Love My Way: articles

Way to go

Laden with accolades, Love My Way aims to repeat its success with a second series, writes Greg Hassall.

Towards the end of 2004, Foxtel held a low-key launch for its new adult drama Love My Way. For Claudia Karvan, who played the pivotal role of Frankie Paige, it represented her first foray into production and she seemed a little overwhelmed by the dual responsibilities and was concerned her acting may have suffered.

What a difference a year makes. In November Love My Way added five AFI awards to its already impressive haul of Logies and ASTRAs, confirming its position as Australia's most acclaimed drama. Not bad for a show that has never been broadcast on free-to-air television and has only just been released on DVD.

"I think the difficulty first time was all my own paranoia," a relaxed Karvan says during filming for series two, which begins screening next week on Foxtel's W channel. "I can admit now that I was freaked out beyond belief. Last time I was having trouble sleeping and the stress levels were just extraordinary, whereas now I can just go, 'Oh, God - get over yourself.' "

Given the show was not tested in the arena of free-to-air ratings, winning the Logie for best drama was particularly sweet. "When we finished the first series I felt such insecurity - I felt confidence in the project but insecurity about whether we'd be received well - so it was a real thrill."

Writer and co-star Brendan Cowell looks back at the Logies with bemusement, particularly going onstage with Karvan and fellow leads Dan Wyllie and Asher Keddie to accept their gong. "It was funny looking back at the Logies audience and all of them looking up at us going, 'Who the f-- are those three people with Claudia?' " Which is much as it was on the red carpet. "I got asked 10 questions and nine of them were, 'Can you please get out of the way so I can take a photo of Claudia'."

The critical acclaim vindicated the faith of a small group of producers, actors and writers for whom the project was a gamble and a labour of love. Karvan and co-producer John Edwards, who worked together on The Secret Life of Us, originally envisioned a kind of Secret Life of Us: The Next Generation. By the time the project became Love My Way, it was clear it would be a hard sell for commercial television, which prefers idealised rural settings or the contrived drama of hospitals and police stations. Moral ambiguity and the sprawling, complicated lives of flawed urbanites didn't fit the template.

A funding deal was struck with pay television company Foxtel, which gave Edwards and his team room to take risks, free from the tyranny of ratings and nervous network executives. "We've had very little censorship," Edwards says gleefully. "Every now and then [Foxtel's] Kim Vectra gets a little bit nervous and says, 'Do you have to say that?'. And we say we'll do it both ways - and then we forget to do the other way." It was, Karvan agrees, "a very nice, protected arena that we were allowed to play out in".

The show's success, combined with the difficulty of selling just 10 episodes overseas, made a second series inevitable. But could the standard be maintained? The first series was marked by intelligent writing, extraordinary performances and a terrible twist in the third-last episode, when Frankie's daughter, Lou, suddenly dies. It was gutting for viewers and, Cowell reveals, pretty tough for those on the show. "All the writers were ringing their kids every two hours going, 'You still alive?' We cried for three weeks in that plotting room and I think that made us really close."

So where do you go from there? Karvan admits little thought was given to a second series when writing the first. "We thought we'll burn all the story ideas that we have, assuming we won't have a second series, because then you'll just regret not using up those ideas. So we did have a few days in the plotting room early on where we were thinking, 'Well, do we have a show?"'

She says those fears were unfounded and from the first few episodes of series two it's safe to say Love My Way is no one-hit wonder. It opens a year on, with Frankie returning from self-imposed exile overseas. Still grief-stricken, she has nowhere to live and discovers that Lou's father, Charlie (Wyllie), has separated from his wife, Julia (Keddie). It's all a bit bleak but soon some tantalising new storylines are in place, boosted by impressive new cast members, including Sacha Horler, Ben Mendelsohn, John Hamblin and Susie Porter.

As with the first series, it's the writing that stands out. It has a level of sophistication and nuance unusual in Australian drama. The characters are fully fleshed - compelling, if not always sympathetic - and they ring true. The writers have enough confidence in their actors and viewers to leave things unsaid, to hint at meaning.

Cowell was recruited as a writer well before he auditioned for the role of Tom. During the writing, he explains, "I slowly became the ambassador for Tom's character, because he's a 29-year-old, drug-addled, perverted, introspective young man - basically me." Edwards eventually suggested Cowell go for the part. "It was weird," Cowell recalls, "because we'd plot a whole day's story and then half an hour later I'd be in the casting room auditioning with two scenes that I'd written."

Cowell insists he would have continued writing if he'd missed out on the part, but that he would have taken a sneaky revenge on the actor who wound up landing the role. "I was going to give [Tom] tetanus so he's asleep all the time," Cowell says.

Once he got the part, was he tempted to give himself all the best lines? He laughs. "You can't really do that because [head writer Jacquelin Perske] would be like, 'We didn't plot the 10-minute Tom monologue and all the sex scenes with Claudia you just added'."

Cowell believes the show profits from the distinctive styles of its five writers. "Tony McNamara is a comic writer and I write surreal theatre and Fiona [Seres] writes very minimalist, truthful stuff, and Louise [Fox] is quite metaphorical and Jacquelin's very naturalistic. But somehow it kind of works. It's nice for certain episodes to have a certain feel - like life does, in a way. Life's like a comedy one week and then it's like a really strange Mike Leigh drama the next. But we are writing the same show; the tone's always there."

Talking to Karvan and Cowell, you get the feeling they can't quite believe their luck. On and off set there's a sense of camaraderie and an awareness that, in the Australian television industry, this could be as good as it gets.

"I think this is one of the best things that's ever happened to me," Cowell says. "The sense of family, the quality, the freedom you have with writing is amazing."

"The bar's been lifted," Karvan says, then laughs. "I hope I can find another job."

Series two of Love My Way begins on Sunday, February 5, at 8.30pm on Foxtel's W channel.

By Greg Hassall
January 23, 2006
The Sydney Morning Herald