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O'CONNOR, FRANCES: Thank God He Met Lizzie

FRANKLY FRANCES
Frances O’Connor is a shooting star in Australia’s cinematic firmament, already the recipient of an international Best Actress Award; poised on the next stage, she talks to ANDREW L. URBAN

In a strange reception room in a strange Kings Cross hotel in Sydney - the milieu for life’s great dramas in the underbelly of the city - Frances O’Connor comes to be interviewed, the publicist hovering outside. This is the nearest Australians get to stardom Hollywood style. Neutral rooms, prearranged interviews within set times: it is the beginning of a star system. And Frances is at the beginnings of her star-status career, in demand as a leading actress, nominated by AFI members for two films she made back to back, Kiss or Kill and Thank God He Met Lizzie. By the time the 1997 AFI Awards were announced, Frances had already won the Best Actress Award at the Montreal Film festival in October, for her role in Kiss or Kill. She could take comfort in that, when her two nominations remained just nominations. Besides, Kiss or Kill won Best Film, which no doubt also helped ease the disappointment.

"He sets high standards" on Peter Duncan

She arrives for our interview looking trim in black: black stockings, a black knitted dress, black hair pulled back, no make up, striking eyebrows and those sculpted lips with upturned corners, and her cute pixie nose. "It’s been the best time of my life," she admits smiling, having just finished another film, Peter Duncan’s A Little Bit of Soul, with Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham and Heather Mitchell. "Peter’s great fun; he’s so talented but has no ego. And he sets high standards.

"So much has happened and it’s given me a good sense of myself, when people comment they like my work. Life’s changed and forced me to get my act together personally," she says, still smiling. "I’ve had to grow up a bit."

"I tend to be analytical, probably too much so"

Of course, with all the work, she says jokingly, she doesn’t actually have a private life anymore. But in the chaos, "with my sense of self fluctuating, yoga and meditation help to centre myself. Things do affect me, but as an actor you have to be sensitive. So you just have to find a way of looking after that. I tend to be analytical, probably too much so."

A fascination for people has led O’Connor to psychology, "and why people do things. That’s why I love Front Up (SBS TV Tuesdays at 7.30 pm – interviews with people at random in the streets of Australia, by this writer); you see aspects of humanity not usually documented." O’Connor had just finished reading Stephanie Dowrick’s book, Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, which she found valuable and fascinating.

Across the Pacific in the belly of the movie beast, O’Connor already has an agent at the all-powerful CAA agency, "an intelligent and lovely guy who comes from New York and has a theatrical background." But earlier, there were two Australians who had a significant influence on O’Connor the actress: "Robyn Nevin had a big impact on me," she confides. "We were working together at the MTC on Lady Windemere’s Fan. I had thought she’d be this grand dame of the stage, but she was very childlike – but then when it came to the crunch, she DID IT!. Acting is thought, she’d say. Forget about the feeling. She’s such a great woman, totally un-neurotic and very supportive."

"He bullied me into roles"

Another influence was head of directing at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Perth, Chris Edmund. "He was inspirational and he’d push me. I doubted my ability and he bullied me into roles. For example, I was to play a 50 year old matriarch in Ibsen’s Pillars of Society. I had really long hair and he told me to cut it off. I said no, but he insisted I had to change myself. So I cut a couple of inches off and it made a big difference."

From January to mid February 1998, O’Connor will be on stage in Melbourne, in the MTC’s production of The Herbal Bed, after which she will possibly go to Los Angeles, but her agent says nothing is confirmed yet. "There are least 50 million films that people want her to do, but nothing has been set."

For O’Connor, the challenge will be to keep on track, keep focused and keep her head while the world spins furiously around her. And like everyone in showbiz, she needs a touch of luck to ensure her next film role will enhance her track record of mysterious, complex and fiery women.

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