CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN TELEVISION

INTERVIEW:
CARLA HOOGEVEEN

 


Copyright 2005 Don Storey.  All rights reserved.


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This interview originally appeared in TV EYE No. 8, May 1996.

Carla Hoogeveen appeared in many television series of the 70’s, including Class Of 74, Bobby Dazzler and The Bluestone Boys, as well as Robert Bruning's telemovie The Alternative and the Homicide movie 'Stopover'. Carla enjoyed a wide variety of roles in many different projects, and more recently has been based in Melbourne after a successful trip overseas.

 

Your role of Julie Armstrong in Class Of 74 is what you are best remembered for, even though you have appeared in many other series and films. How did that role come about?

Before Class Of 74 I had been with the Independent Theatre for two years, after which I started doing some ABC plays, like The Cell, which Michelle Fawdon was in. I was doing some radio work and some theatre, and then there just happened to be an audition for the Class Of 74 series, and I went along, with just about everyone else in Sydney it seemed. I got the part, and that sort of propelled me into a television direction for the next ten years. It was exciting, as at that time there weren't very many roles for people of that age group, so it was something one wanted to get. It is true that most people remember me for Class Of 74 because it was on for a year, but those that I've worked with realise that it was only the beginning, as I worked for 15 years pretty much straight through after that.

As Class Of 74 was a soap opera, was the role of Julie Armstrong very satisfying?

I really didn't go into this business with the idea of compartmentalising one area, in this case soaps, as being more legitimate than something else. I was very grateful for the variety, Class Of 74 was wonderful because you worked for a year five days a week, and I had a tremendous range of things to play in that character. They kept giving Julie Armstrong all sorts of situations, such as being in a wheelchair and supplying all the pathos, and later assuming a compassionate role, and that for a young actor was a wonderful film prep, and that's really how I looked at it. I was in some people's opinions a little bit too serious about my work, in a way that would be quite acceptable from someone in theatre. I didn't have the 'Oh well, this doesn't really matter' attitude which some of the people I was working with had.

Maintaining standards is important to me. In a series, people get to know their own characters pretty well, and if you have a situation where you've got a team of writers and schedules are very tight, as the series goes on people may not be watching each others work closely, and suddenly you can find your character doing very uncharacteristic things. After a while you fight for some sort of integrity in your character, which is logical because the actor is the one who knows, is the one who has developed it. It may not happen the first day you start a series, but it does start to develop, and with good writers they then start to write for that, but sometimes when you've got a team of writers it can be so pressured that there is not really the time to always make logical links.

Class Of 74 was Grundy's first attempt at drama. Did they have their act together, or were they still feeling their way?

I think a great deal of thought went into it before it started initially. They went through a very rigorous casting process, and the general concept and idea was thought through carefully. There was quite a good balance between the women, they had Anne Lambert, Joanne Samuel and Megan Williams, all people who did a lot of work for years afterwards. And also of course there was quite a lot of good older actors, with a good balance - Leonard Teale, Jeanie Drynan, Gordon Glenwright, they were all good people playing the teachers. We went back two or three times for screen tests, eliminating and fine tuning, before they settled on the final cast. Initially the series was quite well prepared; I think when a serial gains momentum it is quite difficult to keep it up and maintain it, especially if you're doing five half-hours a week.

Was there a bit of a pioneer feel on Class Of 74, a sense of turning over new ground?

Yes. We were still experimenting with travelling shots and so on, and those times were quite exciting because there was a lot of experimentation happening. It wasn't the same as the early days of Homicide when it was truly experimental, but I experienced some of that sense of trying to do as best as possible with limited finances and so on. One funny thing I remember is all of us running from one set to the other, the cameras were zooming through the sets and we were literally running from one set into the other trying to get there before the camera did. It was hysterical, I was falling over cables and junk, and just getting to the door as the camera hit the spot. They were experimenting to see if we could have continuous action - those sort of things are fun.

