The Secret Life of Us: articles

Secret Life Of Us

Ten's new series has changed Claudia Karvan's view of television, writes Robert Fidgeon, Herald Sun

CLAUDIA Karvan is preparing for a couple of big events. On Monday she stars in Network Ten's telemovie premiere of its new 22-episode Aussie drama series, The Secret Life of Us.

Then comes arguably the biggest production of her life—the birth of her first child.

Just which of the two carries the greatest level of expectation, she's not sure.

"People keep telling me how much my life is going to change," she says. "I go pale and say: 'But I like my life. I like everything about it just as it is'."

And so she should. One of Australia's most respected actors, the 28-year-old Karvan is riding high.

Risk, in which she plays a corporate femme fatale, is showing in cinemas. She had a featured role in the Ten mini-series My Brother Jack, and for the next 22 weeks she will be heading the ensemble cast in Secret Life.

When Ten decided to spin off a series from the Secret Life telemovie, many doubted Karvan would agree to a 22-week commitment to play doctor Alex, who feels love is passing her by.

Karvan admits she had concerns at first, fearing that a series about eight twentysomethings might be a little elitist.

"To commit to 22 weeks was a big leap of faith. It was six months out of my life," she says.

Karvan sought the advice of close friend Catherine McClements, who had worked for several years on Water Rats.

"Catherine's good experience on Rats really changed my perspective on working in a television series," Karvan says. "She said she'd managed to remain inspired and was able to challenge herself and have a good time doing it.

"Then, after seeing the telemovie and reading the first four scripts of the one-hour episodes, any ambivalence I felt disappeared.

"Now that I've filmed the 22 episodes, I can honestly say I'd be happy to commit to a second series."

Karvan has a list of credits that would do justice to an actor twice her age, so it comes as a surprise when she reveals she didn't commit herself fully to an acting career until her early 20s. Yet by that time she had been acting for more than 12 years.

She made her debut at eight alongside Garry McDonald in Molly, then won acclaim at 14 as Judy Davis's abandoned daughter in High Tide and at 17 as Ben Mendelsohn's girlfriend in The Big Steal. They were heady days for a teenager, but Karvan never forgot how fickle acting could be.

She recalls going to Cannes to promote The Big Steal and, while playing the showbiz game, was working in a health-food shop to make ends meet. "I was unemployed for a long time and thought, what on earth will I do with my life? Then, thank God, another acting job would come along. "I always had a passion for acting and really loved it, but there's a lot of the realist in me. I have no romantic view of the business.

"I'm extremely grateful for what I have achieved, but over the years it has certainly had its ups and downs.

"There have been periods when it's been emotionally tumultuous. I went through a time when things seemed all up in the air. I didn't know whether the industry wanted me or whether I wanted the industry.

"Even now, each year, I kind of sit back and think, OK, what do I want out of acting now?"

But weighing it all up, Karvan believes she has been extremely fortunate and has enjoyed the 20-year ride.

"I couldn't ask for a more varied, unpredictable and, in the end, more enjoyable life," she says.

"I probably don't know what it's like to have to earn a real living."

• The Secret Life of Us, Channel 10, Monday, 9pm; then one-hour episodes, Monday, 9.30pm.

MAKE no mistake, The Secret Life of Us is a multi-million-dollar gamble by Network Ten.

By pitching it at its target 16-35 audience, the network is trying to succeed where most have failed.

It has committed millions to a series designed to appeal to an age group—particularly 16 to 22-year-olds—that in the past has shown no interest at all in television drama created specifically for it.

Then again, TV's attempts to make such a series have, for obvious reasons, fallen well short of the mark.

The second gamble is its screening time. It's a lot harder to attract big audiences at 9.30pm, but the later time is necessary to allow the series to be screened without being snipped by the censors.

Not that The Secret Life of Us is a tits-and-bums, obscenity-filled raunchfest. It is a quality series about the relationships of a group of twentysomethings. As such, it deserves to succeed. It is far and away the most accurate, honest and intelligent Australian drama series ever pitched at younger viewers.

The ABC drama unit and producers of Love is a Four Letter Word would do well to look at The Secret Life of Us. They will see why Four Letter Word got it so wrong in terms of appealing to its target audience.

Secret Life gets it right. That in itself doesn't assure success, but it gives the series integrity in regard to the viewers for whom it's intended.

The characters are great, the scripts excellent. More importantly, the dialogue is authentic.

Do yourself a favour and watch it.

Who's who

Alex (Claudia Karvan): Talented but insecure young doctor who has achieved her academic goals, but feels love is passing her by.

Evan (Samuel Johnson): Shares a flat with Alex, but they are not romantically involved. A publisher is desperate to get a hold of Evan's first book, though Evan hasn't written it yet.

Kelly (Deborah Mailman): Alex and Evan's flatmate. Sweet-natured optimist who grabs life with gusto, even when it's at its most confusing—like falling for an ex-boss who refuses to leave his wife.

Miranda (Abi Tucker): Ambitious young actor, but low on self-esteem. Lives with actor-boyfriend Richie.

Richie (Spencer McLaren): Young actor on the road to success. Lives with girlfriend Miranda. But if Richie hits the big time, will his romance hit the rocks?

Will (Joel Edgerton): Shares flat with Richie and Miranda. A scaffolder who thinks Hamlet is crap—a problem when you live with actors.

Gabrielle (Sibylla Budd) Political staffer and Alex's best friend. Lives upstairs with lawyer boyfriend Jason. Gabrielle is in turmoil.

Jason (Damian de Montemas): Gabrielle's lawyer boyfriend who always knew what he wanted—until now.

Simon (David Tredinnick) Works in the Fu Bar and provides some weird twists on traditional bartender's advice.

Leah (Tasma Walton): Will loves Leah, but Leah loves Leah. She keeps bobbing back into Will's life to burn him one more time.

Herald Sun
By Robert Fidgeon
July 11, 2001