Stingers: articles

Undercover wild child

Jacinta Stapleton is ambitious, impatient and desperate to succeed. She speaks to Paul Kalina about her role in Stingers.

William Heise's 1896 film The Kiss immortalised an act that has been captured countless times since on film and television.

One of the oldest films in history, the 20-second sequence depicted, simply enough, a man and woman kissing. But it would take 90 years before television viewers would see men or women lip-locked in similar, same-sex clinches.

Amanda Donohoe and Michele Green's coy peck in L.A. Law has since given way to a flood of same-sex trysts on screen. And they aren't restricted to the gay-themed shows crowding television schedules, nor shows that provocatively push the buttons of their characters and viewers, such as Sex and the City and Queer As Folk. Gay kisses are on screen most nights of the week, between crusty old Sun Hill coppers on The Bill, on Ally McBeal and in local shows such as The Secret Life of Us and Stingers.

Maybe it's because a kiss is just a kiss—or a sign that one of the last hangovers of a more conservative era has been finally kicked—that nobody seems bothered about the gender or persuasions of who's snogging whom. Actor Jacinta Stapleton wasn't even told that the role for which she was auditioning on Stingers was that of a bisexual undercover cop.

According to Stapleton, the producers felt that Christina Dichiera's sexual preferences shouldn't overpower the character she would eventually play. "It's not overt, it's just the way she is," says the 23-year-old gamine, who first made a mark in Neighbours playing Amy Greenwood, Ramsay Street's wild child turned party, fashion and gossip queen.

Even after Christina's preferences were revealed to her, Stapleton was less concerned about her character's sexual orientation than with the possibility it would be explored in a cliched manner.

"I didn't want to be seen as a stereotype. I've always been a bit apprehensive about exploring issues of sexuality on television," Stapleton says. "But I think it's been done in a very real way."

Viewers will have several opportunities in the weeks and months ahead to judge the series's treatment of Christina's sexuality. It comes into focus in this week's temperature-raising episode when she gets hot and bothered with a female target, then later with the arrival of Constable Leo Flynn, played by Daniel Frederiksen.

Christina's lust has prompted some complaints from viewers, but Stapleton is unfazed. "One woman wrote in to say she won't watch another episode because I kissed a girl, but you lose one viewer, you probably gain a lot more.

"They're contemporary stories we are exploring, and it is part of who she is."

Christina Dichiera, says Stapleton, is 21 and searching for herself, escaping a troubled childhood, drugs and life on the street. "The core of the character is she's confused, she's been in so many different places to find out who she really is. She's out there, free, she goes with what she wants to do at any particular moment."

Although viewers may search for parallels between Stapleton and her character, she is quick to point out the differences between them.

"She's a lot tougher, she's in situations that I will never be put in. I can be quite feminine and girly, and she's not really like that."

Stapleton, however, has had some experience of roles that mirror her life. When she was eight, she played a child who observes her parents' painful divorce in the feature film Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

"I did Boulevard while my parents were divorcing. Now I know it's called emotional memory, or memory recall, but it helps if there are those memories. Sulli (actor Sullivan Stapleton is her brother) and I both have them."

Her early initiation to acting came almost by chance. An aunt got her children into an agency and told Stapleton's mother, a nurse, that the agency was looking for blond, blue-eyed kids.

"She asked us and we said yes. That's it. It's bizarre. Imagine if she hadn't asked. What would we be doing?"

She estimates she has done between 50 and 60 commercials and some modelling work, which she swore off doing when she was 12. Her epiphany came at the end of a cattle-call casting session, when she was told in front of the two successful applicants that she could leave.

"I felt hurt, disappointed, a failure. And I realised it was on account of something I couldn't change and that was the way I look. So I decided not to do that any more."

Her acting ambitions were set when she landed the lead role in a play at Sandringham Secondary College ("Sandi was like art school," she recalls). "It was then I realised I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I thought, 'That's it, it's my choice'. That's when I realised I could, and would, do it.

"I remember sitting in that drama room and reading the script. I understood it," she recalls with joyful enthusiasm, before exploding into a conspiratorial laugh. "You are trying to make me blow my own trumpet, and I'm not going to do it!"

She admits she felt some trepidation committing to the Stingers role.

"I had been out of work for a little while and was at that age where I was trying to find myself and exactly what I wanted to do. It wasn't my ideal to get into a contract on another television show.

"But it felt so right. I got the script and I knew what I had to do."

Stapleton makes no secret of her ambition, having taken herself twice to Los Angeles for auditions and training. The attractions of working overseas, she says, are money and the range of bigger-budget projects and talent.

And though she regrets missing two roles—the lead in a television version of Legally Blonde and a new version of Firestarter—she has few misgivings. "You go into auditions and there are clones of you. There will be 20 people that look exactly the same. It's bizarre."

Being contracted to Stingers for two seasons is a salutary experience for the confessed actor-in-a-hurry. "I'm driven, impatient and am afraid of failing. It comes from starting early and knowing from a young age that I wanted to do this."

Stingers screens on Tuesdays at 9.30pm on Channel Nine

By Paul Kalina
May 22, 2003
The Age