When we catch Geraldine Hakewill for our brief phone interview, she is waiting for her train. “I’m going home,” she says. “I’ve just been working at the Melbourne Theatre Company this morning, doing a workshop on a new play. My partner and I now live on a property out near Daylesford in Victoria. The film inspired me to move to the country!”
The film is The Pretend One, shot on a working cotton farm, in which Geraldine plays Charlie, a young woman with an imaginary friend in Hugo (Michael Whalley) and a father (David Field) still reeling from the passing of his wife, whose routine is disturbed when Guy (Benedict Wall) – who grew up in the area but is now living in the big smoke – turns up to make a TV show about lonely farmers.
The highly original screenplay, co-written by James Raue and director Tony Prescott, was on the prestigious The Black List.
“I just loved the script so much and I really connected to the character, and I loved the idea of doing something romantic because I hadn’t,” says Hakewill. “A lot of the work I’d done was psychological thrillers, intense and dark. And that seemed to be a trend in Australian stories at the time, it was after Animal Kingdom, Underbelly was massive, and everyone wanted to make crime and really dark and fucked up material. It was just nice to read something that was exploring psychological themes. I mean, it’s about this girl dealing with the grief of losing her mum at such a young age and creating this friend. It was so beautiful and so funny…”
Has Geraldine ever had an imaginary friend?
“I definitely talked to myself and made up characters,” she admits to something that most children experienced. “I went to a primary school that was in a really wealthy part of Sydney, and my family wasn’t really wealthy so we had a much smaller house than a lot of the people I went to school with, but the street that my school was on was Burns Road in Wahroonga, which is one of the wealthiest streets in the north of Sydney, and the houses are enormous. And I used to fantasise about this one house: that I lived there and I kind of made up this whole persona for myself and this whole family that I lived with that were my family. I had a pretty wild imagination… And now I’ve made a living out of having imaginary lives.”
Born in France, but growing up in Sydney, then moving to Melbourne for a couple of years before studying acting in Perth, Geraldine is the first to admit that “I’ve been all over the place.” But the set of The Pretend One was unlike any that she had been on before. “It was more like camp, because the cast and crew were all really young, and we were learning as we went, and it felt like a big collaboration. Every night we’d have this campfire and sing songs, and David Field had his guitar and someone else had their guitar and we all had big sing-a-longs and would tell stories and had the chance to sit there and talk about the next day and what we wanted to achieve… we just got totally lost in the world. It was like this little dream bubble. There were a few things that happened that were almost mystical, beyond our control and it gives something magic and special to the atmosphere. It means that you relinquish control of things a little bit, just let the work happen. We had no phone reception, completely cut off from the world, and it was great because it just built up the isolation that exists in the film. It was a very real experience; we didn’t really have to pretend.”
More recently, Geraldine Hakewill nabbed the lead role in the Ms. Fisher’s spin-off series, Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries.
“I’m really proud of what we made, and I think it’s a really lovely companion piece to the original series and the books, and just adds another layer to the universe. It’s got its own tone and there’s a lot of joy to it, even though it’s about murder, which is unusual. I think people really loved how light it is, and I don’t mean in a frivolous way, but just that it’s easy to watch and it makes you feel good.
“It fills you up in some way,” she continues about Ms. Fisher’s. “We’ve tried to make something that is about female empowerment and is quite progressive for something that’s set in the ‘60s, as it’s about female friendship and it inverts a lot of stereotypes. It’s also the first time that I’ve worked with a fully female creative team.”
As the train pulls up to take Geraldine Hakewill to Daylesford, we ask Geraldine if she’s filled up in terms of where she’s at with her career?
“I think sometimes as an actor you can feel a bit impotent because you’re serving the story, which is incredibly important, but you don’t have a lot of agency sometimes. And smaller projects, like The Pretend One for example, you often get a lot of input, whereas on big machines you sometimes don’t. I don’t think you realise how powerless you can feel as an actor sometimes, and that was something that was surprising to me, that even though you’re the face of something you aren’t making the decisions most of the time – and audiences don’t necessarily realise that.
“I want to be part of the creative conversation,” she ends. “Whether that’s just being in the room for developments of things, or being an associate producer, or being a producer or eventually a director.”
The Pretend One is currently screening at various special one-offs in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Avoca Beach, Brisbane and rural Queensland. The screening in Melbourne on March 26 at Cinema Nova will be followed by a Q&A with Geraldine moderated by Deanna Ortuso.