Love My Way: articles

Clarke loves her way

SHE began her career at age seven on a commercial for Arnott's Humphrey B Bear biscuits.

As a teenager, she was an Aussie soap star as "Roo" Fischer on Home and Away, but then cut short her time on the long-running primetime drama to study at drama school.

Later roles cemented her place among Australia's most impressive stage and screen talents.

Now, at 35, Justine Clarke's career continues to evolve.

While wrapping up the recent Sydney Theatre Company double-header of David Mamet's Reunion and Harold Pinter's A Kind Of Alaska, directed by husband and wife duo Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, Clarke filmed her first fortnight as the newest character on Foxtel drama Love My Way.

Also a Play School host since 1999, Clarke will open a season of her show I Like To Sing, based on her children's music album of the same name, at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse on February 2.

The married mother of two says she's exhausted but loving every minute.

Apologising for her weariness, Clarke sparks up on the topic of her new cast and crewmates at Love My Way.

In the third series, which goes to air on February 26, Clarke plays Simone, a high school geography teacher from Newcastle, incidentally her father's home town.

While her character is a bit high-strung, she says, the mood on set is not.

"The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed," she says of the 12-hour shoots in Sydney suburban houses.

"Obviously, it's a show made with very passionate people who love their work, and the actors are all trying to represent their character in the best way they can and in all manner of lights."

Clarke feels she's joined a well-formed unit and she appreciates coming to it with fresh eyes.

"Coming into (Love My Way) in the third series is interesting because I get to see the characters so well formed, (the actors) know their characters really well," she says.

"That only comes from people who are diligent and understanding and passionate."

Love My Way has broken the mould of Australian television drama set in the past few years.

Not only has it won critical acclaim and top accolades such as Australian Film Industry awards and "most outstanding" Logies, the series has been a genuine success since it first aired on Fox 8.

While it won't reach the same ratings numbers as more commercial programs any time soon, the show has transformed the image of subscription television in Australia.

No longer is it a collection of overseas-made products on a relentless repeat cycle. Pay TV is fast becoming a creator of cutting edge, intelligent, challenging and, most importantly, entertaining new Australian television.

Two new drama productions, Dangerous, from one of Love My Way's producers John Edwards, and Satisfaction, would not have happened without Love My Way's success.

Although Foxtel has come under fire for shuffling the show between channels, with the second season airing on the W Channel and this season's new episodes moving to Showtime, which is not part of the basic Foxtel package, it is still one of pay TV's most watched programs.

"There's a real feeling of freedom on the set," Clarke says.

"The network is so proud of it. They're so encouraging and they're really involved in it. It's good."

Clarke returns to TV drama following a starring role in the ill-fated medical drama The Surgeon, also produced by Edwards, which was buried in Network Ten's programming before being unceremoniously dumped.

"I think it just, unfortunately, came at a bad time," she says of the cutting-edge 30-minute drama, which was not renewed after its eight-episode run.

"It's a shame that something like that wasn't given a real shot.

"Making a series is such a bittersweet process, especially when it has such a confined time frame and so little money."

As Foxtel builds its stable of Australian drama it is slowly establishing itself as a real alternative as an outlet for the best local talent.

"And anything that creates work for the many dedicated and talented Australian actors and crew is a great thing," Clarke says.

"(Love My Way) has been sold around the world, is out on DVD and it gets a million viewers a week. It's an amazing precedent and wonderful to be a part of."

Love My Way's dynamic was always going to be different, with the customary writer-director-actor divide blurred.

Its star, Claudia Karvan, who plays Frankie Paige, is a creator, producer and script supervisor.

One of the show's main writers is Brendan Cowell, who plays Tom Jackson, brother of Charlie, Frankie's former partner and father of their child Lou.

"All the delineated moulds have been put to the side," Clarke says.

"That seems to have trickled down to the set as well, which means it's quite a democratic environment.

"The crew, who have been there for the life of the show and know it inside out, all have their own opinions on the characters and how they think they should behave."

Clarke's busy schedule was the only roadblock to an earlier start on Love My Way.

"I've wanted to be involved on the show since the start," she says.

"It's been a time frame issue above all, so it was great when this character came along."

Last year, for her work on The Surgeon, Clarke was nominated against Asher Keddie and Karvan at the Australian Film Industry Awards for best television actress, an award won by Susie Porter for her work on SBS production RAN.

Clarke's character Simone, the estranged sister of Keddie's Julia, is in the midst of a career crisis. She returns to Julia's life at a time when Julia and husband Charlie are trying to repair their marriage.

"She comes back to Julia's house, right at a point where they're just starting to rebuild their relationship from a pretty tumultuous episode," Clarke says.

"They've reached a point where they're on equal ground and trying to trust each other again, all of a sudden in comes a guest. She's a spanner in the works."

Recognised for roles on Wildside, All Saints and the film Look Both Ways, but probably best known for Play School, Clarke says variety is essential for any performer.

"Sometimes you'll be attracted to something you have an affinity with or something that will challenge your own boundaries and moral code," she says.

"I'm in a position where I'm lucky enough to have a choice to do what I want to do.

"(Love My Way) deals with the best and the worst in people and, as an actor, I think most actors are attracted to that sort of dynamic."

Series three of Love My Way airs from Monday, February 26, at 8.30pm on Showtime.

By Michael Gadd
January 29, 2007