From the time Aaron Ratnayeke was in school – Cambridge International School – he had a passion for the performing arts. So deep was his love, that when it came to choosing a career he did not have to think too hard. It had to be something in the world of arts.
‘Thanks to my parents’ support I came to Los Angeles to get an degree in Acting,’ he says, in an email interview. ‘Since graduating, my life has been filled with experiences of true joy to be making a living off of what was once a dream.’
Six months after graduating, he signed with three representatives for Modelling and Acting. ‘I’m proud to say that my day job consists of filming at least 2-3 auditions a day.’
The Sharjah-based, Sri Lankan young man has already worked with companies like HBO, Snapchat, Google, Omnilux Skincare, Simple car rentals, Pokemon Go, and even modelled merchandise for major influencers such as Trisha Paytas, he says. Most recently, he was part of a music video for four-time platinum artist Khalid whose video has grossed over three million views.
His biggest job to date though was for Disney which was a commercial for their theme parks that aired not only across the US on TV but on YouTube and even ran in Theatres as a preview commercial. ‘Along with that I have worked on several short films and continue to build my craft as a professional actor.’
Excerpts from an interview:
What was your life like in the UAE?
Early life in the UAE was almost dreamlike. Our family is very close. We regularly went to the beach, played tennis and swam, and would catch the latest movies. My Dad works for Emirates airline which offered us many opportunities to travel the world. I was never a child that was moulded into what my parents expected me to be; they allowed me to find and explore myself.
What is your earliest memory of acting?
When young, Mary Poppins was the first play I remember being a part of. This was in third grade. I was given a background character like a tree or something. Of course, I did not accept this obviously terrible casting and asked the teacher for a bigger part. I ended up getting one line in the middle of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I got to dance with the girl who played Mary Poppins for about five seconds so it was worth it!
That all changed when I joined Cambridge International School in the sixth grade. The following year I was a part of the backstage team for our production of Peter Pan. In grade nine, I chose Performing Arts for IGCSE. Taking this subject gave me a peek into what it is to perform and physically create. Every week I was constantly challenged with new exercises and ideas. We explored contemporary dance, musical theatre and Physical theatre; studied theatre practitioners, created so many immersive pieces, devised our own plays. It was a world that fueled me. I played Corny Collins in our school’s production of Hairspray and Danny Zuko/ Teen Angel in Grease.
Did your parents support your choice of career?
My parents always encouraged me to follow my creative instincts so that led to Architecture. But that got shot down when I realised how vital maths and physics were; later Graphic Design, but I didn’t want to sit behind a desk. Then Fashion design, but that wasn’t sustainable either. In the end, Acting, which was my dream.
Tell us about your experience in acting school.
I am someone who learns by doing, and so I chose a school that promoted hands on learning and practical experience. Our schedule kept us so busy that school was our entire life. In my time there I acted in several short films for student assignments and worked as a production assistant, wardrobe assistant, casting director, etc. Going to a film school gave me a feel of the industry and the experience, and production knowledge to feel confident and prepared.
How did you come about working with a public figure like Khalid?
For actors we have casting websites that allow us to apply for jobs. I had seen a casting for a “hip-hop artist music video”, I applied not thinking much of it but later that week while I was out of town, I got a call from the casting team saying that the director was very interested in having me, Later that day I had a phone call where he said how he really liked my vibe and that it syncs with the concept of the video. After we wrapped filming, he said to all of us how happy he was that he chose us having to filter out of thousands of applicants. That was a defining moment for me.
So, how was it working with him?
It was like a dream. It was my first music video and that in itself felt like such an achievement, and I was so honoured that it was for Khalid, someone who I would listen to in high school. We just got to have fun and they filmed it! Barely felt like work to me. I got to meet other great, blooming actors and industry professionals.
Tell us a bit about the challenges you have faced.
So much of this career is based on timing and luck, that hope is your only best friend, so that constant search for hope in remaining persistent is a draining daily challenge but feels so worth it when you get the rare chances to work your dream job. Right out of school trying to build a life out of acting is a process that takes years. I remain hopeful as to my prospects in this industry, I’ve had a taste and I’m hooked. Resilience and thick skin is a strong quality that’s bloomed from adversity and will continue to push me forward.
What’s your daily routine like?
Every day is different but mainly submitting, auditioning, and replying to emails. When working, managing errands and production requirements such as Covid tests and fittings. However, a lot of the job is trying to get the job. Auditioning is a long process which you don’t get paid for. That means submitting yourself, sending your info, analysing the script, memorizing, making choices, rehearsing, getting a friend to read the other part, film a take that you are happy with, edit it and finally submit. It can be very time consuming especially when you have around three to five to complete in a day. A lot of the auditioning process has moved online making it a lot easier for actors. On the few occasions, in-person castings do happen, that means driving around 30 to 40 minutes to a casting office to wait another 20 minutes, hear your name called, get in the room, audition: which takes less than 5 minutes and then drive another 30 minutes back home. It takes a toll on you to stay so hopeful.
What advice would you give aspiring actors?
Trust yourself and have an open mind.
Talent will only get you so far, how you treat people is what determines your trajectory. Your attitude, work ethic and charm is what defines your career.
Don’t try to be someone else, they already exist. People want to see you, so be you.
Don’t allow people’s opinions to influence you.
Always trust your gut, your instincts are your weapons to herd off the sheep, so stand tall and proud even if you do stick out like a sore thumb.