, mostly in theater, have him topping the Aussie arts scene, in productions of Singin’ in the Rain and Oliver! for global media giant IMG. He’s also made a jump to television, starring as a class clown in ABC’s teen drama Dance Academy, which depicts a fictional, cutthroat ballet school in Sydney.

It’s Strictly Ballroom, though, that’s been his breakout role, which he landed after a grueling yearlong audition process to play Scott. It came after three auditions — in the third, he locked eyes with Baz himself. And … “I kind of got told no,” says Lacey. He blames his boyish look. But, months later, Luhrmann asked him for a final audition, and this time he got the call from his agent. She was crying. In a good way.

Thomas Lacey arrives to The 2014 Helpmann Awards, held at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney.

Thomas Lacey arrives at the 2014 Helpmann Awards, held at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney.

Source Corbis

There is talk already that Strictly Ballroom, which recounts Scott’s struggle to find his own unique dance style and win a ballroom dancing championship, may be headed to the Big Apple and Broadway. But whether he’s Manhattan-bound or not, Lacey could well be the next figure in today’s Aussie-wild Hollywood. There’s the old guard, of course: Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe. But fresh faces such as Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Sam Worthington (True Blood, Avatar) and Abbie Cornish (RoboCop), are flipping the script. When Outback fever was at its heaviest in 2013, 23 Australians were cast in pilots — an unprecedented number, according to Deadline Hollywood. Why? Aussies themselves have a triple threat rep: English speaking, film-friendly, but — crucially and rarely these days — “theatrically trained thespians,” says Don Groves, a senior journalist for Inside Film Magazine in Sydney.

Of course, there have been naysayers. When the show debuted in Sydney last year, some thought Lacey didn’t have the right pipes. (He is, in fact, a natural baritone, who’s been asked to play in tenor range.) TimeOut Melbourne arts editor Tim Byrne told OZY the performance was “stilted and kind of impenetrable.” Another said Lacey “dances like a champion — but his acting isn’t nearly as fluid.” But perhaps appearing onstage will work to Lacey’s advantage. In fact, in an interesting twist, the road to silver screen fame seems to be going increasingly through Broadway — as opposed to Broadway being an indulgence Hollywood celebrities seek as an artistic respite. Think Robert Pattinson, for example, starring on Broadway before his Twilight film success.

But that’s for down the road. On a recent Melbourne night, Lacey, pleasantly aware of his own piercing brown eyes and charmingly tousled black mop, posed for selfies with mums and teens after curtain call. After a night of prancing around in sequins, he was dressed down to a leather jacket and lensless hipster glasses. He’s been in showbiz since he was just 2 years old. Renie Martini, his longtime instructor and owner of the 104-year-old May Downs School of Dancing in Melbourne, has known him since the beginning: The day she met him, his older sister, Stephanie, was supposed to be the dancer. But Miss Renie, as she’s known, saw him in a stroller and told his mother: “Get him up, he wants to dance!” Martini recalls. “He just had something magical.”

Through middle school and high school, Lacey continued his training in hip-hop, tap, ballet and classical, trying to also balance a regular life. He did his homework during car rides to the studio, where he danced after school until 9:30 p.m. six days a week. He hardly looks like he’d be a theater geek, much less a dance whiz — about 6-foot-1 and fit, Lacey has a laid-back jock look, like the cool guy on a high school soccer team. He still golfs with his dad on off-days, or wakeboards with his high school mates. At best, you might figure him for a boy bander or a Disney Channel star.

Lacey’s mother, a former nurse, and father, a car mechanic, were far from the hovering showbiz parents — though mum admits guiltily that she’s seen Strictly Ballroom 13 times: “We told him, ‘This is just something you’re good at. It doesn’t make you any more special than the next person.’”

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