“I saw in Angie a woman who had been through a huge trauma, and was just coming up for air. She was a woman embracing life again, and part of embracing your own life is recognising the lives of those around you, with empathy, kindness and hope. I loved how invigorating she was on the page, and so that really appealed. I was also thrilled that Damian’s script dealt with such important themes and ideas from such a unique perspective. He shifts the narrative prism that we’ve become accustomed to so that a story that deals with some very complicated political narratives becomes accessible, personal and compelling. He doesn’t let us “turn the page” on this. He brings it right back to what the refugee issue has always been about – humanity.”
Kate Mulvany, one of this country’s best actors and writers, has up until now, found her greatest admirers for the work that she’s done on the stage. Turning 40 earlier this year, she has also endured significant highs and lows in her personal life. With the highly accessible The Merger, and her magnificent turn as a single mum with a social conscience, audiences will discover this local legend at the top of her game.
“[The Merger director] Mark Grentell had actually seen me perform in my autobiographical play The Seed at Belvoir Theatre many years ago, and remembered me when the role of Angie came up. Just goes to show, you never know who is out there in the audience, watching!”
The Merger is set in the fictional regional town of Bodgy Creek, whose footy team is failing on all fronts. A disgraced former star player (comedian Damian Callinan, who also wrote the script) returns to the sleepy town to take up residence at his late father’s property. When he begrudgingly steps up to coach the team, he suggests recruiting locally based refugees, to the consternation of some of the small-minded members of the community.
Growing up in rural Western Australia, Mulvany recognised the story and the characters in The Merger immediately, including its interest in AFL.
“I recognised Angie in the faces and lives of the amazing women I grew up with,” she says. “Strong, independent, industrious women. Some of whom had lost their family members in accidents on farms, mines, fishing boats…or just long highways. I saw that first-hand in my own town, and so a lot of that went into Angie’s character.
“And footy! I’m a West Coast Eagles diehard. Have been supporting them since they started, through thick and thin. I love that they came into the league as underdogs and very quickly made their mark. And it was inspiring, coming from country WA, to see our rural boys on the field as they were picked up by the club. Now, let’s get more of those rural girls in the blue, gold and white!”
Now based in Sydney, Mulvany enjoyed shooting the film in the regional town of Wagga Wagga. “It was amazing! Wagga opened its arms to us and spoilt us rotten! It felt like the whole town was on set with us every day. In some scenes they were! It was beautiful to shoot a film about the power of a community surrounded by an actual community of incredible people. Worlds collided magnificently.”
Worlds collided as well with the cast, many of whom come from the world of comedy. “I have never, ever laughed so much on a set,” admits Mulvany. “To be surrounded by the likes of Ben Knight, Nick Cody, Aaron Gocs, Michelle Brasier and – of course – our captain Damian Callinan – made it very hard to get through a take. And our refugee actors were just as funny! Pretty soon everyone was creating skits together over their lunch break, all trying to out-quip each other in the pub after work… It was the most incredible mix of cultural comedy that I’ve ever experienced, and I think that really shows onscreen.
“For all the laughter on set, there were some very tough truths,” she continues. “And because it was low-budget and shot in the country, there were no trailers to retreat to, no private spaces. Everything was out in the open. And that means conversations were shared and firm friendships were forged. I learned things about my fellow actors that left me in tears, and in awe of their stories, their histories, their futures. I’m so honoured to have worked alongside this group of human beings.”
So, what’s next for this multi hyphenate? “I’ve just adapted Ruth Park’s amazing Harp in the South novels to stage for the Sydney Theatre Company, which opens on August 25. I’m also currently writing Upright for Lingo and Foxtel – a new 8-part series starring Tim Minchin. Who is a Dockers supporter, but we’ll forgive him for that…”
The Merger is in cinemas from August 30, 2018.