30 Aug 2018 | BY Shelley Lee - @ShelleyLee_
“Authentic. Relatable. Satisfying” is how director Marion Pilowsky sums up The Flip Side.
The Australian road-trip comedy features Emily Taheny (Shaun Micallef’s Mad As Hell , Open Slather, House Husbands ) as a debt-ridden restaurateur, Veronica (“Ronnie”). Five years earlier she’d had a hot and heavy relationship with British film star Henry (Eddie Izzard) while he was filming here, but was ghosted by the celeb the moment he jetted home.
When this former flame returns Down Under to promote his next big screen offering, it sparks a litany of “what-ifs” as he tries to woo the now romantically-attached Ronnie.
Further complicating things, her well-meaning and slightly star-struck boyfriend (Wentworth’s Luke McKenzie) invites Henry to hang with them, along with his French girlfriend-come-manager(Vanessa Guide) oozing Euro-sophistication and snootiness. The recipe right for an incredibly awkward love-quadrangle.
The-one-that-got-away isn’t a new movie concept, but Pilowsky was adamant her first feature as director would do things differently. First up, there would be no obscenely glamorous heroine pining over the famous bloke that broke her heart.
“If I see another woman waking up with lipstick and eyeshadow on after being asleep” she laughs rolling her eyes, “and being the nurturing, caring wife or mother or daughter… I just wanted something that was very authentic and relatable,” she says of the script she co-wrote with real life partner of 29 years, Lee Sellars.
“You don’t often see women portrayed on screen whose lives are messy and they don’t have all their ducks in a row” says Taheny of her character. “I like playing those roles. And I like seeing those roles on screen.”. And for her, the story struck a chord.
“I was that woman, in a way.” she reveals, “I dated a semi-famous comedian in London and he came out to Australia and we went out to this road trip up to Alice Springs and it all went pear shaped “.
It sounds like something right out of True Story with Hamish & Andy, ironically it was a skit on that show that put Taheny on Pilowsky’s radar.
“I was really struck by her and laughing my head off. I thought who is this brilliant actor? I was so lucky to have found her. I just think she’s such huge talent” she says of her star.
Taheny is a big talent from a massive family. Raised in regional South Australia, she has six siblings including fellow comedian Fiona O’Loughlan. “They’re all funny in their own way” Taheny says noting O’Loughlan was always the one who could spin a good yarn, “ I’m probably the least funny in terms of story-telling, but I can mimic and put on accents and things like that”.
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The Flip Side is her first major movie role – and she’s leading lady “It’s almost so overwhelming. It’s like I have emotional narcolepsy.” She laughs, “When something’s really big, the magnitude of it recedes to the back of my mind in order to get the job done and then six weeks later the shoot’s finished. And I’m like wow, what just happened? That was intense!”.
Part of that, the surrealism of sharing a set with Izzard. The transsexual British actor, comedian, marathon runner, political activist and aspiring politican spent time exploring Adelaide with his co-star to build the chemistry they needed on set. “He was very approachable right from the beginning and I was a bit nervous about meeting him but he was great.” says Taheny “We went bowling together in Adelaide and saw the sites” including her old boarding school.
Izzard, is perfectly cast as the charming, slightly narcissistic Henry. Seen last year oppostie Judy Dench in Victoria and Abdul, Izzard typically sticks to dramatic film gigs, but was lured to the The Flip Side by the opportunity to enjoy “a lot of wine and weird situations”. Also, the chance transform himself into a character described as “sex on legs” , vastly different to how he sees himself. So he crossed the globe to join the formerly UK- based producer-turned-director Pilowsky’s project.
On a pre-shoot cast wine-tasting trip to the Adelaide Hills Izzard overwhelmed Taheny with tales of thing like giving a speech at Paul McCartney’s birthday “ I was just sitting in the back of the car thinking, “Oh my, this is incredible, I can’t believe I’m experiencing this,” she recalls.
The Flip Side offers a hearty shout out to a good Aussie shiraz: it’s flavour, status on the global grog stage, and ability to lubricate conversation. Despite, and starring in the web series Wine, a bottle shared is a problem halved with Jess Harris , Taheny admits she lacks a the discerning palette and sniffer of a sommelier. “I know very little about wine. But gee, I like partaking in a glass!” she grins, “I was thinking the other day, I really need to go and do a wine appreciation course or something.”. But taught by her mother, Taheny is like her character in that can cook up a storm. “ I AM a good cook” she says proudly.
Which leads us to the real love story in The Flip Side, Ronnie’s relationship with her mum Iris (Tina Bursill). Living in a nursing home Ronnie can’t afford, Iris has a failing memory and fondness for pineapple tuna mornay – despite her daughter’s efforts to temp her with more sophisticated culinary offerings from her restaurant. The poignant, at times hilarious visits (look out for Hugh Sheridan’s administration manager character with overly tight pants and a personality to match) anchor the antics of the core quartet of characters with the external world.
The Flip Side scores top marks of F8 on our FIERCE Factor – boasting women in key positions both in front of and behind the camera. Surrounding herself by women, Pilowsky says was an unarticulated but deliberate decision she made when first starting the transition to director from producer.
“Absolutely!” she declares, “On my first short film (The Ride starring Anthony LaPaglia) , I was quite nervous about it and I thought “I’m going to find a female DP , a female focus puller, a female producer, a female editor, I’m gonna find as many women as I can””.
Surrounding herself with women is how she made herself feel secure “I don’t know the technology and I don’t want to be bamboozled by that or made to feel insecure about it, and so I specifically went after a female kind of collective to make that short.” The Ride became a critical success, nominated for the Jury Prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. When the time came to have a crack at a feature length film as director Pilowksy sought out another female dominated crew.
As more discerning audiences seek authentically female-driven content, it was also a conscious decision to not put an overly preened, size four actress in the lead. As Pilowsky pointed out earlier, women don’t wake-up with flawlessly made-up faces (unless you’ve forked out thousands to have make-up tattooed on). I usually resemble Health Ledger’s Jocker in The Dark Knight if I sleep in even the smallest amounts of the stuff- no matter how water-proof or smudge-proof the label claims to be. Tahney is the sort of woman you want to be your mate and her beauty, versatility and talent are all showcased in the film.
The shift in conversation post-#MeToo translating into increased female driven-content, about women of all ages, is something Taheny is happy to see starting to filter onto Australian screens. “I think people are seeing the benefits of it now. I’m 41 now and I feel like, maybe I will have a career for another 20 years.” She says, admitting she genuinely doubted whether she’d be able to get work after hitting the big 4-0.
“I’ve heard Hollywood actors say it’s really tough once you turn 40, but that tide is turning, definitely” she pauses, reflecting on how she feels on stage and set now compared to previous decades “Thankfully, because you’re only just hit your straps – it takes a while to get comfortable with yourself and that can only come with age and I just think you just get better”.
Tahney’s three words to describe her new film – “Rollicking good time!”
The Flip Side hits screens across Australia August 30.