Sarah Gaul: Serving Up A Wonderful Hot Mess

February 6, 2020
Leading lady Sarah Gaul is a whirlwind of raw hilarity and candid honesty in the superb Aussie comedy drama Hot Mess.

An actress, writer, singer and comedienne, Sarah Gaul is raw and relatable in the best possible way. Seen to great effect on ABC’s Tonightly with Tom Ballard, her mix of songs and autobiographical humour has transfixed audiences around Australia. “No aspect of everyday life is safe from the clever wit and barbed cynicism of this talented comedienne-chanteuse,” said The Adelaide Advertiser in a perfect piece of praise. And now, Sarah Gaul has expanded her performance repertoire by taking on the lead role in the new comedy drama Hot Mess.

Written and directed by Lucy Coleman (whose web series, On The Fringe, is online now), this is the very contemporary tale of 25-year-old Loz (Gaul), a burgeoning writer who seems intent on sabotaging her own success. Instead of writing the kind of material that would see her score a much coveted writer-in-residence gig at a small theatre company, she instead works up bizarre feminist treatises with limited commercial appeal. Her ill judgement also crosses over to her personal life, as her family and romantic relationships continually collapse in a heap. But could a new man be the answer?

Navigating these familiar-to-most challenges, Sarah Gaul is a true revelation. We’d like to echo the very astute sentiments of Heckler: “Check her out now so you can say you saw her before she was big.”

Sarah Gaul

Can you tell us how you landed Hot Mess?

“Lucy Coleman actually scouted me from a one-woman Sydney Fringe show that I did in 2015; I remember meeting her after the show and thinking she was cool. I then got this random message a few days later saying, ‘Hey, I’ve written a movie script and I think you’d be really great for the lead.’ I immediately thought, ‘This is obviously too good to be true and she is clearly trying to get me to buy into a pyramid scheme.’ We then met up at a cafe to chat, and we clicked right away. Then I read the script and instantly fell in love with Lucy’s writing. I can confirm that she has never once tried to get me to buy into a pyramid scheme.”

How was the shoot? Was it as glamorous as we all imagine a film shoot to be?

“This shoot was totally bare bones and very collaborative. We shot at various locations around Sydney, including mates’ houses, literal back alleyways and pubs. We had fairly minimal crew – one camera, a couple of mics, and mostly natural lighting – and we were working around people’s job commitments. We shot at nights and weekends over a couple of months. We shot a lot in the inner-west, which is near Sydney airport and under a flight path – we spent a lot of time between takes waiting for planes to pass overhead. They wouldn’t shut the airport down entirely for the days we were shooting??? So inconsiderate. Lucy and I had a moment when we were all dressed up in a packed cinema at The Seattle Film Festival watching the film, and Lucy and I turned to each other and were like ‘This is a film that we shot at mates’ houses after work for no money, and now we are here.’”

Sarah Gaul in Hot Mess.

The story is pretty tragic, but also funny. Do you think that tragedy is the key to comedy?

“Absolutely. Hot Mess is such a moving film because it really strikes a balance between the funny and the tragic. You see Loz’s pain and insecurity laid bare, but we see the funny, ridiculous side of it. For me, comedy is the best way to access painful or awkward topics, and address them without being too grating. I remember watching the film for the first time and laughing so much, but at the same time being like, ‘Oh god, that was me! I’ve been that person!’ I remember the shame and humiliation, but sharing this moment with everyone in this cinema makes me realise that I’m not the only one who has felt that way.’”

You actually studied acting before moving into comedy. Was acting the dream? Who inspired that?

“I have been performing since I was a kid, and it was really always the dream, and the thing I loved most. If I’m honest, Nikki Webster at The 2000 Olympics Opening Ceremony inspired that…I’m still waiting for the day where I can be flown around a stadium on a wire. After high school, I auditioned for the big acting schools every year – not thinking that I had a chance – and in 2009, I actually got into one which was crazy at the time. It was through studying acting that I realised I wanted to do comedy. Whenever there were opportunities for self-devised work, I immediately went straight for comedy, and at one point the teachers said, ‘You are not here to do comedy or be a writer, you’re here to be an actor.’ I then realised the whole joy of performing for me was making people laugh through devising my own work, so I dropped out of acting school and did my first musical comedy show a couple of months later. I googled ‘How did Tim Minchin start his career’ and saw that he did some comedy shows at a venue called The Butterfly Club, so I was like, ‘Cool, I’ll do that.’”

