Rush: articles

Times changing for television cop shows

THINGS have changed since the days of Water Rats, laments Rush star Catherine McClements.

"Cars are built now without the screech power. When I did Water Rats, you'd slam on the brakes and 'eeeeeeeeeerrch', and skid. Now, with the new technology, cars don't screech," she says, relaxing her grip on the sides of her chair as a make-up artist intensely flicks, brushes and finger-combs her hair.

We're sitting in a production trailer on location in Melbourne for the second series of the hit cop drama Rush.

"We add in the screech later," calls out co-star Samuel Johnson, a few chairs down.

"You're right," McClements laughs. "But I get to do one or two stunts this series and they are always spec-tac-u-lar.

"I only do a bit of tackling of crooks, a bit of fast driving. Really, it is the other guys who mainly do that stuff. My heels are too high."

McClements is in a chirpy mood but, over the course of the interview, she reveals some serious sides to how she perceives her profession and changes within it.

The mother of Clementine, 8, and Quincy, 2, juggles a busy life, particularly on long shooting days for Rush. Her off-screen partner is Polish born actor Jacek Koman — with whom she has performed on screen and on stage, most memorably playing the married Macbeths in 2003. The family is based in Melbourne and have been since McClements finished Water Rats about eight years ago in Sydney — "you go back and forth, depending on where the work is," she says of the two cities — and guard their privacy.

"Nothing, nothing interesting in my life," McClements answers when asked what pursuits she has outside of acting, "It's just work, work, work."

And there's been plenty of that. Since graduating from the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1985, McClements has had a near-constant stream of work from The Secret Life Of Us to Weekend With Kate, Mary Bryant and After The Deluge. On stage she scored a Helpmann nomination for her role in Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf last year and further acclaim for Angels In America for the Melbourne Theatre Company.

"When I first started, acting was all I ever wanted to do. I thought that was the most important thing in the whole world," she says, tilting her head up and grinning.

She corrects her posture for the make-up artist to work on her hair and addresses my reflection in the mirror in front of her.

"But now, as you get older, you start to see the other elements and you start to see how creative and how important all that is, especially the writing of a piece and the creation of a piece. And you see how the actor comes later and adds their bit."

There is a slight tone in her voice — a suggestion that this accomplished actor, in her early 40s, is contemplating more creative challenges. Is she still learning as an actor?

"I think it is getting harder, yeah," she says, then repeats the answer and struggles with her reluctance to expand on that. Is she considering directing? Writing?

"Every actor does," she says. Her eyes flare a fraction in a little quick-step between being sage or sarcastic. "Every actor is writing something, or directing. They say they are and they are putting down the first couple of words. Their pen's got ink, let's say. I think that's part of being an actor, you always want to take some creative control. I suppose that's the idea of wanting to be a director, you imagine there'd be some kind of creative control in that, or being a writer."

Her nonchalance surrounding acting resurfaces when the topic of Australian television drama refinement arises. For season two, Rush has turned up production values, with more digitally created special effects, while taking on a cleaner look. The moves have been predicated by slicker shows on international markets. Deadwood, Merlin, The Sopranos are mentioned.

"Audiences are much more sophisticated in watching television, so they expect higher standards," McClements says, but is dismissive of the thought this means acting also needs to be taken to another level. "Acting is a very ancient sort of thing. We're doing the same thing we did way back. We're just in there trying to find the truth, the honesty. And I suppose that is one thing that doesn't change when everything else develops."

While it might not be on another level, it will be on another scale. Last season's 13-episode season for Rush has been expanded to 22 this year. It is an affirmation for the loyal following it generated straight out of the gates.

"The writers did an amazing job on the first 13," she says. "Not everyone was that moral hero, you know, and I really enjoyed that.

"When I came on TV with Water Rats, the writing for television was really developing — especially for female characters — and I've benefited from that development. It's more complicated human beings now. We don't have to be all big boobs and blonde hair."

Expect her Inspector Kerry Vincent character to be a bit more centred this season. McClements says Kerry, along with many of the other characters, has settled down a bit, but "things happen" and she's "always a little sort of uncontrolled".

"She has the aggression and energy, but whether she can control it is the thing."

The feedback Rush received from active police officers has also defied being controlled.

"The tide is out on these sorts of shows," she says. "It is amazing how varied police officers can view a show. Some think it's really true to life and some people think it's all bullshit.

"There is a little leap of faith with drama that you have to create, particularly in a show like this, because these sorts of police, they go in and they resolve a situation and leave and so it's moments in time. In the first episode that was very beautifully done. It was all about moments in time. It wasn't this long diatribe of I did, you did, why the crook did this.

"But to flesh out the show there are other elements — the drama — that we have to add and maybe some people go: 'Well that's not quite what happens'."

As in season one, the actors prepared with some pre-filming training with police consultants earlier this year. McClements twists in her chair to joke about what they did, her hands skitter into a Charlie's Angels gun-like pose and her voice takes on a bit of Kerry swagger.

"Ah, you know, two-man take downs, bit of shootin' off pistols, that sort of stuff. Things you don't need to know about. Secret police business," she says, smiling. The make-up assistant steps back. Her rich, dark hair has reached that perfectly tousled, slightly manic look that defines Inspector Kerry Vincent.

It is one of many characters she has played over the years that have been strong women with a certain amount of edginess. That wouldn't be a reflection of her personality?

"Ah, no," and that smile turns, disarming. "I wouldn't go thaaaat far."

Rush, Ten, Thursday, 8.30pm.

By Geoff Shearer
July 15, 2009
The Courier-Mail