When Suzannah Bayes-Morton was in Year 12 at Dickson College, she studied drama. It was, she says, just ''one small unit'' but it altered the course of her life.
''My drama teacher Lorena Param set me on my way,'' Bayes-Morton, 29, says. ''She was the one who suggested I try out for drama school. I had an inkling to do it but it seemed a bit far off. I was a sporto, did a lot of sport.''
With her teacher's encouragement and advice, she applied for the Victorian College of the Arts - and got in on her first attempt. ''Most people have a bit more experience,'' she says. ''My family were very supportive. If it wasn't for that support I wouldn't have been able to do it.''
She had roles in Melbourne and Sydney including the films The Tumbler with Gary Sweet (''It didn't do so well'') and The Jammed (''A very small part, I didn't say a word''), television shows such as Wilfred and plays including The Man From Muckinupin for Belvoir St Theatre/Melbourne Theatre Company and The Last Highway with the Urban Theatre Projects.
Of the last, about the prostitutes in Parramatta Road, she says: ''I really believed in that material.'' She talked to members of that community to research the role.
And she did ''bits and pieces'' of television including All Saints.
Of the three media, she says she likes television the best because its fast pace suits her. ''It's quick - get in, do it and get out.''
Now, she has her most prominent role yet, playing Sissi Montebello in the ABC TV drama series The Straits.
Sissi is the only daughter of Harry Montebello (Brian Cox), born in London to a Maltese mafia gang member. Harry came to far north Queensland in his 20s and married Kitty (Rena Owen), daughter of a prominent Zey Island family. Because she was unable to bear children they adopted Noel (Aaron Fa'Aoso), Marou (Jimi Bani), Gary (Firass Dirani) and Sissi.
From Cairns, Harry runs an operation smuggling drugs into Australia and guns and exotic wildlife out. He decides he wants his three sons to compete for the right to succeed him as the head of the family when he retires, and his daughter to manage the family finances.
Thus begins a series full of rivalries and threats, some from outside the family, some from within it.
Bayes-Morton says she was attracted to The Straits because it was a strong, contemporary Australian story.
She was cast in April last year while living in Berlin with her husband Zahar, a chef. He had plenty of work but she didn't and she sent an audition tape to the show's producers.
''Within a couple of days they said, 'We want you, come back'. It was pretty full-on.''
Another thing that appealed to her was the nature of the role.
''I'm a Papua New Guinean. It's unusual for the story and the character to be so close to you and your area.''
The script, she says, was ''very convincing, a lot like real life'' - but not, she hastens to add, like her own life.
''No, nothing like that! My mum and dad live here in O'Connor.''
Her character, Sissi, is the youngest of the children at 25 and ''the one with the smarts in the family. She's the only one with a formal education, a university degree''.
She's also been the only one so far who has been protected from the family's activities, although she might have had an inkling of what was happening. But now Harry draws her in and she has to battle her conflicting impulses.
''A major theme of The Straits is family ties: she's so connected to this even though she's doesn't necessarily think it's right … does she stay? Does she leave?
''It's a dream come true, this character.''
She also enjoyed living in Cairns for the duration of filming.
''The weather up there is perfect, it's a beautiful place to be. It's quiet, calm, even more of a laid-back approach if you could get more laid-back in Australia.''
Sydney she found ''a bit of a grind - the traffic didn't suit me'' although she did love the beaches, and she enjoyed Melbourne for its ''diverse culture'' and ''arty people''.
She appreciates Canberra for its beauty and likes being with her family. In fact, she and her husband are living here now: he's studying a business course and she is between acting jobs. They may move next year, depending on when she gets another role, but in the meantime she will put her supplementary qualifications to work - in disability care or youth work.
She's not the first actor to work in this field and she thinks it is because ''we're good at reading people and able to get along with many different types of people''.
Also, it's ''human-based'' which, she says, ''is what draws us to acting. We want to tell people stories.''
■ The Straits is on ABC1 on Thursdays at 8.30pm.