When I meet with Roz Hammond to talk about her latest project, ABC drama The Heights, she is grinning from ear to ear.
“I couldn’t have more passion for this job,” she smiles. “When you work on something really good everyone wants to bring their A-game, which doesn’t happen a lot. Being in Perth was probably a big part of it too. But that’s very infectious.
“You work on something you believe in, you like the stories, you like the fact it’s representing all sorts of people, there’s diversity, sexuality, ability -all of that.
“So everyone is flying the flag and works really hard, as well.”
The Heights is an ambitious 30 part serial -don’t call it a Soap- shot from June to September in Perth. Easily the biggest drama the city has seen in years, it boasts a local crew of nearly 100 and 93 speaking and extras roles.
Melbourne-based Hammond, best known to ABC audiences for her comedy work on Mad as Hell, was determined to land a role to spend more time with her Perth parents.
“I’m bicoastal because my parents are there. So I’ve been trying to live in both places. I thought, ‘I. Am. Going. To. Get. On. This Show!’
“After the audition process it was a very long wait. I think it was six months. It all worked out great and I could not have loved that job more or be prouder of it.”
The series co-created by Warren Clarke and Que Minh Luu for Matchbox Pictures centres around the residents of the fictional Arcadia Towers (the exterior is in East Perth). At the heart of the series is a desire to reflect a multi-generational community that differs from other TV serials.
“It’s a Serial Drama not Soap”
“Slice of life. Real. Drama that is not soap and had a speed and a naturalism to it,” Hammond recalls.
“It’s a Serial Drama not Soap because I think the production values and the writing are so much greater than that.
“I mean it is similar in terms of recurring characters and long-form narrative.
“But everyone’s backstory is not how they came to this country or something heavy-handed like that. We land in the world, and that’s the world. It’s very cool.”
“If people get their cynical hats on I just don’t think that’s a fair accusation”
With characters having Caucasian, Indigenous, Asian, Middle-Eastern backgrounds mingling with roles that are straight, gay, able-bodied and having a disability, the series ticks a lot of boxes.
“But so does Australia,” Hammond points out. “If people get their cynical hats on I just don’t think that’s a fair accusation, because what you’re trying to say is Neighbours casting is the norm. But that’s not the norm.
“Diversity is what the world is.
“That was a really big appeal of the series, because it’s telling stories that you don’t see and faces that you don’t see.”
Hammond plays ER doctor Claudia Rosso, a single mum raising her teen daughter Sabine (Bridie McKim), who is determined not to be defined by her cerebral palsy. McKim was given leave from her third year in NIDA to undertake the role.
“The mother daughter relationship is really great.”
“The mother daughter relationship is really great. It’s very fleshed out through the season,” she continues.
“(Claudia’s) career is going really well. She does have a teenage daughter who is having her own issues. So I think that trying to be a good parent is a very strong theme. And she’s back in the dating game.”
ABC has noted that having a resident cast and regular studio sets was economical for its 30 episode output. The cast includes Shari Sebben, Marcus Graham, Fiona Press, Kelton Pell, Dan Paris, Mitchell Bourke, Koa Nuen, Saskia Hampele, Bernie Davis, Phoenix Raei, Yazeed Daher, Callen Tassone and Carina Hoang.
“It’s kind of the best part time job in the world”
“Because there’s 11 main cast members it’s kind of the best part time job in the world, because all the stories have got to keep going. So you almost want to be doing more work!,” Hammond reveals.
“But you can only be in so many scenes a week, to cover all the stories.
“There was such a speed to it. You have four cameras moving, covering everything, so you do less takes. It’s great for young actors of which there are many on the show. No-one has to hit a mark which hamstrings actors no end.
“This could be nowhere else but Perth.”
“It was very fluid on the floor. There was a lot of ‘If you want to say that differently, you can say it differently.’ So that was very cool.
“And the Perth light is so distinctive when you see some of those exteriors. This could be nowhere else but Perth.”
ABC will screen the series as 2 x 30 minute episodes every Friday night with the first 16 episodes on ABC iview following the launch broadcast. A second block of episodes will screen from July.
Hammond, who is currently filming Five Bedrooms for 10 and awaiting dates for Mad as Hell, is hoping the series is picked up for a second season. No doubt many in the Perth production community agree it offers a fresh perspective.
“We always see lives that are supposed to be so aspirational,” she adds.
“But why not just show life?
The Heights airs 8:30pm Fridays on ABC.