International audiences know her as Mrs Hoggett from “Babe”, Australian audiences know her as long time funny woman from “Fast Forward”, “Full Frontal” and “Kath and Kim” among others, and now Magda Szubanski shows off her singing and dancing skills as Cassandra Wolfe, the type of power woman who can make grown men cry in new Australian film “Goddess”.
Joining her is Laura Michelle Kelly, English queen (or nanny) of the stage among theatre goers as the original Mary Poppins in West End and Broadway, but a newcomer to cinema screens.
Based on a one woman show from Joanna Weinberg, “Goddess” follows the story of Elspeth Dickens (Laura Michelle Kelly), who sings and dances her way out of isolation in remote Tasmania through a web cam and charm, spotted by the influential Cassandra Wolfe who wants to make her the star of their new “Goddess” TV campaign. Elspeth is a mother, however, and struggles to find a balance between her aspirations and her duties.
At a press day in Melbourne, we sat down with Magda and Laura (with a cameo from director Mark Lamprell) to talk about theatre versus film, the struggles of young mothers today and dance as the best form of happiness.
Congratulations on the film. It is exciting to be at the point where you can show everyone.
Magda: Yes. Yes. Well it’s been a long time since we made it and you kind of go ‘When’s it coming out? When’s it coming out?’
Laura: It’s finally here, yeah.
Laura had you been to Australia before shooting the film?
Laura: Yeah I had been coming here about four years prior to doing this every year for four or five weeks. I love it. I fell in love with Bondi and just would come the same time every year. And it just turns out when they offered me the film that it was filming for four months. I didn’t need an excuse I was already in love with Australia.
An easy sell then.
Laura: Yeah I have so many friends here I’m like’ Guys I’m going to be here for four whole months’. I was so happy. [laughs].
And you get to come back and promote it as well.
Now your role I understand it would have been pretty tricky to find someone. Elspeth your character has to pretty much be amazing at everything…
Magda: She is the triple threat they were looking for.
Laura: It does involve all the things I love doing. It was really great when they offered it to me.
Magda: Can I just say that on top of just the triple threat thing you’ve also got that ability to hold a movie which is another quality again. People can sing and dance and act but they can’t translate that to the screen.
Yes I was going to say I don’t know the difference between theatre and film and what works and doesn’t work for each platform, but in your case anyway Laura I felt the charm and charisma really translated so well.
Laura: Thank you
Magda: The camera loving you, that kind of thing.
Laura: Film is very intimate and theatre is not. So there are two different elements it’s like you have to play to someone who is very far away from you but yet be real. And you have to be heard. But at the same time in film you need to be real. She’s also a colourful character so it was okay that I was a little bit elaborate at times. Which is much like my own character in a way [laughs]. It was such a treat to do a character like this. To be able to do a lead in a film which is my first lead in a movie.
Yes you were in “Sweeney Todd’ previously…
Laura: Yes which was not centre of attention which is great. It was a good introduction.
And I really liked as well that the songs are all original. I think people are really enjoying music in entertainment again at the moment with “Glee” and “Pitch Perfect” and “Mamamia” but it’s really nice to see a film where you’re not that familiar with the songs or you don’t know them at all and can come in and hear them fresh.
Magda: And they really work don’t they. It doesn’t detract from the experience of it and I think the soundtrack is going to be fantastic. Because they’re not like musical songs which is where it is like “Glee” in that it uses pop songs and this is like a collection of great pop songs that are then part of the story.
“Corporate Bitch” was my favourite I think. I really enjoyed that one.
Laura: That was the funnest one to learn dance wise. With the tango.
And Magda in “Do You Know Who I Am” combining both the fantasy and real element was that tricky to match everything up.
Magda: No really that’s just something that you trust the director to know which bit goes where and I just go ‘tell me what to do and I’ll do it’ [laughs]
Laura: You don’t know what you’re looking at. I didn’t see their scene before I did my reaction.
Like a green screen. Good practice for fantasy if you go into that area.
Laura: [laughs] Yes great practice.
And Magda singing and dancing isn’t something your fans aren’t necessarily used to seeing you doing was it great to be able to show off that skill set?
Magda: The thing is I have been doing a bit of that in musical theatre I did play Jules the gangster character in “Guys and Dolls” – very different from this character [laughs[. But I have been doing some musical theatre stuff in Melbourne but of course not everyone has seen that. I always wanted to sing a bit more and this was a great opportunity to really let rip and it’s exactly the kind of song I like to sing. It feels right for my voice. So I was overjoyed when I got this number and could really and go it. And at first there was some nervousness as to whether I would be able to sing it. And I said ‘look give me a crack I think I can do it’. They were incredibly supportive and Ronan Keating was gorgeous. So it was great and it was tremendous fun and there is something about singing and dancing that is the best fun you can have I think.
Yes there are actually studies that when you’re dancing is when you’re happiest.
Magda: I don’t think you can be in a bad mood. When you’re singing and dancing you would be very hard pressed to be in a bad mood.
