Reviews Wrap: I Am Eleven, Not Suitable for Children and The King is Dead!

For Australian audiences looking for home grown entertainment on the big screen, there are certainly some great choices right now. The heartwarming documentary I Am Eleven, the romantic comedy Not Suitable for Children and the darkly funny suburban western The King is Dead! are just some of the options.

Here’s our latest Reviews Wrap, where we offer a quick dip into the reviews for recent Australian releases, offering  a broad sense of the critical response they’ve received.

Please note that the reviews referenced here do not reflect the views of the AFI | AACTA. We’re aiming to represent views and opinions from a variety of sources, and you’ll make up your own mind, of course!

I am Eleven

The feature length documentary I am Eleven premiered to sold out sessions at the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival, and is now making its way around the country, enjoying wonderful word-of-mouth publicity through its ‘ambassador’ campaign and other savvy hands-on promotional efforts by director/producer Genevieve Bailey.

The film profiles a collection of delightful 11-year-olds from around the world who share the qualities of their particular age – being  ‘no longer children, not quite adults’. They discuss the ‘private obsessions and public concerns that animate their lives’ – from their love of animals, their concerns for world peace and their hopes and dreams for the future.

I Am Eleven won Best Documentary at last year’s IF Awards and won an Audience award at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Upon its release at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, I Am Eleven enjoyed the biggest opening weekend for an Australian documentary in three years, and has since been adding cinemas from around the country to its schedule, including in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Geelong, Castlemaine, Tasmania’s MONA (from 11 August) and many more.

With overwhelming grassroots support and general goodwill from audiences and high profile supporters (including Chrissie Swan, Jane Hall and Claudia Karvan), reviews seem a little redundant to the film’s success, but critics have also been overwhelmingly charmed.

Writing for the The Australian, Evan Williams said, “What gives the film its cohesion and integrity is its triumphant affirmation of a shared humanity. In the deepest sense, these children speak with one voice.”

Philippa Hawker, for the The Age praises I Am Eleven “as a film of great warmth, generosity and optimism… a work that wears its strengths and virtues lightly, without insistence or heavy-handedness.” Hawker also commends the film for its graceful interweaving of its 23 interview subjects and their stories, noting that “Each child comes across as an individual, sometimes strikingly so. Yet there is something they all seem to share: a kind of openness and thoughtfulness, expressed in myriad ways, that transcends other differences.”

Don Groves, reviewing for the SBS Film website, finds the film “illuminating and uplifting” and praises first time feature filmmaker Bailey for her “impressive dexterity as the director, cinematographer, editor, interviewer and narrator.” Groves finds some passages repetitive, but he too enjoys the film’s overall optimism and energy.

Here’s the trailer for I Am Eleven.

Not Suitable For Children

A ‘biological clock comedy’ with a difference, Not Suitable for Children sees its male lead (Ryan Kwanten) racing against the clock to find a woman to bear his child before he becomes infertile due to cancer treatment. Written by Offspring scribe Michael Lucas and directed by Peter Templeman, this energetic modern comic drama has a great deal of heart. Filmed in Sydney’s Newtown, and backed by a zesty soundtrack, the film features wonderful performances from its young cast, including Sarah Snook as Kwanten’s street smart confidante, Bojana Novakovic as his on-off ex-girlfriend, and Ryan Corr as the indefatigable party animal flatmate.

Over on the ABC’s At the Movies, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton both gave Not Suitable For Children a four star review, with David noting that “What lifts this Australian romantic-comedy above the level of most of its Hollywood counterparts is the reality of the characters and the situations and the honesty of the film’s approach.” Both reviewers thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Filmink’s Erin Free also enjoyed “this smart, soulful and surprisingly darkly-hued comedy” and praises both Lucas and Templeman for their sensitive handling of the material. Free writes that Not Suitable for Children is “a wry, engaging, deeply humanist film with pointed, interesting things to say about personal responsibility.”

In contrast, Variety’s Russell Edwards finds the story “flaccid” and Kwanten’s performance lacklustre, though he praises the film’s technical qualities, describing it as “visually inventive without being obtrusive,” praising the ” HD lensing by Lachlan Milne emphasiz[ing] warm colors that catch the vibrancy of Sydney’s trendy Newtown district.” Edwards also enjoy’s Snook’s performance and her “killer smile” along with the film’s “pumped-up pop soundtrack” which he argues “only throws the yarn’s inherent lethargy into high relief.”

QuickFlix critic Simon Miraudo is just one of many reviewers to single out actress Sarah Snook as the breakout star of the film. He finds Not Suitable for Children to be “a genial and occasionally very funny romantic comedy with the added benefit of being a showcase for one of the best break-out Australian performances in some time.” Miraudo argues that though some of the characters’ quick changes of heart may be hard to swallow, these are plausibly justified by the drastic circumstances of cancer. Andrew Urban of Urban Cinefile echoes similar concerns but is eventually won over, writing that the “impressive screenplay and the fine performances combine with Peter Templeman’s confident direction for a satisfying result.”

