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The Sydney Morning Herald

A CHAMPION WITH A CAUSE

Author: LYNDEN BARBER
Date: 03/12/1992
Words: 934
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Page: 29
AUSTRALIAN cinema and television's youth obsession shows no sign of abating. Look at 1992's film successes: Strictly Ballroom - young love triumphs against ballroom bigotry ... Romper Stomper - young love triumphs against fascist lunacy. Now there's Secrets (opening this week), where young love blossoms amid the hysteria of Beatlemania.

Director Michael Pattinson and writer Jan Sardi home in on a group of fans of the Fab Four (Noah Taylor, Dannii Minogue, Beth Champion and Willa O'Neill), plus a sceptical rocker (Malcolm Kennard), making personal confessions while locked in the basement of their idols' Melbourne hotel.

Those readers who already think they've spotted the similarity to a certain John Hughes film of the mid-'80s (where the setting was a school detention room) are not alone.

Red-haired Champion, who plays country girl Emily, recalls her first reaction to the script: "'Oh, this is like The Breakfast Club, how could they possibly do this? This is not right, they've copied.' And then when I got it(the role), I thought, 'Molly Ringwald had red hair too, this is a bit too creepy for me'. But when we did it, it was just so Australian and so different.

"That structure is there - the formula, the fact we're trapped and revealing our innermost secrets, but I think it's a much more positive film. The Breakfast Club is negative, they're all in detention and they're all kind of angry ... whereas we just want to explode with excitement because the Beatles are 15 floors above us and that's the most exciting thing in the world."

Giving the type of fresh performance suggestive of a healthy career ahead, Champion says she had no problem identifying with the tastes of her parents'generation, having leapt around to her mother's Beatles albums and known all the words as a child.

Not that she was required to be precious about period authenticity. One of her friends had complained of the film (puts on a huffy voice): " 'They had the label wrong on The Beatles single; they didn't have that kind of label; it was Parlophone, and it wasn't red, it was blue, or something. And they didn't have gel back in the '60s.' "

She defends: "It's not supposed to be completely accurate. I think the way we look and way we dressed is appealing to the '90s. And the way things are so bright and colourful - it's theatrics."

The film, she agrees, isn't so much about Beatlemania as the sexual revolution whose expression it represented. "The kids were wanting to get out of that repressed sort of religious 'you can't have sex before you marry'(thing). I think it was time that young people liked their bodies and thought it was OK to do things like experiment. It had to happen eventually; it just happened to happen in the 1960s. I think their timing was just perfect."

Secrets writer Jan Sardi - a drama teacher - sat in on rehearsals, though Champion felt there were times he shouldn't have been there. "I think sometimes he tried to intervene too much in how we should perform it, which isn't really his department. But I think without his help we wouldn't have been as involved."

Raised in the Western suburbs, the 23-year-old Champion displays some of that breezy Australian ingenuousness periodically parcelled up and sold overseas - except that she's obviously brighter than Elle and a considerably stronger actor than Kylie.

So far her schoolgirlish looks have tended to land her younger and "naive"roles in TV series like Brides of Christ, Police Rescue, GP, Home and Away and Hey Dad.

So, ahem, is she naive? "Maybe I am; I'm a bit of a dag," she smiles. "I'm very straight and people know that. I don't take anything (drugs) and don't drink and don't like getting myself out of control because I'm frightened by that; I hate not knowing where my head is."

The image could change with her next film role, Paul Cox's Exile, set in the 1860s, in which she plays a "wild" bargirl who sets out to meet Aden Young's sheep rustler.

Certainly there's more to Champion than sweetness and light. Before deciding on acting as a career, she'd planned to enter the police force to train in forensics, reflecting a morbidity she thinks was caused by the death of her father in 1987. "It was just intriguing, death," she says. "But I realised, 'yuk'."

 
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