This interview originally appeared
in TV EYE No. 8, May 1996.
Carla Hoogeveen appeared in many television series of the 70s,
including Class Of 74, Bobby Dazzler and The Bluestone Boys, as well as
Robert Bruning's telemovie The Alternative and the Homicide movie
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
didnt 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 Governors 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.