Claudia Karvan on producing Doctor Doctor with writer Tony McNamara and Ian ‘Jolly’ Collie, and returning to collaborate with Nine Network. By Caris Bizzaca.
Producer and actor Claudia Karvan segues between life in front of and behind the camera.
Even now, as Doctor Doctor prepares to go to air on September 14, Karvan has just been re-appointed to the board of Screen Australia and is in the midst of shooting the eight-part ABC drama series Newton’s Law in Melbourne.
One thing that stands out when you look at Karvan’s body of work, is how her allegiance appears to lie with quality stories over anything else. Karvan has acted in series for Ten (Puberty Blues, The Secret Life of Us), ABC (Jack Irish, The Broken Shore) and Foxtel (Love My Way and Spirited – both of which she co-created), while Doctor Doctor marks her second time producing with Nine Network.
Particularly when it comes to producing, Karvan says she is drawn to stories that strike a personal chord, as did last year’s ratings hit House of Hancock.
“It’s a very good story about the legacy of parenting and family (and) she’s such an enigmatic and unique character,” Karvan says of House of Hancock.
With Doctor Doctor the main attractions, apart from the story, were working with writer/producer Tony McNamara and producer Ian Collie from Essential Media & Entertainment (Rake, Jack Irish and The Principal).
“I’ve spoken (Tony’s) dialogue since The Secret Life of Us to Love My Way – he was in the core writer’s room on Love My Way for three seasons. He did Spirited, I did Puberty Blues with him.
“I’ve only directed two hours of television and one of them was a Tony McNamara script,” she says, referring to her directorial debut on The Secret Life of Us series 3.
Karvan first came across Doctor Doctor when she began pursuing and developing projects after acting in Essential Media’s 2013 TV movie The Broken Shore.
“I had been working with Ian Collie – Jolly Collie we call him – (after) Broken Shore,” Karvan says.
“(With) this one, I think Tony and him had pitched to Nine Network, so it was in very early stages when he brought me on…”
“(While it has changed), it was always about a narcissistic, egotistic heart surgeon who had been struck off and had to go to a rural town. So I’ve been on it through all of story development.”
That heart surgeon is played by Karvan’s Puberty Blues co-star Rodger Corser, who as Dr Hugh Knight has to move back to his country hometown after his “work hard, play harder” philosophy lands him in strife.
Shooting took place on location in areas including Mudgee, Camden and at Sydney’s Callan Park, which doubled for a hospital interior.
During the last weeks of shooting, Screen Australia visited the Callan Park set. While rain bucketed down outside, Karvan chatted amid a room filled with props – gurneys, paintings, and boxes of clothes, books and knick-knacks.
Although poles apart from House of Hancock, Karvan says coming to Doctor Doctor with that shorthand knowledge from working Nine Network and understanding their audience was enormously valuable.
“Every network is distinctly different so it was very good to have that history,” Karvan says.
Doctor Doctor marks one of a number of Australian productions Nine Network has supported this year alone – a list that also includes Screen Australia-supported originals Here Come the Habibs and House of Bond, and the latest series of Love Child and House Husbands.
“Well they have such great success with Australian stories, so they would be stupid not to keep doing it,” Karvan says, laughing.
“But we’re enormously grateful and it’s wonderful to have their confidence in an audience and in the industry to provide good, original, professional, compelling stories… and it’s paying off.”
Karvan’s leap into producing began more than a decade ago with Love My Way and looking back, she doesn’t remember it as a difficult time – more that she was like a sponge, soaking it all up.
“It felt like, for me, a duck to water,” she says.
“I’ve been on film sets since I was ten so there was always an awareness of all the other things that went on but not a genuine experience with them.
“So when I got an opportunity to go into those rooms and be a part of those meetings, so much of my on-set experience informed my confidence and my taste and how I would like to help shape a series.”
On the other hand, her experience producing was an eye-opener.
“The other bizarre struggle is that as an actor, your contribution is so visible and you get so much attention for what you do. Then when you’re a producer, it’s so invisible and you get no credit for what you do. So you have to kind of battle with your own ego,” she says.
“Before, I was aware of the lifespan of a project, but in my mind as an actor, it began and ended when the actors came and when the actors left. That was it. And the core relationship was the director and the actor.
“But then you realise actually there’s a lot of core relationships. It’s quite a beautiful process – a beautiful form of storytelling.”
Doctor Doctor airs on Wednesdays at 8.40pm from September 14 on Nine Network