One quiet winter morning in The Glass Den café, our editors Gabby and Emma sat down to interview Nathan Borg. You may know Nathan as the friendly and resilient teacher Curtis Perkins from Erinsborough High school on Neighbours.
We were interested in hearing about his humbling journey on becoming Australia’s upcoming known deaf actor with a cochlear implant on our television screens.
Chasing the Dream
We were surprised at the beginning of our conversation with Nathan to learn that acting wasn’t something he had considered until his integration aid, Cym, encouraged him to audition for his school’s Year 10 production. Although drama had always been his favourite subject, this was Nathan’s first experience on stage and it wasn’t without a few hiccups. Despite forgetting his only two lines, Nathan expresses that he holds nothing but fond memories of this production. “Forgetting those lines didn’t make me want to give up. I loved exploring different types of stories.”
Nathan decided that acting was the journey he wanted to pursue. With his creative dreams in mind, he took a chance and moved schools to SEDA College in Year 12 where he began studying drama. SEDA College is an independent secondary school for students undertaking Year 11 and 12, who are given the opportunity to develop and fine tune their skills within a particular field.
“It was certainly a change,” Nathan admits to us when we asked him how he felt at the time.
“I moved from a quiet country school in Bacchus Marsh where I’d grown up to inner city Melbourne.”
Nathan loved the freedom of the city and studying at SEDA Arts. Acting, Dance and Theatre Studies were like puzzle pieces falling into place, however, being a Deaf student didn’t come without its challenges.
“English is hard for me. I find long paragraphs and words overwhelming and there are some words I don’t know how to pronounce. It was hard to navigate and SEDA didn’t have the funds for an integration aid, which meant I had to work extra hard. But I loved acting, and I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
Roadblocks and Struggles
A lot of the time in the arts industry, we often face rejection and have to overcome many obstacles along the journey. While studying at SEDA College, Nathan actively pursued extra roles on various television shows. Unfortunately, Nathan found himself being met with disdain and rejection from people who believed his deafness and cochlear implant were not acceptable to be seen on Australian TV.
“I was an extra on the ABC show Dr Blake Mysteries and the makeup artist insisted the costume designer put a hat on my head. It made me feel like my disability wasn’t acceptable, but I knew I wouldn’t let one make-up artist discourage me from my dreams.”
A similar situation occurred when Nathan was working as an extra on Channel Seven’s miniseries Molly. A different make-up artist again insisted on covering Nathan’s cochlear. But it so happened that the same costume designer from Dr Blake Mysteries was working on this production too. This time, the costume designer stood up for Nathan and refused to cover his cochlear. “She looked uncomfortable covering my cochlear implant the first time. I knew she wouldn’t do it again and her actions gave me some belief that there is kindness within the industry.”
Despite the ups and downs of working as an extra, Nathan decided that after completing Year 12, he would stay at SEDA to study a Diploma of Film and Television. A few weeks into the Diploma, the drama teacher politely asked Nathan to step outside for a chat. In that moment, Nathan reveals to us, he was told by the teacher that the Australian industry lacked the diversity and acceptance for someone like him: A Deaf actor. It didn’t matter that he had talent or the passion for acting, according to his teacher, he needed to consider another career path.
The moment was made more heartbreaking when Nathan was asked to leave the program, while the drama teacher informed his fellow classmates that it was Nathan’s own choice to pursue an alternative path. “It was an incredibly low moment for me. I realised that being Deaf within the Australian industry was going to be a long road of struggle and advocating for myself.”
Despite this major setback, Nathan did not give up on his dream of being an actor. In 2015, he went on to study at NFTA to focus on his training and hone his craft of drama. There was a positive to all of this hard work as he was soon cast as the lead in many student films for RMIT University, Deakin University, Melbourne Polytechnic and VCA. “Student films were much more welcoming. My cochlear implant didn’t faze them at all. I was being seen for my talent, not my disability. It wasn’t a barrier.”
Nathan also shares the success he experienced in theatre where his passion for the stage was strengthened. “I played the character ‘Sketch’ in the ensemble of Hairspray the Musical with Nillumbik Youth Theatre Production. It felt good to be a part of a stage production again and I was truly accepted by all.”
Motivated by this positive experience, Nathan felt like he was ready for a bigger role and auditioned for Grease the Musical with the same production company. He decided to put himself out there by going for the supporting role as a member of the T-Birds. Unfortunately, despite his good relationship with the producer, Nathan was once again taken aside and told he would not be chosen for the role of Sonny because they were concerned about his disability and how it would affect the show’s cues. Nathan was offered an ensemble part instead.
“This shattered me because I thought theatre was more progressive. I realised theatre was as slow as film and TV when it came to acceptance and diversity. Once again, it was being assumed that my deafness was a barrier. I wasn’t given the opportunity to show what I could do.”
Nathan tells us here that despite the familiarity of the production company, he didn’t want to become stagnant in his career. “I didn’t want to be in the background anymore, so as hard it was, I left that production, not accepting the role of a backup dancer and never returned. However, I can be cheeky sometimes. I came to the opening night, dressed up as the T-Birds.”
