The Secret Life of Us: articles

The secret's out

Bernard Zuel visits Melbourne's busiest apartment block to find out if it really is summer all year—and whose Woman's Day is in the loo.

The cynical Sydneysiders (you know who you are) who have been watching The Secret Life of Us for the past 18 months may have been wondering how the producers managed to find an Australian city where it not only never rains, let alone pours, but is always summer.

For the shagging, drinking, drug-taking, heartbreaking, karaoke-singing twentysomethings who live in the busiest block of flats since Number 96, protection against the elements in Melbourne simply means fresh packets of condoms and Panadol.

Clearly, it behoves me to end this charade, to reveal for us all the truth that it has all been done with mirrors and heat lamps, that Melbourne is drenched in showers and the cold has forced penguins to take shelter and male cast members to discuss "shrinkage".

I am in an outer-suburbs-bound Holden Commodore taxi, weather vane in the back pocket. The filming today is not outdoors in sexy, trendy St Kilda but indoors at the Crawford studios in much more prosaic Box Hill, but that will be no excuse. So, The Secret Life of Us, the jig is up.

Except for one small matter. It's sunny, like it was yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Bugger. Also it's warm, and it's not even 9am. Bugger, bugger. And I won't get to see Claudia Karvan as she isn't on call this morning. Bugger, bugger, bugger.

On the set, Todd MacDonald (Nathan) and Deborah Mailman (Kelly) have been on the go for more than an hour shooting scenes about Kelly's concerns that she has been kept hidden away from Nathan's family. They're in the show's central apartment: the one Kelly shares with heart-troubled doctor Alex (Karvan) and the shagadelic author Evan, played by Samuel Johnson.

But before I go in there, I take a peek inside some of the other apartments. Should we be surprised that, while later I will find Alex's bed is anally neat, the terminally horny lawyer Gabrielle (played by Sibylla Budd) has an unmade bed and Woman's Day in the loo? And is that the couch on which Alex and Gabrielle's then husband Jason did the wild thing?

Anyway, by the time I walk into the main apartment's kitchen, the couple have moved on to Nathan's declaration. This involves MacDonald moving from a clinch with Mailman over to the window, saying: "I'm so happy with you that I want to shout it from the rooftop. I want the whole world to know, or at least this side of St Kilda [opens the window]. My name is Nathan Lieberman and I love Kelly Lewis."

As MacDonald goes through several variations of this, including checking the pronunciation of Lieberman, I have time to cast an eye around the kitchen. Bottles of Tabasco and satay sauce sit alongside sesame oil and jars of lentils. There are onions and peanuts and the kind of utilitarian mugs and plates only a share house would have. And, of course, a bottle of Baileys and an empty red wine bottle.*Australian Television Information Archive **

After the third take ends with everyone laughing, the 18 crew reset for another angle. Set dresser (or props man) John Santucci comes in carrying a bag and looking very proud of himself. Santucci is responsible for all the paintings on the walls of the apartment and he's not a bad artist at all. But it's not his painting that he wants praised. Oh no, for today Santucci declares himself "the king of poo".

From out of the bag he removes a pile of brown, slightly squishy something made from tamarind pulp and hot water. There's no denying that it looks like a big pile of excrement. Which is just lovely this early in the morning. It's for a scene being shot later in the week involving a hospital patient who is not in full control of his bowels.

"I'm a bit of a legend in the industry for my poo," Santucci says, beaming. He goes on to tell us about his experience on the short-lived Channel 9 show Dog Woman where Magda Szubanski, a pet-friendly detective, must sift through a freshly laid pile of dog droppings to extract a vital piece of evidence.

"Channel 9 cut the scene because the poo was too realistic and they anticipated complaints," he says.

God, in always summery Melbourne, even the dog shit has a sunny side.

By Bernard Zuel
June 04, 2002
Sydney Morning Herald