Two Flat Whites caught up with actress Clare Bowen. Clare recently starred in the feature film ‘’The Combination’ which explores the lives of Lebanese youths and their struggle with violence, racism and social identity. Clare was a shining light starring along side George Basha and guided extremely well by David Field in his first film as a director.
Where did you grow up & where do you hang your hat?
I grew up all over the place. My parents both worked for Qantas when I was little, and so smuggled me along with them most of the time. Childhood was spent between overseas, Sydney where I went to school, and down the South coast of NSW, Stanwell Park, which was home. I’ve moved further down the coast since and now live on the Minnamurra River.
Tell us a bit about your latest movie – The Combination?
Well, it seems to have caught people’s attention for a few different reasons! It’s not a timid film. It’s a love story about honour, family, the choices you have to make, and the reality of consequence. David Field and George Basha portray a beautiful facet of the culture in Sydney’s Western Suburbs that a lot of people don’t get to see, but they don’t shy away from showing the audience how rough life can get, just because of the colour of your skin. David unearthed a group of very talented individuals to play the boys – some of whom are first time actors! They brought a beautifully unique dimension to the film.
What inspired you to become involved with The Combination?
Inspired? Well I nearly expired when I got a call from David Field offering me the role of Sydney! Couldn’t believe it, rang him and John Pirrie back twice to make sure they weren’t pulling my leg. It was just the type of thing that happens to other people. I never imagined that I’d have the opportunity to work with such an exceptional group of people as the cast and crew of The Combination.
I had a lot of fun playing Sydney. She’s not a typical fatalist – she’s awkward, flawed, occasionally ignorant, but at the same time very forward thinking and independent. She’s comfortable in her own skin, but an obvious black sheep in her family. Sort of like a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit. Displaced, not so unlike the Lebanese characters in the film, who get called Aussie in one environment, and Wog in another. I can only hope I did her justice. David Field gave me the opportunity of a lifetime when he offered her to me.
Tell us about the cast & crew. What was the vibe like on set?
Always exciting! It was my first time on a film set, but I didn’t even get the chance to be nervous because there were so many seasoned professionals around me like Toby Oliver, Doris Younane and David Field, who were so wonderfully generous with advice and guidance. The cast was hilarious, the crew was hard working but easy going, there was never, ever a negative vibe on set. Everyone hung out with everyone – very much like family, but without the crazy uncle no one talks about.
There were many themes including racism and violence. In your opinion, what were the major messages portrayed by the movie?
Because the film employs such realism, ultimately it’s left to the audience to make up their own minds about the story they’ve just been a part of. But the film shows the futility of violence, it throws the every day injustice of the real world right at your feet. The heartbreak and fury I’ve witnessed different audiences experience whilst watching some scenes in the film is indicative of a common understanding. The film’s moral standing is organic, like life – lots of grey areas.
TV Show – Trapdoor, Fawlty Towers
Hobby – Bringing home injured / stray / slow animals… Dad to seven year old Clare: “There is a DUCK in my good hat… it appears to be wearing a small sling. I’m going to make a sandwich, by the time I get back I expect a duck-free hat… why is there an echidna in the pantry?”
Food – Anything that had previously been, or was at the time, wriggling.
Fear – Automated cow milking suckers… my one and only encounter with them being on a friend’s dairy farm in Tassie. I was three. My Friend Jill: ‘Go on, stick your thumb in there, it doesn’t hurt.’ Me: ‘You’re insane.’ I possibly had a mild case of hypochondria.
People – Clifford Bowen: Grandpa, butcher, excellent cook, photographer and leather craftsmen. Worked with primates and snakes at Taronga Zoo. Selectively deaf.
Shirley Bowen: Grandma, violinist. Graceful, and eloquent. Formidable soprano and storyteller. Generally heard singing the Hallelujah or swearing daintily at tangled knitting.
Jim McAloon: Grandad, fisherman, wooden-toy-maker extraordinaire. Terminally Irish.
