McNamee back in Sydney for Aussie Film premiere

Penny McNamee
Penny McNamee

Since 2002, Penny McNamee has been establishing a career as a stage, television and film actress both in Australia and internationally.

Known to Australian theatre audiences as the original Nessarose in Australia’s premiere production of Wicked, McNamee is a Mo Award Nominated performer whose career is progressing in leaps and bounds.

Although she has been living in New York for just over a year, McNamee is currently back in the land of Oz (Aus, technically) to promote her latest film Careless Love which premiered in Sydney this week.

Written and directed by John Duigan, Careless Love tells the story of Linh, a Vietnamese Australian university student who secretly starts part-time work as an escort. She develops a close rapport with one of her clients, an enigmatic American art dealer, who books her on a regular basis. For a time she manages to keep her two lives in separate compartments. But when her worlds collide, she struggles to deal with the shock and distress of those close to her and the value judgements of a society whose double standards she has witnessed first-hand.

In the film, McNamee plays the role of Carol – a confident, middle class Sydney uni student, who is completely unaware her best friend and room mate (Linh) is working as an escort at night to help pay her family’s mortgage.

We caught up with Penny to talk about her role in the film and her views on film vs theatre…

Andrew Hazzard, Nammi Le and Penny McNamee in Careless Love
Andrew Hazzard, Nammi Le and Penny McNamee in Careless Love

This is an Australian film, predominantly filmed in the inner-west suburbs of Sydney and in Coogee, but you are living in New York now. Did you come back for the filming? 

I’m sure many actors can relate, but whenever you make plans for your life, you always get a job that interrupts them! My husband and I had decided to move to New York in January 2011, so he resigned from his job and we rented out our house in Sydney. As soon as we were ready to leave I got a call saying I had been cast in Careless Love. I had auditioned for it the week before and thought I did a good audition, but didn’t think anything of it. We filmed through January and February, then we left for New York the day after I wrapped.

What is your preferred medium: Film or live theatre? 

I am a musical theatre lover from way back. There’s nothing quite so magical as hearing an orchestra warm up before a curtain opens! But I am also very intrigued by the whole film process on set – the technical side of things, as well as figuring out what works on screen and what doesn’t. I love watching other actor’s techniques. There are certainly element of both mediums that I love and I don’t think we Aussie actors can be too picky, I just try to be prepared for any kind of audition that comes my way.

What was the most rewarding thing about working on Careless Love?

It was a real thrill working with the director John Duigan. He has written and directed some of the most wonderful Australian films, and his style of directing is so encouraging and flexible. I loved filming in Sydney too, there’s something special about showing off your home town!

Penny McNamee on the set of Careless Love
Penny McNamee on the set of Careless Love

The movie deals with some very complex ideas – certainly not your generic romantic Hollywood film. What was it about the piece that interested you the most?

The most interesting aspect of the film for me, was the backdrop. Take away the fact that Linh is engaged in escort work, and you have a story about young, middle-class university students who are having the time of their life. Drama club, the University Ball, nights out at the local pub etc. It is an interesting comment – that sometimes we really don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, no matter how close we are to them.

What do you think are the main similarities between the musical/live theatre and the film from a performer’s perspective?

I find the rehearsal process to be very similar. Whether you are preparing a song, a screen test or a monologue for stage, it’s all about preparation and choices. Learning the lines, being confident with the material, then playing around with all the different ways it can be delivered. The “adopted family” element can be similar too, in that you work so closely with people in such a strange environment, so friendships form very quickly – this is my favourite element of both mediums!

Were you close with your co-stars? 

I become great mates with Andrew Hazzard and Nammi Le who played my two best friends in the film, and I have night shoots to thank for that! There were several nights where we began filming at 7pm and finished at 6am. Things that shouldn’t be funny become hilarious at 4:30 in the morning.

Careless Love is currently playing in cinemas across Australia (Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne and Perth) with more cinemas to be announced. 

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Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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