A scene from Hot Mess.

Having done comedy, how do you think that has helped your acting?

“It has definitely helped – live comedy really gives you a feel for what works and what doesn’t work in delivery of material, because laughter or groans or gasps from a comedy audience work as instant feedback. Also, I love acting on screen because unlike with live comedy, if something doesn’t work, you can just try it again. I was also lucky enough to study improvisation at The Improv Theatre Sydney, and improv prepares you for almost anything on set. If a director wants a variation on a line or makes on-the-spot edits, your brain doesn’t explode and you can work fast on the spot.”

How did you and Lucy work together on the character, because I understand that it’s quite autobiographical for her?

“That is the number one question we get at Q&As after the movie: ‘How autobiographical is this? Did that really happen? Surely not!’ And it’s a testament to how brave Lucy is as a writer that it pretty much all happened in real life (literally all of it). Lucy’s process as a director is super collaborative. We rehearsed intensively before shooting, from reading the script through to workshopping the lines and blocking the action. We talked a lot about where Lucy/Loz was at at each stage of the film so I was super clear on how to execute my performance.”

Photo by Jay Grant

How is Loz similar to you? Have you also gone through the whole being-in-your-30s-and-looking-for-love thing?

“Loz is essentially me but with cooler clothes. I really feel for what she goes through in the film. Being a creative is super weird; there’s no set path and it’s entirely self-motivated, so it’s so easy to feel constantly rejected and lost (and to look for security in other places, like relationships). I would be absolutely lying to you if I said the thought hadn’t crossed my mind of marrying a financially stable husband and settling down somewhere vaguely coastal. But I guess part of growing up is learning that you need to be happy with yourself, alone, before you can make anyone else happy. If I could meet Loz now I would give her a huge hug and tell her that she needs to sit the hell down and write her show.”

What artists inspire you nowadays?

“Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the first to come to mind. She created an incredible one-woman theatre show, and then an incredible two seasons of television, telling her own story, on her own terms. Lucy was insisting that I watch Fleabag the entire time that we were shooting Hot Mess. Then I finally watched it in one sitting and was like, ‘Oh right, I get it, it’s perfect.’ Greta Gerwig is an absolute powerhouse. Ladybird and Little Women are two of my favourite films, and I think her scripts are so funny and powerful. Margot Robbie and Reese Witherspoon are incredible actors but also have their own production houses who champion female-led stories – I’m a fan of that. I also love Lizzo’s music, and her story of how she came to be such a superstar. She worked so hard for so long before getting her break, and just persisted and persisted and persisted. I listen to her music because not only is it iconic, but it also reminds me that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Lucy Coleman also inspires me on a daily basis. I am lucky enough to get an up-close look behind the scenes at how hard she works. Watching her discipline and sheer willpower at work is wild. Also she sends me frequent videos of her golden retriever Billie, which I appreciate.”

Lucy Coleman and Sarah Gaul.

What do you hope that audiences get out of seeing Hot Mess?

“They will definitely get to see what I look like without pants on, which is obviously the main drawcard. I hope that people just have a great night and have some laughs, but also I hope it makes them feel a little less alone. The film is a reminder that we can all get a little insecure, lost and messy…and that it’s fine, and life can go on.”

If you had to write a song about Hot Mess, can you give us the chorus, or a couple of lines that you’d include?

“Ok here is a lil’ something I came up with (and I’m totally open to the idea of Hot Mess: The Musical so sign me up):

‘I was in a movie a little while ago

I post a lot about it excessively online so you probably already know

It’s a film about a girl, her career and a guy,

She chooses the guy over career and no one knows the hell why

He’s kind of a dropkick, his name is Dave

But luckily she has a best friend, whose name is Rach(el)

It’s a movie I love, about trying to do your best

When on the inside (and the outside)

You’re just a real hot mess.’”

Hot Mess will screen in Sydney (February 11), Newcastle (February 13) and Melbourne (February 18) followed by a special Q&A session with Sarah Gaul and writer/director Lucy Coleman. For all venue and ticketing information, click here. Hot Mess will then be available to rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play and Fetch TV on Wednesday February 19. Click here for our review of the film.

Picture Credit: Main photo by Jay Grant

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