Molly McAloon: Nana, better fisherman, made best patty cakes and cubby houses. Prone to emitting unintelligible high pitched noises when in the presence of small children.
Tony Bowen: Dad, Qantas Air chef. Brilliant shoe shopping companion, likes gadgets, gardening, hats and M*A*S*H. Very patient and kind. Partial to purposely irritating undesirable neighbours.
Kathleen Bowen: Mum, Interior Designer. Smartest member of family. Excitable, creative genius, generally illogical, fiercely maternal, works miracles in kitchen. Talks to pelicans.
Timothy Bowen: Brother, 19 years old, musician. Plays several instruments, sings, most commonly found at Sydney Conservatorium of Music in Jazz section. Nicknamed (lovingly) from an early age, ‘Vomitron.’
Defining moment – Dad teaching me to tie my shoes, moving me up a rung from my beloved Velcro hightops.
Schooling memories, chore or cherished?
A year before I started school I was diagnosed with cancer, when I first got there I’d been on chemotherapy for a while… didn’t have the whole hair thing happening so well. I was approached on my first day by a bright little spark who eyed my cow-lick and informed me that I was wearing the wrong uniform, as boys didn’t wear dresses. I helpfully informed him that ‘actually, my mum’s got a book on the coffee table at home with black and white pictures of lots of boys wearing dresses.’ It got around. Mum never wanted to be on the parent teacher committee anyway.
Despite being the token white, bald kid in my Dulwich Hill primary school, I was only teased as much as everyone else was, and generally fitted right in, even if they did think I was a boy – boys played simple but wonderful games like Ninja Turtles and Handball, so I stuck with them. Girls tended to group together, whisper and giggle a lot. Myself and the rest of the boys decided that they were far too confusing to be bothered with.
Everything was alright until year seven when I was sent to an all girls’ school. Talk about shell shock. Anyone who says your teenage years are the best years of your life has a serious mental problem. Puberty blew, for all the normal reasons, Plus, unfortunately for me, vintage clothing wasn’t trendy yet, making mufti days torturous, and I seemed to be the only person in the world who didn’t understand why anyone in their right mind would want to be anything but mates with a teenage boy.
Having said that I made people laugh, and was generally friendly with everyone, except the ‘popular’ group, who couldn’t work out why – for the sake of perspective, they were wondering this while they were shoving me inside my locker.
Where is the most beautiful place in Australia you have visited?
I haven’t seen all that much of Australia, but there’s a place my family and I lived at one point called Pearl Beach, consisting of rough bush tracks, white sand, and wild turkeys. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the mood for doing practically nothing.
From the hours of 9am to 5pm, what do you get up too?
On busy days I’m running from one part of Sydney to another going to castings and interviews, or manically pulling beers at the pub I work at part time. On not so busy days I’m floating around aimlessly on the Minnamurra River, or hanging around like a bad smell in antique emporiums, and always with a giant, white wolfhound in tow.
What else have you been involved with as an actor?
Mainly theatre. While I was at uni I was lucky enough to work with a lot of talented directors in some great shows, among the most memorable was playing Peer Gynt, directed by Patrick Nolan, and Alcyone in Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, directed by Cath Mackinnon.
After The Combination I was lucky enough to get pretty consistent work, including working with the hilarious Rob Carlton, and I’ve just finished working on an Australian thriller, shot in the middle of nowhere, called The Clinic, directed by James Rabbitts.
For love or money?
What future endeavours are in the pipeline?
You can never tell exactly what’s going to happen next in this industry, plus I’m generally disorganised, so I don’t know. I’m having a lot of fun though! I’ve just been approached by one of the biggest cancer awareness organisations in Australia to possibly get involved with a campaign, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do so I’m over the moon! Working with David Field and George Basha on The Combination was such a privilege, doing it again on a new project would be a dream come true.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully still working on fantastic films like The Combination, probably still with a giant, white wolfhound in tow.
If you could invite 3 people to chat over coffee, who would they be & why?
Robin Williams, Dolly Parton and Meryl Streep – to show me how it’s damn well done.
Coffee or Tea?