The Secret Life of Us: articles

Minimal risk

CLAUDIA Karvan is a reluctant star. It's not that she isn't ambitious or despises the spotlight; she just can't quite bring herself to embrace fame.

Not that it has kept her out of work. Karvan may not have taken the United States by storm but the 28-year-old is one of Australia's most consistently "in work" actresses, known for her performances in films such asThe Big Steal and The Heartbreak Kid.

Then there's her 1996 film, Dating the Enemy, with Guy Pearce, a film which still draws audiences on its umpteenth repeat screening on television.

"I think that's the role perhaps I'm most recognised for," Karvan agrees. "People just loooove that film. Love it."

Karvan is less enthusiastic talking about fame. She says it's something she has struggled with for her entire career. Karvan was nine when first cast in a feature film Molly. Her breakthrough performance came opposite Judy Davis in Gillian Armstrong's High Tide when she was just 14.

"Fame is not the reason I got involved in acting. I kind of fell into it because my parents knew a lot of people in the industry," she says.

"I've never felt comfortable with it. It had very negative connotations for me when I was a teenager, but over the years I've learned that you have to take it as part of the job and it can be fun.

"I know I have to learn to enjoy it. I think I just get a bit thin-skinned when I read what's been written about me or see my photo.

"It's like you turn into two separate entities with the same name. One is your idea of who you are and the other is someone with your name who people are allowed to comment on or say things that your best friend wouldn't say. You feel a bit cut down the middle."

Karvan keeps her equilibrium practising yoga and enjoying her passion for surfing. However, she has found it hard to keep out of the limelight in recent months. Along with a small part in George Lucas's Star Wars: Episode II, which is already garnering her fan mail, there's her latest Australian film Risk, in which she plays vampy lawyer Louisa Roncoli.

The suspense drama, which also stars Bryan Brown and Tom Long (SeaChange, The Dish) is a sharp departure from the softer roles audiences usually associate with the attractive brunette. She auditioned twice for the role which casts her as a corporate femme fatale at the heart of an insurance scam.

It was a role Karvan both enjoyed and found confronting. "The character definitely was a huge attraction because even though I've played a lot of different characters, the ones that have been most successful have been the romantic comedy-type characters," she says.

"I had to employ different aspects of my personality for the role of Louisa. There was a level of sexual manipulation that I had not experienced either in my own life or in my film career and I didn't wholly feel comfortable with that. But the outward strength of Louisa, her arrogance and hatefulness, I really enjoyed playing."

But Karvan is guarded about whether this film will be important to her career. "I think it will be a matter of wait and see," she says.

"If I get more roles like that, then I can assume that people think I can do that kind of character. If not, they don't. But I hope I get the chance."

Karvan seems painfully modest, hesitant about commenting on her acting performances and admits to being very self-critical.

"I will protect myself from too much (external) criticism, but can be incredibly critical about my own work. I generally dislike watching myself on screen so I don't tend to watch my own performances, but rely on the feedback I get from critics and people I trust," she says.

"Already I have had wonderfully positive feedback about The Secret Life of Us (Channel Ten's upcoming TV series) so I'm happy and optimistic about it, but I've had a mixed response about Risk. I'm terribly impressionable."

One person Karvan looks to for feedback is her boyfriend of six years Jeremy Spark, a film industry production worker.

"He understands the acting profession but he can also be objective about it, which is wonderful. He's very level-headed and supportive but he'll tell me honestly if he doesn't like something. He's a very good critic."

Rumours have been circulating for the past few weeks that Karvan and Spark are expecting a baby at the end of the year, but Karvan is not prepared to confirm if the rumours are true.

Uppermost in her mind for the moment is facing the reality that her relative obscurity may quickly be a distant memory. Her lead role in The Secret Life of Us could well be the vehicle that will imprint her face on Australian audiences.

"Fame is one thing in the Australian film industry, but commercial TV is another thing entirely," she says. "If the show is popular it has the potential to have a very large audience. It's a different kind of intimacy. I don't think I've experienced that kind of fame before now."

Anne Simpson
May 26, 2001
The Courier Mail