Small Claims: articles

Claudia Karvan

After giving up one of the biggest gigs of her career, Claudia Karvan creates a bit of drama. But she is working hard behind the scenes. Katrina Witham reports.

Pistol-packing mamas

The Secret Life of Us, does not have a full schedule.

Not only does she feel isolated from the world, because most of her friends are out working, but the energetic 30-year-old can not bear to sit still.

While Karvan left Channel 10’s hit series at the end of last year to spend more time with her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Audrey, life is just as hectic.

“It’s chaotic, it’s out of control a lot of the time, which I think is a very healthy way to live,” Karvan says.

“Before having Audrey everything was very organised. But I welcome the change because it is nice to live on your instincts.

“And I’d rather be over-extended than under-extended.”

Along with a directing stint on The Secret Life Of Us, Karvan has been co-producing a new Foxtel series and the Australian telemovie, Small Claims, which goes to air on Monday.

Starring alongside Rebecca Gibney, the mystery-thriller is about two professional women who forfeited their careers for the sake of raising their children.

Gibney stars as Chrissy, an ex-solicitor-turned-housewife, and Karvan as detective Jo Collins, a single mother who gave up her full-time position in a police crime squad unit to take on part-time administration duties.

Their characters’ lives cross at playgroup, and while a friendship between them is unnatural due to a deep-seated cop versus lawyer acrimony, the two are forced to overcome differences when a woman with a shady past vanishes mysteriously.

Bored with their domestic responsibilities, the two risk their lives as they become super-sleuth mums to solve the mystery.

Unlike her character, who resents having to give up her full-time career for motherhood, Karvan has no regrets about leaving The Secret Life of Us.

She says the show was a confidence booster and offered a great learning curve. “It was a good training ground and you work out your weaknesses very quickly,” Karvan says.

“You would do one scene and say ‘gee I was crap’ and work to improve on it the next time.

“It’s also a good opportunity if you have an idea to throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.”

Since Small Claims wrapped late last year, Karvan has remained behind the camera, rather than in front of it.

She speaks positively about her experience on the other side and says being on an audition panel recently to cast for the new Foxtel series was exciting.

“I hate auditions and they never get any easier,” she says.

“But it was nice to be in the room and be empathetic towards the actors because you know the way you feel when you are on the opposite side.”

While Karvan enjoys her producing and directing roles, acting is still her first love.

“I could never stop acting,” she says. “Of all the jobs I’ve done it’s one that makes me feel the most alive.

“I don’t see why I can’t do both behind the camera and in front. Because I’m not working overseas and this industry is so small in Australia I have to look for other challenges.”

Karvan has worked with some of the best in the business: Judy Davis in High Tide; Hugh Jackman in Paperback Hero; and Guy Pearce in Dating the Enemy. They are now among the Hollywood elite.

Unlike her colleagues, however, Karvan has always been clear that she has no intention of heading to Hollywood­ not in the near future, anyway.

“I am not prepared to sacrifice the life I have in Australia,” she says.

“It’s a big gamble and I don’t think it is a necessary to do it because I love working and living in Australia and telling Australian stories.

“I mean I’d love to be part of an Amelie film or work with some of the fantastic directors in Hollywood, but I’m getting what I need in Australia so I guess I don’t have that pull.”

So passionate is Karvan about the Australian film and television industry that she recently delivered an ardent plea to the Howard Government to preserve Australian content when it comes to finalise its free trade deal with the US.

“As good as some US shows are, they can’t nourish us as a nation the way an Australian program does,” she says.

Karvan’s career began when a friend’s father cast her alongside Garry McDonald in the children’s movie, Molly, in 1983. Next up was a small role in Phillip Noyce’s Echoes of Paradise and when Karvan was 14 she was cast opposite veteran Australian actor Judy Davis in High Tide.

But all of her acting triumphs pale into insignificance, compared with the birth of her daughter. “I felt like Cathy Freeman after just winning a gold medal,” Karvan says, describing her emotions after Audrey was born in October 2001.

“The adrenaline was high and just unparalleled by anything previous in my life.

“The surprise and sense of vulnerability was extraordinary and unexpected.

“I became aware my investment in life was so much more than it ever had been before.

“It meant I now had a human being walking around this world that I really had no control over but if anything was to happen to them your life would be over.”

A few years previously Karvan had not pictured herself having children.

“I welcome the change Audrey’s brought to my life. Before I had Audrey I had everything under control and the whole world revolved around myself,” she says. “I really relish someone else coming in to my life and bossing me around.

“She’s full of attitude but, hopefully, she doesn’t get it from me and I’m not as bossy as she is!”

For now, Karvan is happy to continue juggling her domestic duties with her producing stint, though there have been talks about developing Small Claims further.

“But for now I know I am working on the Fox series until February next year,” she says.

“I love knowing what’s happening six months ahead but beyond that I am open to all possibilities.

“It is important not to lock yourself down as an actor because surprise jobs do come up and you have to be open to that.”

Small Claims, Ten, Monday 8.30pm

By Katrina Witham
May 13, 2004