Film and television star Claudia Karvan paves the way for new stories, new writers, and another hit show
Claudia Karvan is a multi-award-winning actor, producer, writer, and director, and a face most of us we grew up watching on our screens. Claudia brings truth, comedy, and a fresh take on the intimate relationships within modern families we rarely get to see on screen. With the success of Series 1 and recent announcement of Series 2 of Bump, Claudia takes us behind-the-scenes, and discusses her experience on getting behind-the-camera.
Bump has broken viewing records for Stan since its launch on New Year’s Day and been renewed for a second season. What do you think has contributed to that success?
Based on anecdotal feedback I think people found it to be life-affirming and very recognisable. The characters felt authentic, there’s a lot of heart and humour.
Our diverse cast didn’t feel like a token gesture, it felt sincere and recognisable. Locating the production in Glebe contributed too – people really enjoyed seeing a suburb they recognised. I think the performances and the cast were great, along with the writing, which a lot of people commented on. The writing team is extraordinary.
People are even commenting on the costumes – I think they really appreciated the detail. They loved the ways the uniforms were layered, the way the teenage kids were wearing recognisable Australian brands, or Australian businesses like 9 Degree, which is a bouldering gym. There were lots of personal points of reference.
Bump got such a warm reception and we’re all really thrilled and hoping we can keep up the good work for Season 2.
As well as playing one of the series’ leads, you co-created Bump with Kelsey Munro. What makes a fruitful collaboration for you and can you tell us how the team came about for this series?
It was Dan Edwards and John Edwards who knew Kelsey through a different project that she’d approached them with. Kelsey came to Dan and John with the idea for Bump they had an instinct that Kelsey and I would work well together and get on well, and they were absolutely right about that.
John and Dan have great instincts for putting teams together and recognising great talent. In a team you always want to have some young voices, new voices, and I think what makes a good team is honesty and people feeling like they can speak their minds. All of us come up with crazy or dumb ideas and you’ve got to feel comfortable to share those, and as is always the way, a dumb idea gives birth to a collaborative or good idea. I think sharing values helps too.
Bump feels fresh and cheeky in its language and exploration of modern families, teen pregnancy etc. How did your creative team get in the heads of the Tik-Tok generation and avoid tired tropes of teenagers and parents to deliver a new take on characters and storylines?
Kelsey has a great ear for dialogue and she’s a great researcher. Jessica Tuckwell who wrote three episodes often felt like our ‘Oly’ in the room. That’s a magic trick she has.
I also have a 19-year-old daughter, and my stepdaughter is 30. I’ve experienced being a mother to two teenage girls, so I hope I’ve brought some insights into the room there.
We were always reaching out to teenagers and checking our vernacular, but also keeping the door wide open for our own cast to contribute to influencing the characters. Safia Arain certainly had an authentic input to elements of her character (Reema), as did Ioane Saula who played Vince. And Nathalie Morris (Oly) and Carlos Sanson Jr. (Santiago/Santi) are both very professional, intelligent and wise individuals and would always give their honest feedback too, and we always listened.
The series feels like it has a fresh new cast – can you tell us a bit about casting the show?
Kirsty McGregor and Daisy Hicks were our casting geniuses. They really encouraged the Latinx community to come forward [for casting] and we had a lot of first-timers on the show. We kept on going with our gut in terms of the chemistry for the cast.
I think we really fluked it with Carlos and Nat. They are both about the same age and yet they were both playing 16-year-olds, but they looked very believable as teenagers. We didn’t even get a chance to do a chemistry test with them before filming because Nat was in New Zealand at the time. And we cast Ioane Saula (Vince) who was in Canberra off a self-tape, so we didn’t even get to do a chemistry test between Carlos and Ioane, but they bonded beautifully, and they are close friends.
There is a genuine connection within the cast of Bump. To a degree it was fostered, but it was also luck and I think there was a lot of goodwill towards the production, especially as we were in the middle of COVID and everyone was grateful to be working. I think people really respected the scripts and our Directors were so connected to the storytelling. They did a fabulous job and they created a collegiate atmosphere on set.
Bump is a series with a strong female focus that explores the confronting challenges of motherhood, and it also nods to strong female characters both real and fictional – including the Handmaid’s Tale reference and Jacinda the baby – Can you tell us a bit about exploring those themes and drawing on your own life experiences to bring your character to life?
We have to credit Kelsey. In the original pitch document she always described Bump as Feminist Television. She even went so far to want only female singers in the music, in the score – we weren’t strict about that in the series but there are a lot of female singers and voices.
I think across the board – that’s Timothy Lee, Steven Arriagada, Mithila Gupta, the whole writing team, Jessica Tuckwell, and John and Dan – we all draw from our personal lives. That’s why you’ve got to feel safe in the writing room, and then we distort our personal experiences so they’re unrecognisable, or so they inspire events that could happen to our characters.