You can check out the trailer for Not Suitable for Children below:

The King Is Dead

Rolf de Heer’s latest film is described in the press notes as a ‘suburban western’ but it’s rather more comic and wry than that description implies. Dan Wyllie and Bojana Novakovic play an attractive and unpretentious middle class couple. They buy a house in a nice Adelaide suburb and happily begin to paint and renovate, but quickly discover that on one side of the fence, their neighbour, the scuzzy ‘King’ (Gary Waddell) is playing host to every hoon, drug dealer, and petty criminal in the neighbourhood. As the sleepless nights and burglaries mount up, and the police seem powerless to act, the couple are driven to extreme measures.

Luke Buckmaster of Crikey strongly recommends catching the film during its limited theatrical run, describing it as a “a deliciously dark genre mash-up, coy and explorative but tight and insular, sprayed with wry laughs and a genuinely foreboding undertone.” Buckmaster describes the whole cast as excellent but singles out Gary Waddell who plays King, for special commendation.

Writing for The Age Craig Mathieson situates The King is Dead! within de Heer’s oeuvre and finds it to be his funniest film to date. Giving the film three and a half stars, Mathieson deems it “a very good movie” and “a wry commentary on our national obsession with real estate.”

Variety’s Richard Kuiper’s describes The King is Dead! as a “combo of dark suburban drama, absurdist social comedy and violent crime thriller”, placing it “somewhere between niche and commercial arenas” and describing its offshore prospects as “iffy”. Kuipers enjoys the performances (with Waddell again praised for his multidimensional performance as the not-entirely-despicable King), though he’s offput by the changes in tone as the story progresses. The cinematography by Ian Jones and “slinky jazz-flavored score” by Graham Tardiff, both regulars among de Heer’s coterie of collaborators, are singled out for praise in this review.

Others are not so positive. Peter Galvin over at SBS Film finds the film to be “a kind of comedy of manners, mostly of the very bad, irritating kind.” Galvin’s main criticism is that the comedy is just not funny. He cannot, however, resist the appeal of Gary Waddell “who can make even de Heer’s tired talk sound like it has a funny sting.” Galvin writes that Waddell’s King “has a sturdy comic grip from his first beat and never lets up. It’s a piece of acting so good you spend the movie waiting for him to turn up a lot more often than he does.”

Coming full circle, Louise Keller, of Urban Cinefile, finds The King is Dead! to be outrageously funny, saying, “I haven’t had such a good laugh for ages”. Keller thoroughly enjoys the display as “Intelligence is pitted against rat cunning, logic battles the irrational and the evolved bumps into the barbaric”, concluding that this “is a riot of a film that will make you laugh till it hurts.”

Here is the trailer for The King is Dead! 

Did you see these films? What did you think? Feel free to comment below. Note that comments are subject to moderation. We’ll publish them as long as they’re fit for polite company.

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Sass and Suitability: Sarah Snook

When Sarah Snook walked onto the stage in January to collect the AACTA Award for Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama, there was a flurry of whispers along the lines of: “Who’s that girl?” The young flame-haired actress in the spectacular red Lisa Ho gown certainly looked the part, taking to the podium of the Sydney Opera House with grace and humour; but many in the audience had missed her standout performance in the ABC telemovie Sisters of War where she played a spunky Australian nurse caught up in the World War II invasion of New Guinea by the Japanese. (Here’s our video interview with Snook in the media room just moments after she accepted the award.)

Careful observers might have recognised Snook from her work on Australian television (Blood BrothersSpirited Season 2, Packed to the Rafters, All Saints) and from some brief scenes in Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (she played Emily Browning’s disgruntled flatmate). Insiders also knew that Sarah Snook was the Australian actress who attracted international headlines when she was shortlisted for David Fincher’s version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Nicknamed ‘the Australian Emma Stone’, the Adelaide-raised Snook ultimately lost out to Rooney Mara for the role, but the buzz around the protracted casting process put her name on the casting map. She’s just finished shooting her first lead role in a US feature, the horror/thriller Jessabelle directed by Kevin Greutert (Saw 3D).

Here in Australia, you can see Sarah Snook right now at a cinema near you, where she stars in the new biological clock comedy Not Suitable for Children. Snook plays ‘Stevie’, the friend and flatmate to Ryan Kwanten’s irresponsible party boy, ‘Jonah’. When Jonah discovers he’s about to become infertile due to testicular cancer treatment, he embarks on a mad quest to fulfil his dream of fatherhood. Written by Michael Lucas (Offspring) and directed by Peter Templeman (The Saviour), it’s sweet and funny, with genuine chemistry between the leads and a great soundtrack offsetting the youthful energy of an inner-city share-house in Sydney’s Newtown.

