The Secret Life of Us: articles

Jess Gower

Secret life of Jess

Actor Jessica Gower has done it all, but now she's happy doing nothing, Brett Thomas writes.

She became one of the most recognisable faces on Australian television via a high-profile commercial and a role in one of Australia's hottest drama series and she'll soon be seen as part of the ensemble cast in the much-hyped new teen movie Blurred.

But, rounding out the essential experiences of the young actor, Jessica Gower is enjoying a spell of unemployment. Instead of "lights, camera, action" it's a more sedate lifestyle of babysitting and gardening for the 25-year-old Melburnian, who recently adopted Sydney as her new home.

"It's a really good place to be an unemployed actor because I'm in between jobs at the moment is that what you say, in between jobs?" she laughed. "I'm from Melbourne originally so I'm thoroughly enjoying the lifestyle up here, the cruisiness."

It was the TV advertisement with singer John Farnham and his manager Glenn Wheatley that first gave Gower a national profile (she was the excitable young woman in the CD store who mistook Wheatley for Paul Hogan). Then came her role as Sam, the doomed girlfriend of Joel Edgerton's Will in The Secret Life Of Us.

Things were going well for Sam until in the great tradition of Australian soap she was killed off. It turns out the show's producers had always intended for Sam to bow out that way but unfortunately no-one bothered to tell Gower. Instead, she received the bad news via one of the other actors.

"I thought I was terrible or something," Gower recalled. "I thought, 'No, am I not working well? Does someone not like me? What's going on here?'. I sat down with the producers and they went, 'No, no, no, it's part of the story-line, please understand, you're a character, it's not personal'.

"Who was it that broke the news? Samuel Johnson (Evan). Good on him. Motormouth. He doesn't hold himself back. We used to hang out, have a drink after work.

"We were all thoroughly intrigued. The good thing about the producers on that show is that they very much nurture the characters and what's going to happen. So we'd always talk about what our characters were going to be doing and mine was a bit of a mystery Sam's just Will's girlfriend?"

With her sweet, angelic looks and sunny disposition, Gower could be forever typecast as the wholesome girl next door. Or the wholesome teenage girl next door, to be exact. After The Secret Life Of Us, she moved on to the cable TV soap Crash Palace, where she played an "angsty, angsty 16-year-old". In Blurred, she's playing a teen again, one of a group of disparate school-leavers heading to the Gold Coast for the infamous schoolies week.

"It's nice because I won't be able to do this forever," she said of playing younger characters. "I'll just keep getting older, as we know. I don't mind. I love it. It's fun. When the time's right, I'll be growing into some older, more womanly roles, so I'm happy to run with what's given to me at this point."

Gower said she had plenty to draw on when playing teenagers.

"When Mum was watching Crash Palace, she was like, 'Oh my God, that brings back too many bad memories'," she said. "I was a really rebellious, yucky, naughty, gross teenager. Everything I was feeling I would throw out there and express. I really did reconnect with all that stuff."

After a few years of being force-fed American teen movies (American Pie, I Know What You Did Last Summer, etc) it's nice to see local film-makers attempting to put an Australian spin on cinema's great fascination with the transition from childhood to adulthood.

In Blurred, Gower's character Jillian is told by her boyfriend on the train to Queensland that he wants to sleep with other women during their week away because all the other blokes are doing it. It was Jillian's response that most attracted Gower to the movie.

"I liked her," she said. "If it was me, I probably would have gone to the toilets and cried my eyes out. I would not have stopped the train and asked some boy to come and have sex with me, just for revenge. I like that darkness that she has of wanting to get revenge.

"I think she's a strong female character and I think probably a good role model for young girls because she's strong enough within herself to actually go, 'Oh, I don't have to lower myself to get revenge. I'll just go back, tell him it's not on and move on, find another bloke'. I liked that."

Similarly, Gower reckons young audiences are often more demanding than film-makers or studio marketers realise.

"What would be good is to make something that really hits hard, too, is not just frivolous and fun," she said. "I reckon it's a shame because there is definitely a market out there for that and I think thatage group are looking within themselves, trying to find out who they are.

"To explore that realm is really important. I'd like to see some more films with that darkness."

Blurred is released nationally on October 31.

By Brett Thomas
Photo: Tamara Dean
October 28, 2002
The Sun-Herald