The Secret Life of Us: articles

Secrets and sighs

NEW Australian drama The Secret Life Of Us, which has already stunned UK viewers, may prove that our soap can be as classy as the best.

Their mission: to prove that Australian soap can be as luxurious and expensively scented as any soap in the world. "Let's hope we can make the Brits forget about Home And Away and Neighbours," laughs Samuel Johnson, one of the stars of Ten's new drama series The Secret Life Of Us. "It's about time we showed them what we can actually do."

The series, which begins screening in Australia on Monday night, is already showing to rave—but slightly stunned—reviews in Britain.

"Basically, the gist over there is they just don't expect this sort of thing from Australia," says John Edwards, the show's co-producer.

"They're gobsmacked. We didn't set out to rescue Australia's street cred, but that's how it's been seen in the British press. One magazine article even said it's better than This Life, which is pretty nice."

Like that hugely successful British show, this series follows the lives of an engaging group of friends looking for love, happiness and success. It also shares the BBC hit's powerfully addictive qualities—and indeed, some have said it even shows sign of rivalling the class-A addictiveness of Melrose Place.

Instead of the US classic's demented dramatics, however, The Secret Life Of Us relies on sophisticated storytelling and the ability to make the audience care for its characters, a motley group ranging from a scaffolder to a political aide.

These were the factors that drew in Samuel Johnson, who says he had previously turned down two offers of long-term roles on local series, believing he would rather continue his involvement in edgy movies like Angel Baby and guest roles in shows like Wildside, for which he was nominated for an AFI best actor award.

"I saw the cast list for this and I was sold immediately—and then there was a great script to back it up. You just don't come across shows like this very often," he says.

Ironically, or inevitably, Johnson—who of course shares his name with one of Britain's most famous men of letters—plays a writer in the new show, which is lusciously set in the bayside inner Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, rather like a cross between Bondi and Glebe.

The wannabe novelist Evan is one of two characters who act as narrators in the show, drawing the audience into their world—which, like Number 96 before it, is a world based within an apartment block where the characters live.

The other narrator is Kelly, played by Deborah Mailman, who moves into the apartment block and the lives of its inhabitants in the first episode. She is a character so huggably appealing that she looks set to be adopted as the nation's new best friend.

"She's working from a good place," says Mailman. "She just wants that trifecta—the good home life, the good boyfriend and a job that she loves. I'm lucky—my trifecta's happening, thanks to the show."

Mailman is best known for much more gruelling roles, such as her AFI award-winning performance in the 1998 film Radiance as Nona, a troubled young woman grieving for her mother who is suffering an extra sense of displacement because of her Aboriginality.

Her chance with Kelly to focus on making a person instead of a political statement was another reason Mailman leapt at the chance to play her. "It is just refreshing to know that here I am working on a character who is not specific to anything—who's just this Kelly girl. I'm very, very happy to play that."

The Secret Life Of Us begins with a special movie-length episode on Monday on Ten at 9pm and continues each Monday night at 9.30pm

By Eleanor Sprawson
Daily Telegraph
July 12, 2001