Nathan chuckles at the memory of this and we ask him what the next step for him was. He explains that he was disenchanted with the lacking diversity in Australia and chose to travel to LA for a month to enter the IMTA Competition. Nathan tells us how he saw LA as a big and exciting place with so many opportunities, and he hoped that America would be a more accepting industry.
However, further roadblocks presented themselves and the saturation of the US market meant it was tougher for Nathan to stand out. There were thousands of actors in the same age bracket fighting for the same dream. At the end of the competition, there were casting directors, producers and agents selecting actors for callbacks. However, Nathan was unsuccessful in getting a single call back.
At this point in the interview, Nathan confesses that he felt guttered and done with the film and television industry. “I can remember going back to my apartment in LA and bursting into tears in the dark. I wanted to come back home.”
While Nathan felt defeated, he didn’t entertain the idea of giving up on acting completely. “I was ready to go back to Australia and believe I will go back to LA when it feels right.”
The Turning Point
Upon returning to Melbourne, he enrolled in an eight-week course that was run by a Home and Away director on the lookout for talent. “On my first day in class, the director stopped me and asked: “What is that on your head?” When I explained what my cochlear implant was, the director told me to grow my hair to cover it and never tell people. The director said if I did that, I would be accepted on any Australian TV show. But I was so sick of people dismissing my talent based on my disability that I stood my ground in front of everyone and told that director no.”
Nathan shares with us that he was determined to prove that he did belong in the industry, so he chose to stick it out and finish the course. “Throughout those eight weeks, the director singled me out and made the classes hell for me. But I kept grinding forward. I worked that much harder, and I didn’t let the challenge deter me because I needed to prove him wrong.”
There was a light at the end of the tunnel, as upon completion of the course, the director took Nathan aside and apologised, expressing that he should have never doubted him. “Acting is a tough gig to begin with and it’s hard when you’re a minority. I had no Deaf acting mentor and had to navigate the industry on my own. I’m constantly having to advocate for myself and prove people wrong.”
The rollercoaster of ups and downs Nathan had experienced over his journey would be enough to deter anyone. We asked Nathan after hearing all the hurdles that had stopped him so far on his journey to becoming an actor: “What was the one thing that pushed you to not give up?”
Nathan was very candid and didn’t hesitate to respond. “For me, it was a gut feeling. It’s hard not seeing yourself represented on TV. I struggled growing up and not having anyone that was like me to look up to. Throughout all my experiences in the industry, I am always thinking of the young ones like me – the Deaf children that can now look up to me. To me, that’s more important than anything else. They need to be able to see themselves.”
It was inspiring to us to hear that Nathan never really entertained the notion of giving up. He explained that acting felt like a calling to him and ultimately that was what kept him going when he faced the many roadblocks and struggles along his journey.
The tide turned when Nathan landed his most successful role on the iconic Australian TV soap Neighbours. “Neighbours has been a huge jump forward. It gave me the opportunity to learn about the industry and work with actors I admire like Jackie Woodburne and Annie Jones.”
Nathan also took his opportunity while working on Neighbours to educate his fellow cast and crew members. “I certainly had to advocate for myself. None of the cast or crew had worked with someone who was Deaf or had a cochlear implant before, but they accepted me with open arms.”
Unfortunately, Neighbours ended in July 2022. Nathan is so grateful that he had the opportunity to be a recurring guest for over a year when the original agreement was six weeks. Nathan is extremely proud of the authentic storyline he helped create for his character, Curtis Perkins. “While I’m sad to end playing a Deaf character on Neighbours, I’m glad to have given the young ones someone to look up to. Neighbours has certainly given me the confidence to be independent, work on other projects, and audition for bigger productions.”
The Hustle Continues…
As our interview with Nathan came to its conclusion and the café staff began to clean up our cups of coffee, we thanked Nathan for sharing his experiences with The Graduates Guide and being so open about his journey. Nathan has come a long way on his path to becoming a Deaf Actor. It is inspiring to hear how he has persevered through very tough times while remaining passionate about his craft.
“While I do believe I’ve broken down that barrier that I was met with when I first entered the acting industry, I still feel like I haven’t done enough. There’s this notion that being a successful actor happens overnight. You get that big break and from there it’s all rainbows and butterflies. But it’s not, it’s a hustle. I now have a great agent who supports my goals with future projects and roles. I’ve been very clear about not being type cast for just Deaf roles. I’ve been lucky to be able to audition for Deaf and non-deaf roles which means diversity is happening in Australia, just very slowly.”
When he’s not acting, Nathan works on his bilingual skills (Auslan and speech). Nathan even teased that he has an exciting project in the works that is connected with Auslan.
We thank Nathan for sharing his journey with The Graduate’s Guide community and giving us all hope that while the road to your dreams may be difficult, if you have a passion, you just have to keep grinding forward and advocating for yourself.
We cannot wait to see what’s next from this young and inspiring actor. If you want to catch more from Nathan offscreen, follow him on Instagram.