Young actress is a finalist in The Heath Ledger Scholarship

Aspiring actress: San Souci's Andrea Solonge, 25, has a chance to win a highly coveted scholarship that aims to promote rising Australian stars in the US. Picture: Chris Lane
Aspiring actress: San Souci's Andrea Solonge, 25, has a chance to win a highly coveted scholarship that aims to promote rising Australian stars in the US. Picture: Chris Lane

Rising young talent Andrea Solonge is still chipping away at her credit list, but this girl could be Australia's next big thing on the acting scene.

The up-and-coming actress, 25, of Sans Souci, escaped conflict in her homeland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and discovered a promising future in Sydney.

Acting was on the radar early for this former Port Hacking High School student, who discovered her passion in year 9.

"I was going through a difficult time attending school, at the point of I was about to get expelled," she said. "But I went to this random drama class and I thought, 'this is what's been missing in my life'.''

Her parents insisted she finish her HSC. Drama was "the only subject I did well in", she said.

"What intrigues me [about acting] is the sense of connection it creates. In society we are so disconnected from each other. I have felt most alive watching other people in theatre or being on stage myself. There's a certain rush you get."

Having found her desired career path, Ms Solonge enrolled in full-time acting and moved to Howard Fine Acting Studio at the Melbourne Actors Lab.

She won the 2019 Equity Atlantic Award, where she was granted a scholarship to study at the Atlantic Acting School in New York, founded by actor William H. Macy and playwright David Mamet.

The actress starred in the Australian television pilot 'Privileged', based on a young, diverse group of law students. It took out best comedy at SeriesFest 2021. She was also cast in the Amazon Prime Video series that is shooting now, titled 'Class of 07', starring Emily Browning and Caitlin Stasey.

But perhaps the most exciting opportunity is being one of six finalists in The Heath Ledger Scholarship, which is run by Australians in Film, a non-profit Los Angeles based film, television and digital content foundation that supports and promotes Australian screen talent and culture in the US.

The scholarship is given to an emerging Australian actor who demonstrates extraordinary ability and dedication to their craft and has international aspirations in their career and or training.

This year's judges include Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, the casting director of Game of Thrones, The Crown and Chernobyl, Nina Gold, Australian actress Jacki Weaver, Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development and founder of Blackfella films, Rachel Perkins.

The unfortunate timing of the COVID-19 pandemic meant Ms Solonge had to give up on her dream - for now - of living in the US. It's also struck the Australian entertainment industry hard, she said.

"Everyone is feeling it. Waiting for projects to be greenlit, or being shut down," she said. "I've lost a couple of jobs. We're used to rejection, it's part of the business, so there's solidarity there but it's been disheartening. But in the wake of it all we're seen a boom in content being made."

The latest scholarship up for grabs would boost her chances of returning to the US.

"I fell in love with America," she said. "I had started the visa process but then had to reassess. It made me want to pursue my dreams with a bold sense of urgency.

"The scholarship would open the gateway in having a successful career internationally. There are top tier coaches. Many young actors have gotten their start from it."

Having industry idols to look up to keeps her ambition strong. One being the late African-American actor Chadwick Boseman, 43, star of the superhero film 'Black Panther'.

"I'd love to be in any of the new sequels for Marvel's Black Panther. Young people of colour dressing up and wanting to embody that warrior is really inspiring," Ms Solonge said.

She admires African-American filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who created the crime drama miniseries 'When They See Us', which explores the lives of the five Black and Latino male suspects falsely prosecuted following the assault of a white woman in Central Park. Or Michaela Coel, who created 'I May Destroy You', a HBO series with a predominantly Black British cast that tells the story of a woman who seeks to rebuild her life after being raped. On home soil, Toni Collette and Margot Robbie are favourites.

A big supporter of fellow young Aussie actors, she hopes one day to fill their shoes in similar roles. "Jacob Elordi is in one of my favourite shows, 'Euphoria'. I would love to work with its creator, Sam Levinson. Geraldine Viswanathan from 'Miracle Workers', and also Charmaine Bingwa (former Heath Ledger Scholarship recipient), from 'Emancipation'.

"We are seeing so much more diverse representation in theatre and on screen and online streaming content. It's so encouraging and long overdue. Growing up I didn't ever see anyone who looked like me on Australian TV. Slowly and progressively that's starting to change. We have a little way to go in representing everybody but we've made a cracking start."

The winner of the scholarship will be announced this month.