"Iíve never had such power . . . never had such success," says Jeanie
Drynan, her face in a soft smile. And sheís not referring to ordering lunch from the
publicity team as we talk our way into lunchtime in one of the Fox Studio interview rooms.
Drynan is enjoying the glow of success after the first big screening of Soft Fruit,
closing the 1999 Sydney Film Festival (June 23, 1999), in which she plays the starring
role of Patsy, the mother dying of cancer. If that sounds dour, rest assured the film is
enormously entertaining as well as dramatic, an observant piece of cinema (observed by
writer/director Christine Andreef through her own family).
"I donít hunger for things, but itís having
choice thatís the wonderful thing"
No wonder sheís beaming. Drynanís career is looking more exciting than it
ever has, with the greatest luxury she could ask for: choice. "Iím lucky Ė
I have a happy family, and brick and mortar. Our daughter Ella is 18 and Ant is flying, so
maybe itís my time. I donít hunger for things, but itís having choice
thatís the wonderful thing."
Patsy comes after two other Ďmumí roles Ė first as the tragic mum in
Murielís Wedding, the second as the put-upon but ultimately feisty Suzie in Paperback
Hero, written and directed by Antony Bowman Ė her husband. Indeed, her first film
role was in Bowmanís feature debut, Cappuccino, in which Drynan plays an actress.
It was during the making of Cappuccino in 1989 that we first met. I was theatre critic
for The Australian at the time, and Bowman wanted me to write a fake review of an
imaginary play that Jeanie was in for the purposes of the film. It was to be favourable,
so she could run out and buy the paper in the morning, read my review and exclaim:
"Andrew Urban, I love you!"
"reviews are just as positive"
I am pleased to say that everything Jeanie has done since deserves such favourable
reviews as that first, prophetic fake one. I doubt that she runs about shouting
ĎAndrew Urban I love you!í but my reviews are just as positive. In Soft Fruit,
she gets to really show her warmth, her strength and her character acting skills.
And it nearly didnít happen. . . .
Drynan was in Sydney for two days after shooting Paperback Hero, before returning to
their Los Angeles home (behind the famous Chateau Marmont Hotel off Sunset Boulevard). Her
agent, Barbara Leane, arranged a meeting with Soft Fruit writer/director Andreef, who had
expressed an interest in Drynan. They met in the Cosmopolitan cafť in Double Bay.
"Christine walked in looking like a little girl in red round toed shoes,"
Drynan recalls. "She bounced in, having walked from Kings Cross with the script under
her arm. I read it that night before getting on the plane, and I told her good luck, I
know how hard it is to get things going - but I didnít commit. I never would, without
discussing it with Ant." Drynan was back in Sydney in August 1998, and Leane told her
"they are screen testing for the motherÖ.But Ant and I had been separated for
almost a year on and off, and I thought maybe this was the time to be a wife and mother.
So I didnít screen test."
"Andreef had written the role for Drynan, but
hadnít told her"
Then the call came. Drynan had returned to Los Angeles, and Leane rang her with
encouragement in her voice. Andreef was really keen to see Drynan. She wanted Drynan in
the role. In fact, Andreef had written the role for Drynan, but hadnít told her.
No-one knew, until the premiere at the State to close the Sydney Film festival, when
Andreef, introducing the film, told everyone.
"So within 24 hours I was on a plane heading back to Sydney, and straight into the
rehearsal room, where we all got together and started doing improvisation. The other
girls, Genevieve Lemon, Sacha Horler, Alicia Talbot, all bounced in like puppies and got
stuck into it but I was gobsmacked. Iíd never been game enough to improv before. I
didnít do muchÖI lay on the bed. Well, Iím sick. . . " she quips.
"They bounced around and for three days I lay on the bed. Then Christine said, to go
across the empty rehearsal room and buy my coffin. And as I walked across, I started to
imagine it Ė and thatís when I got quite emotional. And I felt Iíd done it
Ė Iíd crossed the line. I was improvising." And she was in character.
"an impressive woman of substance, confidence
But, she admits with a pang of vulnerability, "it was hard for me to be
PatsyÖlook at herÖbut thatís my demon." Drynan felt the same about her
role in Murielís Wedding and to a lesser extent about her role in Paperback Hero,
characters who are frumpy and downtrodden, unglamorous and unadored. "I remember me
in 2000 Weeks in 1968 . . ." she says wistfully, a pang of pain, but itís
quickly dismissed. In real life, Drynan is well groomed and after losing some weight
following Soft Fruit, an impressive woman of substance, confidence radiating from her.
And she is quick to talk about the role of Dorothy in Feel So Right, "in which I
get to wear power suits and strut," she says with a giggle. In feel So Right, to be
directed by Michael Edwards from an adaptation of John Loneís story A Friend of
Dorothyís (in the book, Aspects of Love), Drynan plays a 50 year old teacher, a woman
of the world, well travelled and educated, who provides the spiritual tools for survival
to a 16 year old mixed-race gay student at her school, through a special relationship that
develops between them. "She opens the doors of perception for him," says
Edwards. "Itís a funny and touching story and Jeanie will make it engaging. I
love her warmth and her vulnerability. I think people are used to seeing her in mum roles
will get a big surprise."
And thatís not the only thing on Drynanís professional horizon. On her way
back to Los Angeles, she stopped off in London to meet with Davey Stewart from the
Eurythmics, who wants to talk to her about a role in his upcoming film. In the US, Joan
Twesbury, who wrote Nashville for Robert Altman, is writing a one woman show for Drynan.
"it feels good"
"I used to be envious when I was younger Ė looking at other peopleís
success. But I never had that burning ambition. But nowÖwell, it feels good. And they
can never take this away from me."