Any regrets about doing Class Of 74?

No. In a series you do get a chance to hone your skills - you work on timing, you work with a great range of guest artists, so I don't regret having done Class Of 74. There was also a certain team spirit, which unfortunately I feel is lacking quite a lot nowadays. We're so points orientated now - we think 'Oh well, we just need something for this six month period for the content quota'. I think people are not looking in terms of investing in something for quality, which in the end pays for itself with a product of substance that doesn't really diminish with time.

A lot of that team spirit started with Crawfords - if there are problems on a shoot, those who learnt their craft on Homicide, Hunter, et al, jump in and sort it out.

It's interesting, isn't it, there is more of a preparedness amongst those people to work together, there is not so much of a power-play. Crawfords had a company feel, a team spirit, and that's something I always loved when I came to Melbourne to work for Crawfords. It was a good feeling, you felt that somehow you were part of a family, there was that spirit there, and everyone was working flat out under what were sometimes ridiculous situations.

In the early days you did an episode of Boney.

I think that was the only time in my whole career I ever played literally an extra. It was just an intro, a screen test, I hadn't done anything at that point, and they gave me something to do. It is not worth mentioning, really.

You also had a guest role in The Spoiler.

That was a bit on the tacky side. As a young actress you really had to be careful, and you needed a good agent who watched what jobs you did. Being new, you're such a total innocent and have no idea of the perils in the industry. You want to do the job professionally, and so you do whatever is asked. A couple of journalists at one point tried to make an issue out of me playing sexy roles, but I never really was in that category.

The director of that Spoiler episode said your nude scene was handled very 'tastefully', but they always say that.

Yes - and at that point you don't know how to distinguish between something that is relevant and something that isn't. And they persuade you to do it, and their reasons seem all very logical, and you trust them, and you assume they've risen above thinking in a tacky way. I haven't done many nude scenes - I was actually protected from that quite a lot.

Any other significant early roles?

I did the film Night Of Fear before Class Of 74. It was one of my first jobs ever, and it was one of the hardest things as an actor that I could have possibly been asked to do. The first days' shooting was a scene that was all reaction to a madman, played by Norman Yemm, who was prowling around a house. I was reacting to noises and having to act it all out without any of the sound effects. There was no dialogue, but as an exercise in reaction it was quite challenging. In that sense I've always had a good emotional range to draw on.

At the time of Class Of 74 I could have gone in any direction - if the first job had been a film job or a theatre job I might very well have gone down that road. It was just the way it happened, it wasn't a preference to do television. To me it was all oneness, and I was going to learn from whatever I did, and that is why I saw it all as worth doing. In retrospect I know there is a bit of snobbery around, particularly with people who only remember those things, who haven't seen the one-offs and the telefilms and everything else. And because I've now had this gap and been overseas, and I don't think a lot of people in Melbourne even knew I had been away for two years, they think 'Oh, she hasn't worked'.

Did you stay for Class Of 75?

No, it all got a bit lost then. Different people came in, and some changes were made. What they decided to do was rotate the regulars like me and Annie, on for three months and off for three months, and it just pulled it apart really. It kind of petered on into 75, and a lot of people didn't want to come back after all that happened. The following also dropped, and no wonder - 75 was nowhere near as good as 74.

What about the Homicide movie 'Stopover'?

Oh, that was wonderful, I really enjoyed doing that, I wish there was more television like that now. It was exciting - Danny Burstall did wonderful hand held camera shots; Jon English was excellent in it, they used all his songs; it had interesting camerawork and good people in it. Igor Auzins, who produced and directed it, was going to leave Crawfords, and it was a little bit of a parting shot. What was going to be initially a normal Homicide episode suddenly became this two and a half hour telemovie almost under their very noses, and at first they didn't know how to deal with it because it was about drugs and all of that stuff. I think Hector was actually quite embarrassed about the whole thing, but in the end he had to collect some awards for it!

