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NOWLAN, CHERIE - CLUBLAND

Cherie Nowlan’s first feature film as director was Thank God He Met Lizzie which starred Cate Blanchett, Frances O’Connor and Richard Roxburgh. The film received five AFI Award nominations, with Cate Blanchett receiving the AFI Award for her performance. Cate also won an Australian Film Critics Award for the same role.

In 2003, Cherie directed the critically acclaimed four-hour mini-series Marking Time for the ABC. The mini-series won a record 7 AFI awards in 2004, including Best Director. She has since directed two telemovies Small Claims and Small Claims – White Wedding, starring Claudia Karvan and Rebecca Gibney for Network Ten. Both were produced by Clubland producer Rosemary Blight. Other television credits include the multi award-winning drama series The Secret Life of Us and The Alice.

Cherie is also an award-winning commercials director and was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Documentary for God’s Girls.

Cherie Nowlan, feted at Sundance, embraced by Hollywood, reflects on how true to life her new film Clubland is – both to her own life and that of writer Keith Thompson, she tells Andrew L. Urban before jetting off to promote the film across America.

Cherie Nowlan is 24 hours away from flying out to Los Angeles and on to New York for a promotional tour supporting her new film, Clubland (together with others on her team). There is just time for a quick telephone interview as she ticks off her list of things to de before heading to the airport. “I just remembered I have to pick up my dry cleaning,” she says to herself. This is the Cherie Nowlan who now has “a small village of 30 agents” looking after her interests from their Los Angeles base, following the film’s triumphant world premiere at Sundance. “I am aware of the many new opportunities and hope to make the best of them,” she says.

"you still want people to love it at the box office"

“It’s not often that an Australian film gets a simultaneous US release across 50 cities,” she adds, encouraging herself to make the most of it – demanding and pressured thought it may be. (Clubland is the first Australian film to get a wide Independence Day [July 4, 2007] release in the US.)

Having generated standing ovations at Sundance as well as the $4.1 million sale for US rights, Clubland was something of a success even before its Australian release (June 28, 2007). “Yes, I guess I no longer have sole responsibility for the film now… it’s out of my hands, but you still want people to love it at the box office,” says Nowlan, who is “grateful to Keith Thompson for trusting his original screenplay to me.”

The film is about a legendary English comedienne Jean Dwight (Brenda Blethyn), who is working in a canteen these days between small-time gigs; her ex, John (Frankie J. Holden) is also a ‘was’ in showbiz, now a security guard with a vanity CD on the way. Their son Mark (Richard Wilson) is disabled and dependent, but young Tim (Khan Chittenden), still a virgin at 21, has just met a girl, Jill (Emma Booth) and this threatens to break Jean’s hold on the chaotic family. Jean employs every trick in the book to safeguard the future of her family, leaving Tim torn between two passionate women intent on fighting it out in the war for his affections.

Keith Thompson wrote the screenplay specifically with Brenda Blethyn in mind. Although he has lived in Australia for many years, Keith grew up in Dover, near Brenda’s hometown, and created the character of Jean Dwight – a British comedienne who had migrated to Australia 25 years ago with her Australian performer husband – with her English accent in his mind.

“When I was a kid my mother had a dance band in England,” Thompson recalls. “I used to sit at the side of the piano while she was performing and so I was always around clubs. The working class milieu in those clubs is really interesting and really powerful. Plus, I love writing about women’s humour. Guys get so many opportunities to be funny, but what makes me laugh is the way women relate to each other with their humour. It’s a kind of domestic humour, they were doing observational comedy 30 years ago before it became popular.”

Producer Rosemary Blight worked on the script with Keith “and then we needed to find a director. I remember my first meeting with Cherie. She had fallen in love with the script. Then I approached Brenda, which was five years before we made the film. She fell in love with it too and said ‘I’ll do it, when do we start.’ She hung in with us and hung in with us until we could get it made.”

"It’s truthful and vulnerable with no fear of embarrassment "

“I related to all the characters,” says Nowlan. “I was really amused by Keith’s exposure of his own life. It’s truthful and vulnerable with no fear of embarrassment and there are lots of laughs. I loved it as soon as I read it. In simple terms it’s a romantic comedy … boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. But I love the way Keith twisted this into a coming of age story – of the mother!”

As Brenda Blethyn’s character Jean is a stand up comedian, the film features a few comedy monologues. Thompson and Nowlan had deliberately left these quite open, with just the themes outlined. “Stand up monologues are really difficult to write, but Brenda became quite obsessed by writing them herself. She’d regale me with her ideas, and on set during the shoot she’d get on a roll and wouldn’t her me call ‘Cut!’ It was very funny.”

Published June 28, 2007
 

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Cherie Nowlan


Emma Booth and Khan Chittenden in CLUBLAND

Hear Andrew L. Urban’s INTERVIEW with Cherie Nowlan (AUDIO FILE - PODCAST)


Cherie Nowlan with her star, Brenda Blethyn







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