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Ronan Keating, the singer who hasn’t acted before, helped Magda Szubanski, the actor who hasn’t sung on screen before. It made for a great, big showstopper in the new Aussie musical comedy, Goddess, demonstrating just what a ‘Design Nazi’ Szubanski’s character Cassandra Wolfe is. Andrew L. Urban spoke to Szubanski on the eve of the film’s premiere in Sydney.

Do You Know Who I Am is the showstopper which is Magda Szubanski’s only song and dance number in Goddess – and by jingo, we now know Szubanski is more than a terrific actress: she’s officially a triple threat. She creates advertising hotshot Cassandra Wolfe ... all the better to chew you up and spit you out.

But not when we sit down to talk about the film and her role, in the impossibly funky QT Hotel in what was the impossibly traditional Gowings Building in Sydney’s CBD, where colourfully decorated but undressed mannequins greet you everywhere. (Reminds me a bit of New York’s funkyng of bars, the Hudson.)

"unleashed something in me"

“Well,” she says modestly when advised of her new triple threat status, “a pretend triple threat…” But by the end of our interview she confesses that the role has “unleashed something in me. I’ve let the genie out of the bottle and I’d love to pursue this new area.” Cue filmmakers with musical projects …

In fact, her new dream is making an album! Cue recording A&R managers …

I suggested a one-woman show called Do You Know Who I Am at somewhere like the Slide cabaret venue. Cue Slide …

Goddess co-star Ronan Keating, the singer who hasn’t acted, helped the actor who hasn’t sung – except in the shower. Says the film’s director Mark Lamprell. “And you know, Magda has never done this sort of huge showstopper number and she said to me later: ‘It was just extraordinary. He made me feel like I could do it’. And she could!” Keating is humble about his input. “It was nice working with people that don’t sing, and that I could help them and guide them along the way. There were just a couple of tips that I gave Magda to try and help her and you know, let her feel more comfortable and get the best out of her vocal.”

"vividly alive"

“The Cassandra character is particularly tricky,” says Lamprell. She is a larger than life character - but we didn’t want her to fall into parody or cliché. So she needed to be vividly alive, and sort of larger than life as well - and a lot of fun. And tonally that’s a tightrope to get an actor to try to walk - and Magda completely nailed it.”

Lamprell has nothing but praise for the star who pulled that off. “She’s such a fine artist, Magda,” he says. “She’s one of those people that you just fine tune - you don’t direct.”

In return, Szubanski pays tribute to Lamprell, who wrote the role specially for her. “I’m so glad because I’m crap at auditions. If I had to audition for it I wouldn’t have got it.”

She also is full of praise for choreographer Kelley Abbey; “she is fantastic at pretending your weaknesses don’t exist.”

Abbey found working with Szubanski a joy. “I just love Magda. We’ve worked together before. She did Grease The Arena for me. We’re very good friends. I think she was nervous because she’s never done this before, but she did this fabulous number with eight guys being sort of Mafia bodyguards alongside her. And it really showcases her. She sings the track so well in this kind of diva, showgirl, Monroe star turn way. It was really intricate work she was doing with the boys, and really hard. She really had to hit her mark at the right time and she focussed. She worked really hard and she got it and she’s done a great job.”

"she approached the number more like a staged pop song"

Szubanski admits to modelling her vocal performance on jazzy singers like Julie London, or Doris Day singing Sentimental Journey. In her uni days, Szubanski did some old fashioned cabaret, but for the film, she says she approached the number more like a staged pop song, not a film musical. The result has drawn plenty of applause, not least from her musical family.

“When I first read the script I didn’t see the images which Mark clearly had in his head – so it wasn’t what I expected. And of course when we started looking at those clothes, that hair and make up and that statement jewellery … Cassandra emerged in full. She’s a design Nazi!”

Published March 14, 2013

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Magda Szubanski


...in Goddess

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