One would expect a movie of that genre to be a bit weird, but this was even more so because there was the familiar Homicide cast in it.

Yes, a funny juxtaposition, but they weren't really functioning in the same manner as a normal episode. It also had those nice scenes with Bud (Tingwell) in London - it actually felt quite different, it had a different rhythm, I loved working on that. Even now you don't see many 'tripping' scenes in films, so it was quite bizarre for the time. I think it may have shocked a few people. The Alternative, which is now possibly a bit dated, we dealt with quite differently, but that was a subject matter that was also rather unusual.

You were nominated for Best Actress for The Alternative.

I was only playing the support for Wendy Hughes, so that wasn't a bad effort. It was actually one of the very first telemovies, produced by Robert Bruning. He did a whole series of them, Mama's Gone A-Hunting and various others. We could do with a lot more of those, with a group of good actors, which would also give writers a chance to work at their craft. That's when I started getting a taste for working on 'one-offs', like The Alternative and Stopover - to be part of a team working on a specific project. Then I started to move out of general television and into situations where you are working with a creative team. I would love to do more film work, because I like to be part of a team, a part of that concentrated energy. It can be like that in a series, but after a while it does just kind of peter out a bit. Although sometimes it takes a great deal more in a series or soap opera to establish a character and remain believable and human, because you are functioning under such limitations in terms of preparation.

Another problem with a series can be the lighting - it is often extremely undramatic, as though everything is shot in the middle of the Sahara desert, and any dramatic moment tends to be washed away. In a soap you obviously can't make individual lighting patterns for each scene, but I don't see why there can't be more variation, because that's how life is.

That is a condition usually manifest in soaps, rather than series such as Blue Heelers.

True. I thought there was some quite good work in a new series I saw recently. It had some very good '30's' actors in it, and was nicely written with intelligent dialogue.

It is a bit of a throwback to the 60's and early 70's, with a series rather than a serial, and lead actors in their 30's.

I hope that trend continues.

You worked with John Farnham in Bobby Dazzler.

That was before he had this wonderful resurgence. First of all, John is a charming, straightforward person. For someone in his position, to be such a warm, genuine, simple human being I think shows he has got a tremendous strength and integrity that very few people have. He is quite understated and humble, and of course he is tremendously talented. At the time there was a lot of backbiting about him because of the 'Sadie' image, and people were ready to write him off, and the same people are now falling over themselves praising him. I'm glad he is enjoying success now, because he really deserves it. At the time of Bobby Dazzler I was standing up for him, and I used to get really angry when people wouldn't let him out of his young 'Sadie' pop star image. Obviously he has a wonderful voice, and I think he has a natural comedy talent. I'm very happy he has done well, he deserves it.

He had some good scenes with Maurie Fields in Bobby Dazzler.

Yes, Maurie Fields was lovely. Olivia Hamnett was good too - there was quite a nice balance of people in Bobby Dazzler. I enjoyed doing that. I didn't even have to audition for it, the lady who was casting said "We just knew you could do it". Probably a third of my working life would have been in Melbourne then with Crawfords.

About the same time you had a regular role in The Bluestone Boys.

Yes. Not every episode of that was excellent, because there were pages and pages of comedy dialogue, and the actors were ploughing through, and there was a little bit of an attitude of 'this is comedy, make it bigger, bigger, bigger'. Some directors have the attitude that comedy has to be larger than life, but I think it is better when you play it straight. But then, obviously, there are different types of comedy.

You did a series of comedy sketches for Dave Allen and a 10 week stint in The Young Doctors before your career shifted emphasis away from television.

During that period I hadn't been working in theatre - I think my management compartmentalised me as a television person, because I had done quite a lot of continuous television work. Which was good for them, because they got continuous residuals! For a number of years I was quite happy, it wasn't a question of deciding what I would do, things would come up. There was a momentum that went on for about fifteen years, I more or less went from one thing to another, so I didn't really have any gaps where I wasn't doing anything. I wasn't stereotyped at all, I had a good variety of roles - playing the drug addict killer opposite Jon English in Stopover, and in The Alternative opposite Wendy Hughes, and so on. But after Stopover and The Alternative I felt I had gone to a certain point with the kind of television work I'd done. I wanted to work on projects that offered something more, where some thought and discussion was possible, and once I had a taste of that I started to think twice about doing certain things.