Laura: And when you get lost in a story when you’re watching a movie and you come out happy it’s as if you’ve been dancing like we have on screen. And that’s what we want when people watch the movie is for people to come out feeling as if they’ve been doing it.
Well that really comes across I think.
Your character Magda I have to admit I was a little bit worried that it was kind of going to go down a caricature path. I love seeing strong powerful females in film and I was so pleased that didn’t happen and that it was a really well rounded character.
Magda: Yeah I found that really satisfying too and to me, you know I am a middle aged woman who has some power in the industry, and I have to think about how I wield that, and I have to pick moments when I am tough and when I am strong and other moments when you yield but I understand that side of things. I understand for her more than me , having to succeed in a very male world and these are all the hot button issues which this story hits on – the dilemma of the work/life balance, of trying to have everything,, ambition versus what do you sacrifice for that ambition? But also she’s an example of Real Politics you know she’s pragmatic. I totally get where she’s coming from and a lot of the stuff that she says to Laura’s character is right. And that’s why the dilemmas are real. She’s not a paper tiger. Effectively my character is the villain of the piece and the more real and believable you make the villain the more difficult you make it for the hero. Because you want to give the hero a real tough choice otherwise it’s just a foregone conclusion.
Yes it’s definitely not black and white and I work with and read a lot of Mum bloggers and I can definitely see these themes echoing across the board. Definitely the feeling of being quite isolated and overworked and I think in the past people often had their family around as they were raising children for support but it seems more and more people are living further away.
Magda: It’s hard now. It’s really hard. Especially if you’ve had that taste of being in the work force and then sort of sucked out of that and having the thing of ‘I love my kids but this is psychologically really testing’ and some people break under that pressure they really do.
And Laura how did you relate to your character?
Laura: Yes it was very much out of who I was. Except for some things that I’m not…I probably accentuated some of the things like being clumsy and being a bit goofy. I don’t have kids of my own but I really do love them.
You were working with twin boys how was that?
Laura: My favourite parts of the movie were working with them.
Oh good you know working with kids it can go either way I think…
Laura: They were my favourite bits to just hang out in Mama Laura’s house and play games.
In between takes. Yes I suppose you can’t really do that with theatre.
Laura: Yes there’s a different sort of pressure with filming.
And Ronan Keating this was a bit of a departure for him as well.
Laura: He was so lovely to work with. So easy.
Magda: Hard to look at though isn’t he [laughs]. How unpleasant is that.
Yeah sure he’s got the talent but really… [laughs].
Laura: I had this idea that he would be carrying this superstardom with him but he never did he was so down to earth.
Magda: Not even slightly. He’s just such a nice guy.
So it was a nice and close vibe on set?
Magda: I was in scenes with Laura and with Hugo [Johnstone-Burt] mostly I didn’t do anything with Ronan. So I spent most of my time with the crew. But I love crews. That’s a whole family in itself.
Laura: I love Hugo’s character [Ralph, assistant to Cassandra Wolfe] we haven’t talked much about him.
Magda: No we haven’t and he’s great.
Laura: He was such a great guy and such a pleasure to work with.
And this all based on the one woman play by Joanna Weinberg. Did you have much to do with her throughout the filming?
Laura: Yes I love her. Can’t wait to see her this time. She has a part in the film.
Laura: Yes right at the end she’s a part of the big finale.
Oh great! I’ll have to look out for that. And with the singing..
Magda: We didn’t sing it live you might have noticed. We didn’t go down the Les Mis path [laughs].
Laura: Yes. No our short schedule meant that we had to do it pre-recorded.
You’ll have to do a theatre version at some point.
Magda: Yes the touring arena show. [laughs].
The outfits were incredible. I don’t suppose you got to keep any? Where is the rubber glove dress now?
Laura: You know they’re keeping it they’re going to put it on exhibition at some point. When we do really well [laughs]. They’re exhibiting all our costumes because they’re all exquisitely made. The Cassandra ones are really beautiful.
And the hair was very powerful. Was it a long time getting that ready.
Magda: Well what they did was they died the front of it with mousse. And then they put a wig. There’s a fantastic woman Kylie Clark – she’s made so many wigs for me. She did the “Babe” wig for Mrs Hoggett, and the Sharon wig [from “Kath and Kim”] and she did the wig for this. And Sarah Bernard who was my make-up artist and you know they don’t often get a mention those people but they are so crucial.
Overall the production looked amazing. I’m not sure what the budget was but, being Australian, it probably wasn’t a lot. It looked great.
Magda: Yes it does. Mark Lamprell, who’s sitting over there on the couch, the director assembled a fantastic group of people like Damien [Wyvill] the DOP, Shareen [Beringer] the costume designer and Wendy Dwyer makeup, Annie [Beauchamp] who is the production designer, all of them just did the most brilliant job. And that is that Aussie resourcefulness on a shoestring budget. Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. And one thing that really amazed me was seeing this beautiful creativity and pride in their work that came out of these people.
Goddess is in Australian cinemas Thursday 14 March 2013. Watch the trailer here.