by GREG KING.
The new Australian romantic comedy Strange Fits Of Passion screened at Cannes last year where it was particularly well received, and the film has garnered positive reviews wherever it has screened. Which is all good news for the film’s writer and director, actress turned filmmaker Elise McCreadie, who spoke passionately about her triumphant debut.
“I always wanted to be an actor ever since I can remember,” McCreadie admits as she briefly traces her career. “My father always read to me when I was little, we didn’t have a television at home and my father always read me stories. I would always re-enact them. So I always had this love of acting. And I started doing plays when I was at school, and out of school. I never had that whole infatuated with movie stars thing at all. I was never like that. It was just something I had to do. I just wanted to do it! I loved films! I loved theatre! But I didn’t have particular people I was necessarily going to base myself on. It was the whole thing. I was entranced by it.”
Somewhat frustrated by the lack of good roles for female actors in this country McCreadie turned to writing Strange Fits Of Passion out of a desire to create a strong, intelligent and complex female character. For the past three years she has nurtured this fairly personal and perceptive romantic comedy exploring one woman’s frustrating and desperate journey to lose her virginity. Strange Fits Of Passion is a fresh, contemporary yet far from conventional romantic comedy that follows its neurotic and rather cynical heroine through a series of misadventures and comical sexual liaisons.
As most coming of age tales and stories exploring sexual awakening are usually told from a male perspective, McCreadie’s uniquely female spin is somehow quite fascinating. Given the insights and the personal nature of the heroine’s journey, Strange Fits Of Passion seems to have something of an autobiographical flavour. However, McCreadie argues fairly strongly that this is not the case.
“It’s not autobiographical at all,” she explains. “It’s more the emotion maybe that’s the most autobiographical part. Not the emotion exactly, but the theme and the feeling within the film. I can remember thinking and having these thoughts or feelings, or the same questions and conversations she has. Questioning the same things she does very clearly. I guess the truth of the film comes from me. The character of She and all the other characters are imagined.
“I guess the impetus for writing it was that these were the things that concerned me. I wanted to tell a story about those issues and those thoughts because I’d never seen that really expressed in film before – that kind of female character who was having those thoughts and feelings. I never made this film thinking that this was a kind of universal truth, and that everybody goes through this experience. It was more the feelings and emotions that everybody goes through. To some degree a confusion or anxiety. I made the film to explore a character who wasn’t normal, isn’t the normal run of the mill girl.”
The film’s heroine is anonymously named She. But not out of laziness, or from an attempt to have her heroine represent some sort of common female experience.
“It’s easy to assume that’s what I was trying to do,” McCreadie elaborates. “For me it was more about a girl who didn’t know her own identity. For that reason I didn’t want her to have a name. I thought it was an interesting take on someone who is searching. I liked that juxtaposition of her being nameless because until the end of the film she doesn’t know who she is. She hasn’t got a clue. She’s trying to work it all out in theories. She doesn’t know who she is, she doesn’t know what her sexuality is, she doesn’t know what her personality is, she doesn’t know anything, and yet she’s trying to classify everything with names. She’s into theories, like post-feminism, etc. That’s a bit tricky, but I liked the idea of her not having a name.”
McCreadie may deny that her complex heroine is not autobiographical but there are a few physical similarities between her and Michaela Noonan the young actress chosen to play her. Noonan is a Sydney based actress who has been acting professionally since she was 16 or 17, and has amassed extensive credits in theatre and television. She was eventually chosen after an exhaustive search that saw McCreadie audition some 200 actresses for the role. McCreadie says that she realised Noonan was perfect for the role almost as soon as she saw her, and is full of praise for her performance, which is a beautiful mixture of vulnerability, naivety and hidden strength.
“Michaela has a very good comic physical ability, which was wonderful. The reason I really liked her from her first audition was her body -it was incredibly kind of comic and awkward. It wasn’t like she was putting on this character. When she was reading the lines it was sort of like she was in the body of the character. As we worked through the auditions we also worked with her depth of emotions as well. There was a gradual build up. By the time we actually started rehearsing she had done about three days of work already and had worked out our relationship together as a director and actor. It was just about giving Michaela some freedom within the usual constraints.”
Noonan herself says she was drawn towards the script initially because there are so few really good roles for women in their mid-20s that offer such a range of emotions. “She is actually a complex character who is maybe not likeable all the time,” Noonan explains. “In terms of really relating to She I think it’s the same as asking Elise if the film is autobiographical. It’s a bit dramatised, a bit uncomfortable, a bit heightened. I related to those thoughts, about being unsure of my sexuality and all those things. I think it’s obvious that most people do. That’s what’s so refreshing about this film, because you almost never see a girl going through this coming of age in a film. Most of them are from a male perspective. I could really throw myself into this, and I really wanted to do this. I tried very hard to remember where I’d been and where I was going and be very true to the emotions and the relationships. That was something we got from the rehearsal period, creating those personal relationships so that they could appear real.”