“The thing I most liked about this character was her sass,” says Snook on the phone from Sunset Boulevard, where she’s having a short holiday with her musician boyfriend, after shooting Jessabelle. “Stevie totally holds her own against the boys and I really responded to the feistiness in the material. There is that mix of sweetness and sexiness, which is very hard to play, actually – the light and dark of that.”

Party animals: Ryan Corr, Sarah Snook and Ryan Kwanten in NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN.

As Stevie, Snook plays a woman who’s adamant she doesn’t want children, while Ryan Kwanten plays a man who’s biological clock is ticking like a time bomb – an inversion of the stereotype where it’s the woman who’s desperate to reproduce, and the man who’s reluctant and commitment-phobic. Does Snook think this might be reflecting a cultural shift?

“I’m not sure it’s necessarily typical, or that it’s a trend,” she says, “but there’s definitely a male biological clock. We tend to focus on the female biological clock because it’s such a physical thing with physical limits. But I think it is definitely a concern for men to find a partner who is of the right age that they can start a family with.”

She agrees that it’s also true that there are ‘normal’ women who don’t want children. “I have a number of female friends who are not interested in having children. They’re happy to have a long term relationship with a partner, and to play a part in the lives of children within their circle, but they’re just not interested in having children themselves. For me, I want children myself. But for some women, they’re just not interested in that. Sometimes it’s an ethical choice, and sometimes it’s a personal one.”

The candid sex scenes in Not Suitable for Children are beautifully handled, but perhaps they were a little awkward to shoot. How did Snook cope with the filming of these? “Ah yeah….” She says with a laugh. “You know it’s an unusual situation to put yourself into and definitely there are insecurities. But Ryan Kwanten is probably one of the best people to do them with given that he’s done so many sex scenes with True Blood! His advice was to remember that it’s just a film and you’ve got to look after yourself and be comfortable with what you do.”

“Ryan Kwanten is probably one of the best people to do them with given that he’s done so many sex scenes with TRUE BLOOD!” – Sarah Snook

For a 24-year-old who’s only been out of NIDA for four years (she graduated in 2008) Snook seems remarkably grounded. She’s confident but not cocky; friendly and approachable, but careful with what she reveals. Asked about the Dragon Tattoo casting process she’s philosophical about the way it worked out.

“That was a whirlwind experience and at the time I didn’t realise what a big deal it was,” says Snook. “My name was thrown into a mix of relatively unknown actresses for the role. I did five auditions back in Australia and then got flown over to the States twice and did two screen tests for the director and the producers, including a chemistry test with Daniel Craig. When I got back to Australia I got the call to tell me I didn’t have the part, but I think I won really! There was definitely a lucky star involved in all of that in terms of getting my name out there.”

Sarah Snook holding her AACTA Award for SISTERS OF WAR. January 2012.

Also handy in getting her name ‘out there’ was the AACTA Award win. “I think winning an AACTA Award definitely does open doors, ” she says. “I really noticed the difference when I came over here in February after the Awards. It was not just a talking point, but it was really respected by the American casting agents.”

Asked whether it’s a daunting process auditioning in the US compared with Australia, Snook is again understated. “It’s slightly different. There’s the sheer volume of casting agents over here, so it’s harder to feel like you develop a  personal rapport with someone. Also, there’s the fact that as an Australian, you’re an outsider and there’s always the question of whether the producers are willing to go that extra mile to get you a visa to work on their film.”

Obviously the producers of Jessabelle were keen enough to go that extra mile to have Snook on board for the two months it took to shoot the film, a shoot which she describes as “super fun”.

“It’s the funniest contradiction with horror films and tragedies,” she says. “They’re often the most fun to shoot because everything is so heightened and dramatic and scary that the best way to lighten things up is to just have a laugh. The set can be a very funny place to be. You get to fight ghosts and ghouls and get covered in slime and blood! I play a character who has been in a a pretty horrific crash and has lost the use of her legs, so she’s in a wheelchair for most of the film – which results in some very interesting blocking choices for many of the scenes. I think it will be out in April next year.”

Did she always want to be an actress? Snook laughs and says, “I’d like to say no, but I think to be honest, yes. I started doing it as a kid and had to decide if I wanted to do it as a hobby or a career, and I chose career.” The training at NIDA proved invaluable not just on a professional but on a personal level. “One of the most important things you learn in the first semester there is that even if you don’t end up becoming an actor, you’ll definitely end up becoming a better person. It’s true. You become a better human. You learn about the history of humans and how they express themselves. And even if you don’t use that in terms of a career or in a theatrical way, that’s a good education to have.”

As for what’s next, Snook is not sure, but doesn’t sound particularly concerned, either. “When you’re an actor it’s never as regular as 9 to 5 every day. When you are employed, you know that in just a few months’ time you’ll be unemployed again. It’s a very strange thing, but luckily I’ve had fairly steady work.”

