Swift Street star Tanzyn Crawford

Swift Street star Tanzyn Crawford. Photo: SBS

Tanzyn Crawford on harnessing the strength of Swift Street character and the importance of representation

"I practised walking down the street and not moving out of a man's way."

Making her leading role debut in a new Australian TV series, Tanzyn Crawford is about to become a name you won’t forget. The 23-year-old is the star of SBS drama, Swift Street alongside acclaimed Hollywood star Cliff Curtis, where the pair’s daughter and father relationship becomes the central focus. 

Crawford plays Elsie, a 21-year-old who helps her father after discovering he is being hunted down by a crime boss over a bad debt. Like any filmed role, there is preparation involved to get into character. In this case, Crawford had to truly push herself to harness Elsie’s fierce confidence as a strong, young woman. This entailed not only learning about Elsie’s backstory as a mixed race woman, but actually unlearning some habits that many of us women have in a world that still subscribes to various sexist ideals. 

“I practised walking down the street and not moving out of a man's way,” she tells Missing Perspectives. “Or not smiling at a man or feeling the pressure – because it's awkward when he looks at you.

“Also not turning away first when a man looks at you. I went out on the street and practised that because I was like, Elsie is so strong and so confident in herself. She's not moving out of the way for a man… I definitely still have that problem. I try not to but, you know, sometimes I put my head down and I avert my eyes and I move out of the way. So, I really had to make a conscious effort to not do that.” 

Cliff Curtis and Tanzyn Crawford in Swift Street

Cliff Curtis and Tanzyn Crawford in Swift Street. Photo: SBS

Elsie is unapologetic and has to be brave in a world where the odds are somewhat against her. Crawford hopes that viewers understand that what Elsie and her father go through is very real, and it’s important to not make judgments on face value. 

“This is a real story that could happen to you or your neighbour or your best friend,” she explains.

“You can look at Elsie from one perspective and say she's a criminal and she's stealing, but if you shine a light on that from a completely different direction, she's struggling. She’s trying to pay her bills and she doesn’t have a very stable house. 

“It's just so easy to judge somebody based on what you see only without giving them thought. I think this show takes you and gives you a second to realise what people go through behind the lens.” 

Also starring the likes of Keiynan Lonsdale, Eliza Matengu and Bernie Van Tiel, Swift Street is unquestionably very diverse in its casting when it comes to ethnic and queer representation on the screen. 

As a queer woman, whose father is African American and mother is Caucasian, Crawford grew up in Perth not seeing many people she could relate to on screen. To now be that representation she craved in her early days is very special and rewarding as an actor and mixed-race woman.

“I had this moment when we were filming where I met the girl that played a younger version of my character and I almost cried,” she reflects. “For 10-year-old me who was acting in high school plays at school, I would’ve killed to see someone on screen who looked like me that was doing what I wanted to do. 

“So the fact that I have now influenced someone else getting a part in something, and they have to be like me – a person of colour – is so cool.” 

Swift Street star Tanzyn Crawford

Swift Street star Tanzyn Crawford. Photo: SBS

Having spent a fair bit of time in America to especially learn more about African American culture, Crawford says she’s noticed key differences in the way race and representation is spoken about in the US as opposed to Australia. With a larger population, the US seems to be more advanced when it comes to diverse casting (though not perfect), but Australia still has further to go. This motivates Crawford to use her platform to speak up on the importance of diversity.

“I feel like I'm never going to stop talking about it because it just wasn't something that I ever saw or ever felt represented by,” she says. 

“I just feel really honoured to be a little part of hopefully bringing in a new era of all colours, sexualities and abilities on TV. I hope it continues in Australia.” 

Swift Street premieres on Wednesday 24 April. All eight 30-minute episodes will be available to stream free on SBS On Demand from 24 April, with double episodes airing at 8:30pm on SBS each Wednesday.