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Graduation class

Date: 19/08/2001
Words: 1493
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Tempo
Page: 4
The world is at her feet but Brooke Satchwell is not letting success go to her head, CHRISTINE HOGAN reports.

BROOKE Satchwell was not looking her best, she declared. However, the evidence produced the actor herself in a funky coffee shop (if you are a Doris Day fan, Metropolis in Cremorne is for you) did not support her assertion, even though she had been up late the night before after the opening of her season in The Vagina Monologues.

It's not what you're thinking there was no first-night party with cast and crew for Satchwell.

``When I get anxious I have to clean. So when I got home after the show I did two loads of washing, the washing-up and then straightened up the flat," she said. ``[My boyfriend] Matt came home, found the flat clean with everything put away and knew I was really stressed."

Being an excellent boyfriend who also happens to be an actor, he said all the right things he told her she had been really great on stage, that he was proud of her.

Then Satchwell insisted on a complete critique. ``That was fantastic he gave me a full debrief on his impression of how I did."

She didn't get much rest after the cleaning binge and the performance notes and was still slightly sleep-puffy when she arrived for Tempo's interview at 11am. But not even a late night and the aftermath of a struggle for most of the week with a head cold could dim Satchwell's glow.

Clear-skinned and almond-eyed, she has an innate glamour that works as well in reality (it certainly charmed the 19-year-old waiter) as it does on the stage and on television. If that's called the It Factor, she's got it in spades.

Others have been noticing this incandescence for years she was discovered in the street by a casting agent, did her first ad for Just Jeans when she was 14 and was in Neighbours at 15. It has taken her from a TV soap to TV shows for the hip (The Panel, Good News Week where she more than held her own against older, more jaded panellists), a two-year on-and-off role in Water Rats (she played Jack Christey's illegitimate daughter Sophie) as well as to the American series The Beast Master (for the record, she plays an Amazon warrior, which is a little surprising, since physically she's quite slight).

Among those who also noticed the star factor was boyfriend Matt, the 24-year-old son of TV stars Bert and Patti Newton, who met Satchwell when he cast her in a short film he was making.

``I'm pleased to say Matt gave me the job before he met me," she was quick to add, to avoid any thought that she got the job because she was the girlfriend of the writer/producer. Together they live not in the flashbulb-lit world of glamorous A-list parties, but a relatively calm and, you'd have to say, unexpected domesticity.

``We're like Ma and Pa Kettle," Satchwell said. ``We like to stay home, watch videos, be together."

This dynamic young pair (he's just acted in John Doyle's Changi, an ABC production) also work on the craft of acting together. She's a graduate of the Australian soapie school of acting, where it's 24 minutes of television a day, five days a week and never mind the quality, feel the width.

He's out of NIDA, with its roll call of famous alumni including Mel Gibson and Judy Davis.

``We're from such totally different acting backgrounds, but they complement each other," she said. ``I've had minimal stage experience, so I milk him for all he's worth! One day I'll be playing a Japanese soldier, helping him learn lines for Changi, the next he'll be helping me do the same for The Beast Master."

Now that It Factor is propelling her into the heart of commercial theatre in The Graduate, which opens in October at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. Newton will come in handy next month, when Satchwell goes into rehearsals for the play, written originally by Charles Webb and made by Oscar-winning director Mike Nichols into the hit film of 1967 which starred Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross.

The stage play adapted from the book has been a huge hit in the West End for the past two years, and garnered enormous amounts of publicity, thanks to the brief on-stage nudity (timed at about 45 seconds) of a series of high-profile Mrs Robinsons, all stars of a certain age including Kathleen Turner, Jerry Hall, Amanda Donohoe and currently Anne Archer.

Wendy Hughes plays Mrs Robinson in the Australian production, with Satchwell as daughter Elaine, Benjamin Braddock's girlfriend. Benjamin (Mark Priestly) is the young man who is ``confused about his future" in love with Elaine (or is he?), he is famously seduced by the desperately unhappy and boozy Mrs Robinson.

Fortunately for Satchwell, the role of Elaine, a pretty accessory with not too much to do in the film, was expanded for the stage play by the director and dramatist Terry Johnson.

``There is a lot more focus on her now," Satchwell said. ``Scenes have been added in, I do some two-handers with Wendy and their relationship is explored is it love, is it control? In the play we get much more of a sense of Elaine's values. Why does she go off with Benjamin in the end? Is it for revenge? Could they live happily ever after, after he had betrayed her? She's a really interesting character now."

Playing opposite some of the big names in Australian film and television including Hughes and John Waters could have seemed a little daunting for a young actor trained on a soap, but Satchwell seemed fairly sanguine about the shift and grateful for the experience she had working for three years in Neighbours.

``It was really sink or swim. You just had to get in there and do it. The crew was really fantastic to us as well. They taught us aspects of their crafts. The kids on the show learnt how to swing booms, switch [cameras] and one even directed a scene. It also taught me discipline I had to learn to manage what time I had to its best advantage."

Most importantly, Satchwell said, her time on Neighbours (she won a Silver Logie for Best New Talent and another award for Most Popular TV Idol in a television magazine competition she whipped the Slayer Buffy for that one) taught her to develop her people skills. ``I had to handle myself from a really young age in front of a lot of people I didn't know. It was fantastic experience."

It also helped keep her head screwed on straight, since young soap stars generally enjoy short-lived careers.

You could name half a dozen who appeared, burnt as brightly and then disappeared from the public consciousness as quickly as they began. Among them are E Street's Bruce Samazan, and the Blakeney twins, the Melissas Bell and Tkautz and Scott Michaelson, all out of Neighbours. Can't remember them? Don't worry, neither can many others.

Satchwell is clearly going for longevity in the business in the style of Neighbours' most famous old girl, Kylie Minogue. She seems to be doing it by staying as close to normal as possible. When the subject was the outrageous demands some stars make to assert their status, she was amazed.

``I can't work out whether people are born like that, or when they turn into stars they start asking for things like pink M&Ms. I don't know if such things exist, but you know what I mean."

During contract negotiations for The Graduate, she was asked about what she needed to make her life more comfortable during the run of the play (those pink M&Ms perhaps?)

``I couldn't think of what to ask for," Satchwell laughed. ``When I was on the Gold Coast doing The Beast Master a couple of weeks ago, they gave me a trailer. Well, half a trailer. And I didn't know what to do with that, either. So I sat on the steps and chatted to people as they walked past."

And as for the next stage of this budding career, who knows? She has signed for seasons of The Graduate in Sydney up until Christmas, and then in the new year in Melbourne. ``It's terribly hard to plan, you have to make the choices as they arrive. I'm happy to leave it all in the lap of the gods."

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