Underbelly: articles

Claire van der Boom: Big on preparation, she did her homework for the role.

Shoot first, shoot fast, don't let fame get away

SHE'S played a cop, a slapper, a nun, a good Greek girl, and now a crim. But Claire van der Boom, about to hit the small screen as a Bonnie-esque gangster moll in the latest instalment of Underbelly, reckons "dag" is probably closest to the real her.

"I'm definitely not a nun!" she laughs. But nor is she entirely comfortable getting her kit off. Despite nuding up first for Love My Way and then The Pacific, van der Boom thought long and hard about what might be required of her in The Man Who Got Away, Channel Nine's telemovie based on the life of charismatic 1970s conman David McMillan and his girlfriend Clelia Vigano.

"If sex is gratuitous, it becomes B-grade. Mix that with violence and it becomes trashy," van der Boom says. Yet here we are, talking Underbelly, a franchise defined by boobs, bums and guns in the finest pulp fiction tradition. "There are scenes with me not wearing enough. With guns," she says. "At the same time, I don't think you can take it too seriously. I find the idea of myself as sexy incredibly humorous. My main worry is that it's not going to be what the Underbelly franchise wanted from their female lead!" Advertisement: Story continues below

It was director Cherie Nowlan (Thank God He Met Lizzie, Clubland) who persuaded van der Boom to take on the role of Vigano, and supported all the cast through a phenomenally quick shoot; the telemovie was filmed in just 15 days. Whether that will result in compelling spontaneity or a complete shemozzle is another thing van der Boom's unsure of.

"We didn't really rehearse. We talked for a couple of hours over two days. Then you're kind of improvising on your first day and you're stuck with it."

NIDA-trained, van der Boom is big on preparation and she certainly did her homework before coming to the role. In the end she says she just has to trust in that, and her instincts, and hope for the best. "The story is extraordinary," she says. "You just hope you're doing it justice, and that everyone involved has done it justice."

She is also used to what she calls "fast television". With the exception of the Spielberg/Hanks production The Pacific - where time and funds were almost unlimited - pretty much everything she's worked on has had limited resources and pressing deadlines.

She filmed half a season of Ten's cop drama Rush, then headed Stateside when her US working visa was approved. There she shot a pilot for cable TV that was not picked up. She came home to star in the ABC telemovie Sisters of War as the aforementioned nun. Then scored an ongoing guest role in the remake of Hawaii Five-O, playing Danno's problematic ex-wife.

Now she divides her time between Los Angeles and Byron Bay and says while LA is fun, she'd love to be able to simply settle back home. "There are a lot of Australians in LA, but I really don't believe we're chasing a golden statue or celebrity or whatever. We just want to work," she says. "So for now I've got a foot in both places."

It's been quite a journey for someone who never really considered acting a legitimate career choice. Her mother enrolled her in dance classes when she was three, chiefly as a way to help her overcome her shyness. (It seemed to work.) At uni she studied drama alongside history and psychology. "And then I was accepted to NIDA," she says. "And at that point you kind of have to start taking it seriously."

That said, country-bred van der Boom (she was born in Broome) remains pragmatic. "I certainly always loved acting, and I love what I'm doing now," she says. "But, actually, I still don't know if it's something you should take seriously!"

Underbelly: The Man Who Got Away, 8.30pm tomorrow, Channel Nine.

By Melinda Houston
February 20, 2011
Sydney Morning Herald