HE GREW up in a tiny Outback town and did not set foot on a stage until three years go.
Now, at 24, Cody Fern has been cast in the coveted lead role for the Australian run of international stage sensation War Horse.
It goes without saying that he’s thrilled to have landed a dream role, but despite his isolated upbringing, Fern’s path into it has been anything except accidental.
He has twice sold everything he owns, turned down a lucrative corporate career offer and followed his gut feeling into total uncertainty.
This year, he arrived in Sydney from Western Australia without a job, a home or a friend in sight to blindly pursue what he believes he was born to do: act.
“I’ve known since I was about six that I wanted to be an actor, but I grew up in a very small country town and it was just not something that was possible,” Fern says.
“I still kind of pinch myself that it’s all falling into place. It’s been an incredible ride so far.”
That small town was Southern Cross, about 400km inland from Perth, population 700. Fern’s entire school, from years 1-10, had about 80 kids. His senior boarding school, a further 90-minute drive away, was a little bigger with about 30 in his year level.
Still, not a lot of performing arts courses going on out there, so Fern took the academic route until he could make his break.
With a Bachelor of Commerce and an Honours in Strategic Marketing from Perth’s Curtin University under his belt, Fern knocked back an internship with Ernst and Young and signed on for a nine-month acting course.
His inner sat-nav was finally realigned and it felt so sweetly right.
“I’d wanted to do it my whole life and it was time to do it,” Fern says. “When I was at uni I got good grades and went on to do honours, but I kept thinking, ‘I shouldn’t be here’. Something just didn’t feel right.
“When I finished I decided that every decision I make from this day forward will be purely based on intuition and I’m not going to fight that.”
Fast-forward three years and Fern has landed his breakthrough role after a stream of masterclasses, night classes and appearances in plays and short films in Perth and Sydney.
He now joins an ensemble of 33 actors in War Horse, taking on the lead role of Albert Narracott, the teenager whose beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry at the outbreak of World War I.
The National Theatre of Great Britain play has astonished audiences in London (pictured inset) and New York, winning five Tony Awards, two Laurence Olivier Awards, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards. It features puppetry by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company.
It will make its Australian premiere, with a local cast, at the Arts Centre Melbourne on New Year’s Eve before going to Sydney and Brisbane.
“When I read the script for War Horse I was in absolute tatters. The lady in the cafe came up and asked me if I was OK,” Fern says.
“It really is incredibly overwhelming and moving. I’m so excited and anxious to get started. I’ve tried to shut myself off as much as possible from the hype of War Horse and just thought, ‘OK, I’m going to focus on the character and focus on the story and focus on what I have to do’. Everything else will rain down as heavy as it does.”