Would she like to extend her reach beyond acting to other areas of filmmaking? “I’ve never really thought to explore directing, but if I had a director I could work with as a producer in a director/producer partnership, I’d consider that. In a lot of the work I’ve done, the producer has had more of a creative role, rather than just being about the money side, and I quite like that.”

And as for working in Australia or the US? She’s wisely keeping her options open. “We’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of great stuff going on at home in Australia, and I want to be a part of that.”

Not Suitable for Children released in Australia on 12 July, 2012.

You may also be in interested in our our interview with Peter Templeman, director of Not Suitable for Children.

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Peter Templeman: Not Suitable for Children

Letting go of a cherished project is never easy, especially if you’ve been working on it for five years. When director Peter Templeman finished production on his debut feature film Not Suitable for Children in March 2012, he found it rather wrenching to let go. “It was full on,” he recalls. “The same week that I finished the film was the week that my partner and I saw our little six-year-old daughter go off to school for the first time and sent her out into the world… off into the jungle of the primary school – the ruthless school-yard!  I’m ashamed to say that it was actually easier to do that than to let the film go. I could have just kept chiselling away at it.”

Speaking on the phone from Perth just a week before Not Suitable for Children debuted as opening night film at the 2012 Sydney Film Festival, Templeman is obviously excited and “humbled to be playing in a big room like that, and to that particular audience.” But he has the laconic self-effacing manner of the West Australian surfer, musician and physiotherapist that he used to be, way back before his talents drew him into the world of acting, writing and directing.

A graduate of directing and writing degrees at AFTRS (the Australian Film, Television and Radio School), Templeman’s short films made during his student years won numerous national and international awards, most notably an Oscar nomination in 2007 for The Saviour, his thoughtful and humourous tale of a Mormon doorknocker who falls in love with one of his prospective converts. Templeman has also worked as director and writer on a number of television series, including Dead Gorgeous, Bogan Pride and Lockie Leonard, the latter for which he was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 2007, for the episode entitled ‘Ladder of Love’.

Not Suitable for Children offers a unique twist on the increasingly popular sub-genre of ‘biological clock’ comedies. Instead of a female lead racing against the clock to conceive a baby before she hits menopause, this story puts an irresponsible Sydney party-boy, Jonah (played by Ryan Kwanten), into the midst of an urgent fertility crisis, spawned by testicular cancer. When his donated sperm samples refuse to freeze, Jonah has just three weeks before ‘ball removal’ in order to impregnate a willing woman, starting off with his disgruntled ex-girlfriend, Ava (Bojana Novakovic). Assisting him in the madcap quest are Jonah’s two housemates – the hedonistic Gus (Ryan Corr), and the sensible, streetwise Stevie (Sarah Snook).

Hedonistic housemates: Gus (Ryan Corr), Stevie (Sarah Snook) and Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) in ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

Produced by Jodi Matterson (Razzle Dazzle) and executive produced by Bruna Papandrea (Milk, Better Than Sex), Not Suitable for Children is written by Michael Lucas, a long-time writing partner of Templeman’s who has honed his script skills in recent years with top writing credits on Offspring and Tangle. Like those television dramas, Not Suitable for Children feels totally contemporary. Believable, humourous and candid Australian dialogue is combined with nimbly handled sex scenes and a confident sense of pace, rhythm and romance. In fact, you may be tempted to call the film a romantic comedy, but director Templeman would prefer that you didn’t.

Bedtime antics. Ryan Kwanten in ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

“In terms of it being a ‘rom-com’, I think Screen Australia appreciated the fact that the story in some ways falls into that genre, and quite early in the development process that was an attraction for them to the project,” says Templeman. “But personally, I never like to think of it in those terms. I always thought of the story as more of a coming-of-age comedy, with love as the core theme that emerges by the end. Structurally, it’s quite different to the way rom-coms usually present. In most rom-coms, you usually know who the romantic leads are in the opening scenes. There’s some kind of chemistry or sparks, and then you watch that play out over the course of the film. I hope that the tone and the style of our film does a lot to subvert that genre. I don’t find it helpful to think in terms of genre when you’re making choices based on the story and the characters, and I think Mike (writer Michael Lucas) feels the same way. But in saying that, I’m very much in favour of pitching it however it should be pitched to attract the most people to come and see it, for sure!”

Talking with Templeman, it’s clear he loves working with story and character, nutting out the nuances of personality, motivation and chemistry. It’s evident from the way he talks that the film’s script underwent multiple drafts, with every scene interrogated for its plausibility and its contribution to the audience’s understanding and enjoyment.

Ryan Kwanten and director Peter Templeman on the set of ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

So how did this Perth surfer-musician-physiotherapist turn into an Academy Award-nominated filmmaker? Templeman himself is rather surprised. “If you told me back when I was a kid that I’d end up making films I wouldn’t have believed you,” he says. “I was into movies the same way any other kid was, but actually more interested in sport. I did love drawing and music too. And creative writing. Now that I look back on it, I can see that I was interested in all the elements that make up filmmaking, but I couldn’t see it then.”

