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OWEN, RENA – Dance Me To My Song

Nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role in Rolf de Heer’s Dance Me To My Song, Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors) tells PAUL FISCHER how and why she said yes to the role even before she read the script.

Rena Owen is someone prepared to tell it like it is. She walks into a room and one is confronted by a tough, no-nonsense actress with a strength that has helped define her life and career. Now 36, Owen has won more acclaim and awards than you can poke a stick at, for her bravura, uncompromising work on Once Were Warriors. Avoiding the pitfalls of both that film's director and male star, Owen shunned the Hollywood route, preparing to remain close to herself.

"It was just such an honour to be a part of that film"

That accounts for her decision to work on what she describes as a modest role in the new and acclaimed Australian drama, Dance Me To My Song. "It was just such an honour to be a part of that film", the actress reflects in the midst of the 1998 Toronto Film Festival, where she was promoting a low-budget New Zealand drama, When Loves Comes.

"I was in Brisbane doing (the tv series) Medivac, and I got the call about this project. Rolf said to me that he "didn't want to offend you here, but would you consider doing a cameo role for me." I said 'Of course'. There was this long pause after which he said: 'But you haven't read the script'. To which I replied: 'Rolf, I don't NEED to read the script, I'm very familiar with your work and it would be a privilege to work with you.' " Suffice to say, he sent her the script, the answer was still yes, and the cameo role has since won her an AFI Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

"It was such a juicy role and the kind of role I hadn't played - namely a lesbian"

"It was such a juicy role and the kind of role I hadn't played - namely a lesbian." Dance Me To My Song is the story of cerebral palsy victim Julia and her yearning for a genuine heterosexual relationship, which she hopes to find with the enigmatic Eddie. Owen plays Julia's sympathetic gay sister, who has her own problems. "For me as an actress, it's really important that every role is different from its predecessor, and Rolf afforded me this opportunity." Asked how she sets about playing a gay character, she laughs loudly. "If you're asking me whether I did 'that' sort of research, the answer is an unequivocal no. I do have a lot of gay friends, so it was easy to do. Besides", she adds in all modesty, "it wasn't such an in-depth role that I had to research anyhow; it was more to decide the look of it."

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