In the third season of Satisfaction, currently in production for Showtime, actress Madeleine West says her character is undergoing a big change.
“Mel faces some challenges for the first time in the nature of her work, which has always been her mainstay, her foundation, her rock,” she says.
“She’s foregone relationships and family and everything else. Suddenly she’s challenged in her work and she finds herself unable to do it. The reason why is beyond all of her powers of comprehension and it is so life-altering for Mel that she won’t be the same person on the other side of it.”
West has come of age in recent years. Since graduating from the relentless slog of Neighbours she bagged an AFI Award for her work in Underbelly and nominations for Satisfaction at the Logie Awards, ASTRA Awards and the Monte Carlo TV Festival.
The drama series, set in the 232 Brothel, sets itself apart form other issue-based dramas, usually set in police, legal and medical forums.
“It’s not like any other television show in Australia.,” she says. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: we’re very focussed in Australia on the extreme professions with people in the firing line, such as police officers, or the emergency ward of a hospital. But this is something that is never spoken about yet it transcends so much of our day to day life as a society. All of our advertising and so much of how we see the world and perceive ourselves is related and comes back to sex.”
Satisfaction is akin to being an Australian equivalent to the US cable dramas, says West.
“Because we have a much smaller industry we have less opportunities to put up shows, so we tend to fall back on what’s been done before and had a successful run. In America it’s a much bigger industry and cable is much more pervasive in the market.
“They’re much more prepared to take risks with content which is why we end up with things like Dexter and The Tudors and Deadwood. So it’s lovely to see a show like Satisfaction being done in Australia, which is a little bit more left field and touches on taboo subject matter.”
West praises the writing of the series, and says the characters are always so fleshed out on the page it’s easy to breathe life into them.
“I’ve never encountered writing of its calibre. Not just in the storylines that they come up with, which can be so mind-bending at times because they’re so ‘out there,’ but just their understanding of how people relate to each other and how there is always room for silence in a scene.
“That’s how people communicate sometimes.”
While the adult content of Satisfaction might lure an audience to the show, producers know it isn’t enough to keep them. That the series is moving to its third season says a lot about its narrative appeal and the investment of the audience with its characters. West says the scenes between sex worker and client reflect people at their most honest.
“We tend to think of sex in a very linear fashion. It’s all about instant gratification, a bit of a perve and perfect bodies. But when you watch this show you’ll see that while the girls have lovely bodies we’re not perfect. There are glimpses of cellulite, maybe a little bit of errant hair here and there and that’s wonderful. It’s celebrating the human form at its most honest.”
In researching the role of a prostitute, West and her co-stars spoke with many sex workers, many of whom reiterated that beyond the instant gratification men sought, many were looking for counsellors, therapists, and temporary soulmates.
“That’s what we heard over and over again. Sure there’s 50% of the market who come in to get their rocks off. But then there’s an equal amount who come in and have no-one to spend Christmas with, no-one to hug or to hold them.
“If these girls can provide that service and it keeps someone who might be suicidal or desperately lonely feel loved in some small way, then that’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.”
If nothing else, the series proves it’s certainly a dramatic thing too.
Satisfaction returns later this year on Showtime.