Templeman’s trajectory after high school was no more direct. “After I finished school I had a year off, surfed, played guitar and lived in a caravan,” he says. “Then I went and played music full-time for a couple of years, then became a physiotherapist, and went overseas for a bit. When I came back I was into my late twenties, and that was when I fell into writing and acting. I wrote a couple of little one-act plays that got produced, and then a couple of films for other directors.  I started shooting and editing for other people, and directed a bit of theatre. Eventually I directed a little short film and got selected for AFTRS. That was the turning point when I thought, ‘Hang on, this might be more than a hobby,’ because at that time, I think I was doing one day a week as a physio and I was getting bits of work, writing copy for corporate videos and things like that. I’d composed for a set of commercials. I was just doing bits of everything, you know, and never really consolidating anything – just having fun, I guess. Going to AFTRS, I thought: ‘Okay now, focus on directing and maybe I can make a career of it.’”

While he was studying at AFTRS and making short films, Templeman became the only filmmaker to win the prestigious independent US Slamdance Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film two years in a row – first with the devastating drama Splintered in 2005 and then with The Savior in 2006. These awards, combined with the Oscar nomination in 2007, surely must have convinced him he’d taken the right path?

“I was lucky. Yeah I was lucky,” he says diffidently. “It’s nice, that’s for sure. And a great encouragement. If those three short films I’d made at AFTRS had been comprehensively unsuccessful would I have been able to keep going? I used to think when I won the awards, ‘Oh well, that’s just what a panel of judges think, and not necessarily a good indication of what the rest of the people will think.’ But now I realise that awards are the best praise I can get because they come from my peers, and you can only ever make stuff for your own tastes and the people that share those tastes with you, rather than pitching to a broader market.” He pauses and adds with a laugh, “I’m not sure if that makes any sense!” It does.

The casting of Ryan Kwanten in the lead role occurred about six months before the start of the shoot. Templeman, along with writer Lucas and producer Jodi Matterson, traveled to LA to discuss the part with Kwanten. “We got in a room with him for an hour and worked on one of the scenes and chatted about the role,” recalls Templeman. “It was great and I offered the part to him. Between then and the start of the shoot we skyped a few times, talking through the character and the script development. We also had three weeks of full-time rehearsal in the lead-up to shooting.”

Sarah Snook

The casting of  the AACTA Award-winning but still emerging Sarah Snook in the key role of Jonah’s friend and flatmate was a longer and more difficult process.

“It was a long process, casting for that role and a challenging one for me,” says Templeman, “because there are so many brilliant Australian actresses in that age bracket and we auditioned lots of people. Ultimately it came down to a couple of people. We took Sarah to LA and then got her in a room with Ryan working  for about three hours, and we filmed it all. Then I went away and watched it, and that was when I was completely sold.”

Templeman continues. “Apart from being an extraordinary actor with superb comic timing and a natural detail and nuance to her work, it was about the different and opposite energy Sarah brought to working with Ryan. There he was, still in his True Blood gear, all buff and tanned with his hair tipped. And there she was, just in her casual gear looking like the girl next door standing next to the Hollywood guy, and I loved that. But that was the least of it really. It was her ability to convey not only her own character, the Stevie character, but the character of Jonah through her reactions to him – or even to the person reading his part in the initial auditions. It was sort of like how your learn a lot about someone through their friends, and how their friends treat them.”

Director Peter Templeman and Producer Jodi Matterson on set.

Templeman is grateful to producer Jodi Matterson for shielding him from the business side of production. When asked if it was difficult to raise finance for the project (an estimated budget of $4.5 million), Templeman says, “I’m sure it was, but I was lucky I was protected from that stuff because [producer] Jodi [Matterson] was so brilliant at it. I know she did have some different investors on board at one stage who wanted to weigh in more heavily with the casting, and that was really tough for her, managing them and managing me and what I wanted. In the end, she suggested we should part ways with them, and I thought that was a great move. I felt really good about that. She really supported my vision for the film and wanted to have people around who support that as well. I think it’s really hard to raise money for a film in this current climate, so I think she really had her work cut out for her.”

As for what’s next for Templeman, he’s busy working with writer Michael Lucas on their next collaboration. “We’ve forged a pretty tight writing partnership since AFTRS, Mike and I.  I’ve been living in Perth for the last three years so we now do a fair bit of travelling to catch up and work. He comes over here and sleeps on the blow-up mattress in the back room, which is stinking hot in summer and Antarctic in winter and has my kid waking him up at 6am, jumping all over him. And then I go to Melbourne and stay in his family’s stunning log cabin on the Yarra and have my own five-star bedroom and his mum cooks amazing meals for us. It’s broken up between those two! We’re working on a feature project called KARMA – which stands for the ‘Kashmir Association of Revenge Management’ – it’s a black comedy. I’m also working on a feature version of The Saviour and another feature as well.” Sounds busy and industrious – but in a laid-back kind of way. “I hope to just write for the next year,” says Templeman, “and we’ll see what happens after that.”