What’s been the biggest learning curve in this production?
Shooting in times of COVID was a learning curve. The realisation that no problem is insurmountable, because there were days where they certainly did feel insurmountable, but we overcame them. For instance, we weren’t allowed to use any babies under three months because of COVID. For a show that’s about a newborn baby, that was a bit of a surprise for us and a bit of a shock.
We also couldn’t get access to hospitals and we had quite a strong hospital sequence in the first two episodes. We couldn’t get access to schools and that put a lot of pressure on our schedule because we could only be at the school on a Saturday. That was definitely a learning curve.
Have you found any challenges as a woman getting behind the camera?
I have been very lucky, and I’ve had a lot of support from male colleagues. It was Roger Hodgman who was a Director on Secret Life of Us who actively encouraged me to get behind the camera and direct a block of Secret Life of Us. John Edwards and Amanda Higgs totally embraced that idea and didn’t back away from it at all.
Then it was John Edwards who encouraged me to produce and that was something that had never occurred to me. To be honest, I really didn’t understand what the role of a producer was – it can be quite an amorphous role.
I’ve also had the good luck of working with so many female directors. Even from a young age. I worked with Gillian Armstrong when I was 14, and then Nadia Tass on The Big Steal when I was 16, and then Laurie McInnes on Broken Highway… I have worked with Cate Shortland, Kate Dennis, and Jessica Hobbs who is now one of the lead Directors on The Crown, and Cherie Nowlan.
Contrary to the very accurate statistics, my very anecdotal experience has been that women are a big part of our industry, but the statistics were quite shocking when they came out five or six years ago. I think a lot has changed since then. On Doctor Doctor, Ian Collie, Tony McNamara and I were very lucky to be able to give Lucy Gaffy her first TV break, as well as Lisa Matthews. When you do start honing in on the amazing female talent that is not being given a break, it’s quite a surprise.
Why do you think that women aren’t always given as many chances or as many breaks?
I do think that is being addressed now, I really do. I try to be optimistic about these things, hopefully not naïve, but that is maybe a perception or habit. I mean a lot of the gatekeepers, especially high up in executive positions are male, and often it’s not a conscious leaning but it just seems to happen.
It feels like it [the tide is changing]. Especially with quotas and initiatives like Gender Matters at Screen Australia. Certainly, from what I observe, it’s absolutely front and centre in productions’ minds that there’s an awareness of gender parity definitely. And I think that’s also being headed by what happens in the States as well.
The Australian screen industry seems to be going gangbusters at the moment, but if there is anything you think would make the local industry even better, what would it be?
More diversity in writers. Last time we met with the Australian Writers Guild, which was a few years ago now, there was reasonable gender parity, but it was majority, almost completely, white Anglo.
This is a really serious issue because we all agree we want diversity on screen, but we can’t have all those roles being written by Anglos. Also, we want to be hearing the full slate of Australian voices and stories, and those writers need to be supported and developed and given talent escalation opportunities.
We understand you knew you wanted to be both a producer and actor in this series, having previously produced for Doctor Doctor, Love My Way, Spirited, and House Of Hancock. What did you bring from those experiences to this production?
Valuing the detail, always being available to all members of the production, bringing humanity in the storytelling and humour. And making sure that the work is personal and pleasurable, and always remembering that we’re here because of the support of the Australian taxpayer and we need to make sure that we’re audience-facing.
We know you’re currently working on the next season of Bump. Can you tell us where you want to take that?
We’re going to keep following Oly’s journey as a very young mother. Santi and Oly’s relationship and whether their love can survive the pressures of growing up and being very young parents. We want to explore the conflicts between the two central families, the Hernandez family and the Chalmers-Davis family, and we really want to broaden the story palette to include other students and their home lives.
We miss it and we are all really champing at the bit to get back into the story room and then get back on set.
Do you have other projects in the works?
At the moment I’m working on a Blackfella Films documentary about Australian books and authors for the ABC through ABC Arts. I’ve also got some lovely little acting jobs scattered throughout the year.
June Again, which had Screen NSW support, is directed by JJ Winlove, who wrote and directed the film that features performances by Noni Hazlehurst and Stephen Curry, is coming out 6 May in time for Mother’s Day. June Again is one of the many films that was poleaxed last year by COVID so it’s had a delayed release. The film’s trailer is showing in cinemas now so hopefully that will be warmly received.
Noni Hazlehurst is extraordinary, she gives a beautiful performance, and it’s totally her film – it’s a great role for her. She’s emotional and has a great sense of humour and is wonderful to work opposite. I play her daughter in the film, and it was great fun to be the daughter, which is very different to Bump where I played the mother and then the grandmother!