Love My Way: articles

Karvan and Mendelsohn

To have and to hold ... Claudia Karvan as Frankie and Ben Mendelsohn as Lewis.

Young at heart

In the backyard of a Centennial Park mansion, a summer storm stymies efforts to film the final scene of Foxtel's Love My Way. As the sky darkens and cockatoos screech overhead, glum-faced crew members shift equipment while the actors wander indoors.

It's as though the heavens are conspiring to delay the end of the series, which has followed Frankie Paige and her complex extended family since 2004. It's a bittersweet time for the cast, who have seen their reputations soar on the back of the show and have relished the chance to work with such great scripts.

This series of Love My Way brings the number of episodes to 30, something few would have envisaged when the show began. "We thought nobody was going to watch it," writer Fiona Seres says. "We had this idea to just write and be brave and do the best 10 episodes of TV we can do."

But watch it they did. The first series won a stack of awards, making a second series inevitable. When it wrapped up in 2005, no one was thinking of a third series, least of all Claudia Karvan, the show's co-producer, co-creator and lead actor.

"I was surprised," she says. "One, I thought someone like Ben Mendelsohn might not want to be attached to a series 'cause he hasn't done any TV since he was a young'un. But he was dead keen, so that kind of foiled me. And then I was pregnant, so I thought there's no way I want to work with a young child again, but we just made sure it wasn't a long stint."

The biggest hurdle, however, was the loss of co-creator and writer Jacquelin Perske, who moved overseas with her husband, film director Rowan Woods. For a show that thrives on the closeness and consistency of its creative team, this was a huge blow. "She's [Perske] just a master storyteller," says writer Brendan Cowell, who also plays the role of Tom. "She was kind of like the truth serum. She knew how we do it. It would always be that unpredictable, offbeat, beautifully true way that it happens in Love My Way."

The challenge for the remaining writers was to come up with new, believable storylines. "It's a difficult genre because you can't rely on someone to run into a hospital having had a car accident or a madman on the loose," Karvan explains. "You really do have to mine people's personalities for curious behaviour and then explore the ramifications of that among the group. We've got to keep that as believable and real and complicated as possible."

In some ways, series two was a victim of series one's success. The death of Lou, the daughter of Frankie (Karvan) and former partner Charlie (Dan Wyllie), at the end of series one was unforgettable television but it cast a shadow over series two. Stricken with grief, Frankie, Charlie and his wife, Julia (Asher Keddie), all unravelled spectacularly. This provided some of the best performances you're likely to see on Australian TV, but it was heavy going.

Cowell has little time for such criticism. "People might not have thought it was as light and funny as they wanted but we remained true to the characters," he says. "What do you want us to do; have everybody at Luna Park having a ball so you can cheer up the audience? You can't do that."

Karvan, for her part, is happy for the characters to move on in series three. "A lot of the writers and actors have a real talent for comedy ... so it was really wonderful to be able to lighten the show up. And it some ways it felt like we were going back to the first seven episodes of series one, which was a nice place to return to."

The shift in tone began with series two's up-beat resolution. Frankie and Lewis (Mendelsohn) were married and expecting a child, Charlie and Julia were back together and Tom headed overseas. Viewers might have appreciated it but it didn't leave the writers much to work with when they regrouped.

"Love My Way is at its best when everyone's sitting in the same room and there's cross-pollinating drama going on," Cowell says. "With this series you go, 'Why the f--- would Charlie go over to Lewis and Frankie's house and why would Tom go there?' You just wouldn't. You'd just live your life and give them a text message once a month."

One answer lay in Dylan (Sam Parsonson), Lewis's gay teenage son. Cowell says Dylan became "a great joining device".

"We thought that he'd be able to drop a few bombs that can ripple though the group because he links the two families," Karvan says.

In some ways, series three plays like Love My Way: The Next Generation. "This series is very much about growing up a teenager and the characters around these teenagers' lives," Cowell says. "The age group has kind of shifted; it's kind of a different show."

Parsonson, who's in year 12, rose to the challenge, turning in a nuanced performance that belies his age and relative inexperience. In doing so, he upholds the show's reputation for impressive young actors established by Alex Cook, who amazed critics and fellow cast members alike as Lou.

Given Karvan was a child actor, it's tempting to imagine her playing a nurturing role but she takes none of the credit, putting it down to "luck and a good casting agent". When pressed, however, she accepts the show has provided a positive environment for its young cast.

"They've all really grown from being around adults," she says. "I remember as a 14-year-old, the performances I did opposite someone like Judy Davis were infinitely better than the performances I did opposite lesser actors. It's symbiotic and you can see Sam just taking on some of Ben's mannerisms and it's just fantastic. It's hilarious to watch."

Back on set, steady rain has seen filming abandoned for the day. Everyone's frustrated and it's possibly not the best time to raise the prospect of a fourth series.

"It's like a dirty word around here," Cowell says. "Seriously, at the end of series one everyone went, 'That's it, we've done it - perfect little series, finish it.' After series two, I remember Claudia and a few people saying, 'We're not doing this again.' And then this one came about and they're saying the same thing. So who bloody knows?"

Cowell's enthusiasm for the show is undimmed and he ticks off reasons why he believes it could continue. "You've got Justine Clarke playing a great new character who's got so much possibility. The teenage stuff has so much dramatic possibility. You're happy to go along with the five main adult characters because the audience loves them."

He acknowledges the risks, however. "It's that fine line between trying to make this great show go as long as possible but also giving it the life span it was meant to have. Because it's just human relationships and people in a house, you can't do too much to them or it becomes soapy and melodramatic. Only so much can happen in Maroubra."

Series three of Love My Way is on Showtime Mondays at 8.30pm.

By Greg Hassall
February 26, 2007
Sydney Morning Herald