Not Suitable for Children is in national release from 12 July.

Focus on the Television Nominees: Part 3 – The Acting Awards

By Simon Elchlepp & Rochelle Siemienowicz

In Part 1 of this series on the television nominees, we looked at the producers who stand to win the AACTA Awards for Best Television Drama Series, and Best Telefeature, Mini Series or Short Run Series.

In Part 2, we took a closer look at the nominees for Direction and Screenplay in Television.

Now it’s time to learn a little more about those familiar (and sometimes unfamiliar) faces who appear in front of the camera and make watching the box essential and irresistible: the actors and actresses nominated for the television acting awards. Here they are, unpacked below. Make predictions if you will. All will be revealed when the winners are announced on 31 January at the inaugural Samsung AACTA Awards Ceremony, which will be broadcast on the Nine Network.

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST LEAD ACTOR IN A TELEVISION DRAMA
Rob Carlton. Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo. ABC1
Alex Dimitriades. The Slap. ABC1
Don Hany. East West 101, Season 3 – The Heroes’ Journey. SBS
Jonathan LaPaglia. The Slap. ABC1

Rob Carlton has come a long way since his early bit roles in High Tide and John Duigan’s classic The Year My Voice Broke. Working steadily throughout the 1990s in Australian TV in acting roles, Carlton made the shift to writing and producing with 2006’s Tropfest-winning short Carmichael & Shane. Just two years later, Carlton proved his impressive multiple talents once more with comedy series Chandon Pictures, which brought him two AFI Award nominations for Best Television Comedy Series in 2008 and 2009 and another nomination for Best Performance in a Television Comedy in 2008. His award nomination run continues with the AACTA Award nomination for his role as publishing magnate Kerry Packer in Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. And Carlton’s star continues to rise, with his 2012 projects including P.J. Hogan’s Mental, Working Dog’s Any Questions for Ben? and big-budget family drama TV series Conspiracy 365. (Find out more about Conspiracy 365 here in our Quick Quiz with the series’ star, Harrison Gilbertson.)

Alex Dimitriades third AFI | AACTA Award nomination is evidence that he has established himself as a character actor who’s not afraid to tackle challenging roles. No matter if it’s his turn as the dominant, violence-prone alpha male in The Slap or his explosive performance as rebellious homosexual youth at odds with his Greek family in Head On, Dimitriades brings a fierce intensity to his roles. He burst on the scene opposite Claudia Karvan in 1993’s romantic comedy The Heartbreak Kid and went on to star in popular teen series Heartbreak High. Shedding his teen heartthrob image with his AFI Award-nominated performance as Best Actor in a Lead Role in 1998’s Head On, Dimitriades went on to earn another nomination, this time as Best Actor in a Supporting Role for La Spagnola in 2001. Dimitriades recently also starred in Summer Coda, one of this year’s 21 contending Feature Films.

Don Hany scores a hat trick this year with his third AFI | AACTA Award nomination. Once more, he’s in the run for an award with his consistently excellent work as Detective Zane Malik in SBS’s highly-decorated East West 101, which already netted him nominations as Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama in 2008 and 2009. Before his breakthrough in East West 101, Hany had already established himself through his work on another crime series, White Collar Blue. After starring in AFI Award winning series Underbelly, False Witness and Tangle, Hany shifted gears and displayed his comedic talents as romantic lead in Offspring opposite Asher Keddie, another of 2011’s AACTA Award nominees.

For Jonathan LaPaglia, The Slap is a premiere in more than one way. Not only has the role of Hector, a passive husband and father with a disintegrating marriage, brought LaPaglia his first AFI | AACTA Award nomination, but The Slap is also LaPaglia’s first Australia production. Born in Adelaide, Jonathan (who happens to be the brother of Anthony LaPaglia) moved to the USA in 1994. He quickly carved out a niche for himself, starring in a number of crime series including New York Undercover, Seven Days, The District, Windfall and Cold Case from the mid-1990 onwards. He also made his feature film debut in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Henry in 1997.

