The Secret Life of Us: articles

The agonising life of Alex

Q: It is an emotional and moving episode. How tough was it to act out the termination scenes?

A: It was very difficult not only physically, because they were really long days, but emotionally it was very demanding. I've just had (my six-month-old daughter) Audrey, so I think a lot of those emotions are readily available and that made it a little easier to transport myself there. But it was also confronting and when I got halfway through reading that episode, I had to put it down because I found it so upsetting on behalf of Alex. I just felt really crushed as I thought it was a really tragic and unfortunate thing to happen to her. I just felt, 'Gosh, it's really bleak.'

Q: What did you think of the termination theme?

A: Admittedly, after we did the first read through I did say to (producer) Amanda (Higgs) and (writer) Judi (McCrossin) that this is very, very bleak and the thought occurred to me, 'Why are we doing this?' because it's not exactly entertaining. The only thing I feared was that it would have been done gratuitously because it hasn't been shown before and we were going to show it in an incredibly vigorous way. But I don't think that's the case.

Q: Why hasn't this issue hasn't been dealt with in Australian prime-time drama before?

A: I don't know why it hasn't been dealt with in the past because certainly it is an extremely common occurrence in real life. It has been tackled in English drama, in EastEnders and Coronation Street, where regular characters had DMCs (termination procedures). The way Australian television has always dealt with it has been, 'Oops, she tripped and fell down the stairs and had a miscarriage.' Q: How do you think the writers handled it? A: I think Judi and Amanda genuinely wanted to show what goes on and what generally isn't discussed from a woman's perspective. It's almost like the last taboo. Best girlfriends don't even talk about terminations. It's quite bizarre and yet it is so common. It seems silly to avoid it because it's upsetting or because it's one of those topics where the lines get blurred. I think what's interesting about (Secret Life) is that we haven't dealt with it in a moralistic way or passed any judgment on Alex. And I think that's really important too. It's not as if she's a bad person for doing this. The way Judi wrote the script was almost like a documentary. She didn't leave one stone unturned and she didn't back off at any step of the way.

Q: Given that you've recently had a baby, did you approach the scenes differently?

A: I certainly tried not to sentimentalise it because I really dislike mawkishness … so I consciously avoided that. I tried not to make parallels between carrying through with the pregnancy and deciding not to carry through with the pregnancy as they are two very different scenarios. Q: How did you react emotionally? A: It was something that I just thought about when I was at work and we started shooting the scenes, then I didn't really like thinking about it otherwise. I got sick, as well, when I was doing it towards the end. Once I put myself through the wringer it took its toll physically.

Q: Were you able to draw on the experiences of others who had had terminations?

A: One girlfriend that I spoke to, who has had two children since, rationalised it in a spiritual sense by saying that those children presented themselves again later. That was her way of appeasing any sense of uneasiness, I guess. There were lots of grisly stories like having to walk through picket lines (outside clinics) or not being able to tell their parents because they were too young, or boyfriends not even offering to come with them, let alone offering to pay for half. And then obviously situations where everyone was incredibly supportive and it was just challenging on a spiritual level.

Q: How do you think Alex handled her predicament?

A: I actually don't pass judgment on what she did.

Q: Were you concerned about viewers forming moralistic judgments?

A: I was very nervous about that. I was concerned that people who really enjoyed Alex and felt that they related to her might be offended or disappointed. But I think you can't shy away from true-to-life situations just because you want to hang on to perhaps a relatively conservative audience. I'm a little bit nervous about how people will respond and about what pro-lifers are going to do to me.

Q: How did the other cast react to those scenes?

A: I didn't talk to them about it, it's funny, like in real life. I didn't really want to discuss it with anyone. And I kind of felt that I didn't want to indulge in too many thoughts about it until Roger (Hodgman) directed the episode. Until we started shooting the scene, I didn't really want to think about it. I think Roger is an exceptional director and he directs with a lot of imagination and care and he was wonderful to work with.

Q: Can you tell us how Alex recovers?

A: Evan emerges as the true friend that he always has been in her life and is very supportive and helps her through it. That's how she finally cracks a smile. Because of Evan.

The Secret Life of Us screens on Monday at 8.30pm on Channel Ten

Interview by Elisabeth Tarica
May 09, 2002
The Age