After working in television for so long, you landed a lead role in a play 'The Pleasure Of His Company', opposite Douglas Fairbanks.

The agency sent me to audition for that play, and I don't think they really expected me to get it because I hadn't done any theatre for so long. I'd been doing television for about seven years then, so they just sent me along as an experience. It was a lovely play, it would probably be considered commercial and not socially relevant, but it was one of the better written of that lot. It was a wonderful experience - for someone who had done no theatre for quite a number of years to be suddenly playing with Douglas, Bud and Robert Coote. I got some good reviews for that. I'm feeling now, with my age and experience, that I would love to do more theatre. Especially something interesting in a small theatre, I don't want to be swallowed up in a huge venue, and to some degree I am more interested in television film. One of the things I find interesting about television and film is the subtlety, not having to use the technique of projecting your voice and exaggerating your movements.

And what of the last few years?

I went away overseas for a period, basically because I thought if I didn't go then I wouldn't have a chance to take up an offer of studying with Stella Adler. So that was the particular reason for the timing, which wasn't the best in retrospect - I wasn't to know that within a few months of my leaving there would be this amazing upsurge and input in the film business, and a lot of people in my position made a jump and got a few film credits under their belt. That is something I have yet to make up for, so the trip was quite costly in terms of my momentum in Australia.

But on the other hand the experiences I had were so confirming - part of my objective in going away was to do these classes, as I'd been working flat out for fifteen years and I felt I was getting a little bit slotted. With the surprised reaction from my own agency that I actually got the part in the play ahead of 'theatre' people, I started to wake up to the fact that I needed to have a bit more control of my direction. Up till then I wasn't really guided, it was simply a case of accepting whatever came up for me. And a lot was coming up for me at the time. So what I needed was someone to guide my career a bit.

I was in London and I was about to come back home, in fact I already had my ticket, when I auditioned for a play. But as I wasn't a member of British Equity and hadn't worked there, I wasn't allowed to play a lead on the West End - all I could do was an understudy. Which in itself was a good opportunity and a guarantee to go on if it was transferred to the West End, which would have been a very good beginning in London. I gave up my ticket to do that, but it wasn't one of the plays that was transferred! So as I was there I got myself an agent, and I started seeing people from ATV, ITV, etc. They cast up to a year ahead and they definitely wanted me for a part in Tales Of The Unexpected the next year, but after one and a half years I just wanted to come home and pick up the threads in Australia.

I would like to make the point somewhere that I think it is a tragedy that people, at the very point they have the most to offer, after they've been through years and years of fine tuning training, are diminished to the point where they literally cannot feed themselves anymore. This is particularly true of women in Australia, there are a group of very fine actresses here who are, in a sense, in their prime, and who in another country would be given some respect now. I must say this for the Americans, they do have a respect for talent, and for the most part they have a great ability to support it and nurture it.

In my case, it is a bit of a shock after working flat out for fifteen years, and then coming back after only two years away, to find you are shut out because you haven't done anything lately. For a year and a half after my return I didn’t really get much consideration from the casting agencies until I had a variety of up-to-date guest roles on a tape, such as the embittered teacher in Room To Move opposite Nicole Kidman, and the Governor’s wife in Captain Cook - which was opposite Keith Mitchell, and was one of only two roles for women in a cast of around 250. I think there is a perception that because everyone is breaking their neck to get a mention in America, if you choose to come back then it must have been because nobody there was interested. That was certainly not the case. I think I'm one of the few who actually had a few tangible things happen - for example, being offered management by ICM, one of the top agents in the USA - and yet chose to come back.