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST LEAD ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION DRAMA
Essie Davis. Cloudstreet. FOXTEL – Showcase
Kerry Fox. Cloudstreet. FOXTEL – Showcase
Asher Keddie. Paper Giants: The Birth Of Cleo. ABC1
Sarah Snook. Sisters Of War. ABC1

2011 has been a banner year for Essie Davis, with roles in two of this year’s highest profile Australian television productions. In Cloudstreet, for which she is nominated, Davis plays the beautiful and wayward wife of Sam Pickles, while in The Slap, she plays Anouk, a sexy,straight-talking career woman with dreams of becoming a novelist. Davis has built an impressive local and international career in film, television and theatre, with credits in Girl With a Pearl Earring, Sweeney Todd, and The Matrix Reloaded, as well as local films like AustraliaSouth Solitary and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. She received her first AFI nomination in 1995 for Best Supporting Actress in Dad and Dave: On our Selection, and her second in 2000 for her work in television series Halifax f.p. In 2003 she won the AFI Award for Best Actress in a Supporting or Guest Role in a Television Drama or Comedy for telemovie After the Deluge. Davis will appear in the lead role of Phryne Fisher next year in television series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Starting out more than twenty years ago, Kerry Fox is one of New Zealand’s most prominent character actresses. After Fox made her feature film debut in Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table, her career quickly expanded continents with her roles in Gillian Armstrong’s The Last Days of Chez Nous, Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave and Michael Winterbottom’s Welcome to Sarajevo. After her first AFI Award nomination for Best Actress in a Lead Role for Country Life in 1994, Fox received further awards accolades for her unflinching performance in the British relationship drama Intimacy, which netted her a Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. Working mostly in the UK, Fox was reunited with Jane Campion for Bright Star for which she received her second AFI Award nomination in 2010, this time as Best Supporting Actress. In 2011, Fox co-starred with fellow nominee Essie Davis in Cloudstreet and Burning Man.

Through her work in Australian TV and theatre,  Asher Keddie has become one of this country’s most recognisable and intriguing actresses. Starting out as a child actress in 1985, Keddie returned to the small screen in the mid-90s after a break and quickly landed roles in critically acclaimed productions like Janus and Simone de Beauvoir’s Babies. After performances in TV series State Coroner and Stingers, Keddie’s breakthrough role was her portrayal of endearingly neurotic new mother and wife, Julia Jackson, in Foxtel’s Love My Way. Her star-making turn brought her an AFI Award nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama in 2006 and several Silver Logie nominations. Two more AFI Award nominations followed soon: in 2009 for Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama for her role in Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities and in 2010 for her performance as Bob Hawke’s second wife Blanche D’Alpuguet in Hawke (Best Guest or Supporting Actress in a Television Drama). In 2011, Keddie not only scored her third AFI Award nomination in a row, but also starred in two of this year’s highest-rating TV drama productions, Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo and Offspring. Her nomination recognises her fascinating and realistic portrayal of a real life wonder woman, editor extraordinaire Ita Buttrose.

In an awards category packed with seasoned veterans, Sarah Snook is the up-and-coming novice who represents Australia’s new acting talent. Snook graduated from NIDA in 2008 and appeared on the theatre stage in the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of King Lear. After a short foray into the film and TV industry via a guest role in All Saints in 2009, Snook has made her mark as one of Australia’s most promising new talents in 2011. Her roles this year included performances in controversial erotic drama Sleeping Beauty, AFI Award-nominated TV series Packed to the Rafters and Spirited and of course Sisters of War, which has already brought Snook her first AFI Award nomination. In this telemovie, Snook plays a beautiful young nurse captured by the Japanese in World War II Papua New Guinea and befriended by a young Australian nun (Claire van der Boom). There’s more to come in 2012, with Snook starring in TV movie Blood Brothers and opposite Ryan Kwanten in Not Suitable for Children.

 


AACTA AWARD FOR BEST GUEST OR SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A TELEVISION DRAMA
Richard Cawthorne. Killing Time – Episode 2. FOXTEL – TV1
Aaron Fa’aoso. East West 101, Season 3 – The Heroes’ Journey – Episode 18 ‘The Price Of Salvation’. SBS
Jacek Koman. Spirited, Season 2 – Episode 2 ‘Time After Time’. FOXTEL – W
Todd Lasance. Cloudstreet – Part 3. FOXTEL – Showcase

An awards nomination can be a breakthrough success for a rising star, or it can be the confirmation of years of hard work. For Richard Cawthorne, it’s a bit of both. He’s been around on Australian TV screens since his debut role in 2000 in Eugenie Sandler P.I. More guest roles in crime dramas were to follow and over the following years, Cawthorne appeared in Stingers, Blue Heelers, Rush and AFI-award winning feature film Noise. Following his performance in mega-budget TV mini-series The Pacific, this year Cawthorne caught viewers’ attention with his scene-stealing portrayal of Melbourne crime boss Denis Allen in Killing Time, which brought him his well-deserved first AACTA Award nomination.

Aaron Fa’aoso didn’t have to wait long for his first taste of success in the TV business. His debut role in the multi-AFI Award winning RAN: Remote Area Nurse brought him a nomination as Best Guest or Supporting Actor in a Television Drama in 2006. Fa’aoso’s biggest acting role on the silver screen since that early success has been his turn as Detective Sonny Koa in acclaimed crime series East West 101. However, Aaron’s talents extend beyond acting: he was the writer and director of Indigenous short film Sharpeye and is the executive producer on one of 2012’s most hotly anticipated TV series, The Straits– in which he will also play one of the main protagonists.

