The Secret Life of Us: articles

Sex Files

THE Secret Life of Us is urban, hip and morally ambiguous. However, it was the script's distinct female presence and comic edge that lured leading Australian film actress Claudia Karvan to commit to her first TV series.

Fresh from finishing the six-month shoot for the 26-part series, Karvan can't say enough how much she enjoyed doing the daily grind with an ensemble cast that included AFI winner Deborah Mailman (Radiance), Abi Tucker (The Wog Boy), Damian De Montemas (Water Rats) and Joel Edgerton (Erskineville Kings).

"I was under the illusion that I might get weary of having a day job, but I loved it," the 28-year-old actress enthuses. "It's great for headspace and I think I've discovered a strong work ethic! And of course, there is always more to learn with acting."

Set in Melbourne's trendy St Kilda, The Secret Life of Us follows eight 20-something characters in a drama about living life and chasing love, sex, romance, money and success.

The telemovie and series spin-off will give Network Ten a much-needed competitive edge in the Australian TV drama series stakes, now dominated by Channel Seven's All Saints and Channel Nine's Water Rats.

Karvan, who plays Alex, an ambitious young doctor looking for love, was drawn to the script's female characters.

"The Secret Life of Us does have a strong female voice, which is unusual to see on commercial TV and I think it's due in most part to the involvement of Judi McCrossin (writer) and Amanda Higgs (producer)," Karvan says.

"I think most Australian series, like Water Rats, Blue Heelers and All Saints are telling moralistic tales or based in action-drama. The Secret Life of Us is much more character-based. It isn't moralistic. It explores the many contradictions in people.

"I love the fact that there is the capacity to be a few different people within the one character. Alex is very different when she's with Gabrielle, her best friend or Kelly, her flatmate, to when she is at work, where she is very career-oriented."

Karvan says she has enjoyed the change of pace from working on a film set.

"We are shooting about eight minutes a day, which is about double what you would shoot for a film but it doesn't feel like everything is faster," she says.

"You do tend to do more thinking on your feet, which I like and you have a lot less time to play around with the myriad of choices for a scene and instead, go with your instincts.

"There is less tendency to intellectualise the process. The focus is intense, but there is less pressure on the little moments and more time to flesh a character out."

Karvan, with characteristic modesty, says she has learnt a lot from her fellow cast members, while being hesitant to admit it might be a mutual experience, given her 20 years of acting experience.

"There haven't been any major ego conflicts. It's really been about getting the show as good as we can get it," she says, diverting the conversation away from herself.

Like with any project, Karvan is expecting to face the usual grieving process that accompanies the end of a shoot.

"The development of a character is something that happens infinitesimally. Parts of yourself rub off and the character becomes part of your daily life. It is a severing process and is usually quite sad. There is a small death every time you end a shoot," she says.

For someone not fond of the public spotlight, Karvan has had more than her fair share in recent months with The Secret Life of Us, the recently screened TV mini-series My Brother Jack (also Network Ten) and her latest film Risk, in which she stars opposite Bryan Brown and Tom Long (SeaChange).

Her Risk character, Linda Roncoli, the calculating, sexy lawyer at the heart of an insurance scam, is a distinct change of pace for the star of films such as Dating the Enemy, The Heartbreak Kid and Paperback Hero. It was a role Karvan relished.

"The character definitely was a huge attraction for me because even though I've played a lot of different characters in the years I've been acting, the ones that have been most successful have been the romantic comedy-type characters," she says.

"There was an outward strength to Louise and a real arrogance and hatefulness that I enjoyed playing. But you never get to the bottom of why she is that way, which I think is a bit of a shame."

Karvan, who first shot to fame as a 14-year old in the film High Tide, is hopeful that her performance in Risk will open up future film roles equally as challenging.

"You never really know how important a film will be to your career. If I get offered other roles, I'll know people think I can do it.

"I know there are roles like Louisa out there and I really want the opportunity to play more of those roles."

After almost two decades as an actress, Karvan can't imagine doing anything else, but she has no ambition to pursue Hollywood.

"I love the industry, the people who are attracted to it and the scope for interpreting yourself," she says.

"Going to the US is about the opportunity to work with extraordinary filmmakers but then, you aren't telling Australian stories and that's my touchstone, where I draw a lot of inspiration.

"My views on success have become much more modest over the years. As a teenager, it was about being recognised by arthouse film-makers and them inviting me to be a part of their projects rather than being just a commercial commodity.

"Now success is employment on a job that I enjoy."

The Secret Life Of Us, Channel 10, Monday, 9pm.

The Courier Mail
By Anne Simpson
July 12, 2001