Not many nominees in this year’s TV acting categories can look back on a career as long and varied as Jacek Koman. Born in Poland, Koman debuted on Polish TV in the late 1970s before he moved to Australia. His impressive international portfolio includes numerous roles in Australian, British and Polish TV and feature films. Koman’s most prominent roles on the small screen include turns in multi-AFI Award winning The Secret Life of Us, East West 101,  and Simone de Beauvoir’s Babies. In cinemas, audiences have seen Koman in production like this year’s The Hunter, Australia, Romulus, My Father and Children of Men – but chances are you remember him best for his impassioned performance as the heartbroken, tangoing Argentinean in Moulin Rouge!

Although still relatively young in years, Todd Lasance is already a veteran of the small screen. Like so many young actors, he got his break on Home and Away, where he played the role of bad boy Aden Jeffries for several years. His performance brought him a Silver Logie for Most Popular Actor in 2009 and promised greater things to come. And 2011 seems to be the year when the promises have come true, with Lasance starring in some the year’s highest-profile TV production including Cloudstreet, Crownies, Rescue Special Ops and Underbelly Files: Tell Them Lucifer Was Here. Lasance is already lining up TV event movie Brothers in Arms for 2012, but it’s his turn as the troubled and sensitive Quick Lamb in Cloudstreet that sees Lasance nominated this year.

AACTA AWARD FOR BEST GUEST OR SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION DRAMA
Diana Glenn. The Slap – Episode 3 ‘Harry’. ABC1
Rena Owen. East West 101, Season 3 – The Heroes’ Journey – Episode 18 ‘The Price Of Salvation’. SBS
Susie Porter. Sisters Of War. ABC1
Lara Robinson. Cloudstreet – Part 1. FOXTEL – Showcase

Diana Glenn’s quiet but sympathetic performance as the long-suffering wife of the unreconstructed Harry (Alex Dimitrades) in The Slap impressed juries this year, but she has a long film and television career behind her, stretching back to Neighbours in the late 90s, and progressing to top notch television drama series like The Secret Life of Us, Canal Road, Satisfaction, and Carla Cametti PD and film roles including performances in Somersault and Oyster Farmer. She was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama for her work in Satisfaction, Series 1, and also nominated for a Silver Logie for that performance. This year, Glenn has also appeared in television series Killing Time.

After a string of TV appearances, New Zealand star Rena Owen shot to international prominence in 1994 through her roles in Kevin Costner’s Rapa Nui and international arthouse hit Once Were Warriors. Owen’s performance as Beth Heke in Once Were Warriors  propelled her into an international career that occasionally brings her to Australia, most memorably in Rolf de Heer’s Dance Me To My Song (for which she was nominated for an AFI Award in 1998). Most recently, Owen impressed juries with her AACTA nominated guest performance as a suffering mother of violent sons in an episode of East West 101, Season 3. A star in her native New Zealand, Owen has appeared in television series Adrenalin Junkies and Shortland Street, and will star in the upcoming Matchbox/ABC series set in northern Queensland, The Straits, alongside Aaron Fa’aoso, Brian Cox and Firass Dirani.

Susie Porter is one of Australia’s most decorated actresses, with a long string of memorable and award winning performances on her credit list. These include roles in Idiot Box, Amy, Better Than Sex, Teesh and Trude and Bootmen, and AFI Award winning turns in Caterpillar Wish (2006), Remote Area Nurse (RAN) (2006) and East West 101, Season 2 (2009). Most recently, Porter has been seen on screens in Richard Gray’s feature film Summer Coda, and as the hard-nosed Julia Wilson in comedy series The Jesters. Her nomination for an AACTA Award this year comes for her performance as the resilient Australian Army nurse in ABC telemovie Sisters of War opposite fellow nominee Sarah Snook.

It’s rare for an actor or actress to be nominated as Best Young Actor as well as being nominated alongside their adult co-stars in a major acting category, but Lara Robinson, who has only just turned 14, has achieved this feat. The young actress starred in 2009 feature film Knowing (as Abby/Lucinda), and has also appeared in City Homicide, The Elephant Princess and had a brief but startling scene in the remake of Long Weekend, but it’s her touching vulnerability and maturity in Cloudstreet, as the ethereally beautiful young Rose Pickles, which impressed judges this year. She’ll also be seen next year in television’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, alongside Essie Davis.

So there they are, the nominees for the inaugural Samsung AACTA Awards for Best Lead Actor and Actress in a Television Drama; and Best Guest or Supporting Actor and Actress in a Television Drama.

The winners in these categories will be revealed on Tuesday 31 January at the Samsung AACTA Awards Ceremony in Sydney, broadcast nationally on the Nine Network. Stay tuned to find out more…

You can click through to our Facebook page to see fun polls where you can let us know which of these nominees would be receiving the statuettes if it were up to you.