Emily Taheny, comic chameleon.
When she first joined Mad as Hell, Emily Taheny thought to herself, 'I can't do this!"
After her first cast meeting for Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell in 2012, actor Emily Taheny was ready to quit.
“It was the first time the ensemble was in the room together with the producers. Shaun explained what the show was going to be,” she tells TV Tonight.
“I remember seeing the set for the first time and having a slight panic attack, thinking, ‘I can’t do this and I might just have to let them know!’
“I’d done studio shows like Comedy Inc., but this is more immediate. You shoot it in one night and most of it is going to go to air the following night. But there’s also the calibre of scripts. I didn’t want to put a foot wrong, because you appreciate the writing.
“I remember my leg shaking under the desk uncontrollably, but I pushed through.”
Thankfully for ABC -and fans across Australia- she persevered, creating a wealth of hilarious characters, drawn from the writing of Micallef and co-writer Gary McCaffrie.
Taheny remains one of the the original cast in the sketch series, now approaching its 12th season. They range from one-off characters to series regulars, filmed before a studio audience – COVID restrictions notwithstanding.
“They all terrify me!”
“They all terrify me!” she admits. “I admire Draymella Burt and I would like to have her mouth. I like how she’s very combative with Shaun. It’s so different from my own personality and fun to inhabit for a little while.
“Lois Price (pictured top) I quite like. I’ve kind of given her a suburban Adelaide accent. She doesn’t pronounce her L’s. And I love the seamless plug at the end.”
Amongst her other favourites are Michaelia Cash spokesperson Mary Brett-Punish (pictured above), ex-Triple J presenter Spakfilla Vole, Christopher Pyne stalker Jelly Canister, and news reporter Bovina Jhizquax.
“Sometimes you get a character and you think, ‘I’ve got nothing left in my toolbox here.’ But then you might be watching TV or on public transport, always on the lookout for specific things that make someone unique.
“Generally the writing does all the work really”
“Generally the writing does all the work, really. If you’re on the wrong track Shaun will try and steer you in the direction that he thinks will be beneficial for the show. Then you head up to makeup and see what wig Karchi’s (Magyar, hair and makeup) got in store for you. It’s quite astounding how often he’s read my mind.”
But the scripts are also densely written. Taheny, whose credits include comedy and fringe festivals, The Jesters, INXS: Never Tear Is Apart, Get Krack!n and The Flip Side, stresses how important it is to know the script before filming to not rely on the autocue.
“You have to know the script. Then you can look away and play,” she explains.
“Shaun & Garry’s vocabulary is out of this world”
“Shaun & Garry’s vocabulary is out of this world, so I’m constantly having to look up words and terms of phrase.
“You really have to understand what you’re saying to perform it.
“Monday night we’ll get the final rundown and the scripts very rarely change. But occasionally it will, depending on what’s happening in the politics of the day.
“Pre-records are on a Monday, there’s one location day on Thursday and the show films on the Tuesday. Sometimes we’ve used sketches from second or third seasons. There’s still a bit of material that’s never gone to air that was shot years ago.”
Because of COVID, cast are now preparing in costume and make-up at ABC before driving themselves to any shooting location. Taheny wonders if that may lead to any hairy situations.
“I don’t have tinted windows and I’m terrified of breaking down on Kings Way in a wig. I don’t know whether I’d stay in character!” she laughs.
“It makes you feel validated”
“It’s taken 11 seasons (to be recognised). I’m not gonna lie. I love it, because it makes you feel validated. As an actor, you spend a lot of time out of work. So when you’re recognised it reminds you ‘Oh, yeah. I do make stuff occasionally.’
“I’d love to do more straight acting,” she continues. “I wonder whether people just see me as a sketch comedy actress? Olivia Coleman was a sketch actress on Peep Show but they also cast her in dramatic roles. They seem to do that more in the UK than here.
“But Mad as Hell has given me so much cred! It’s such a great show to be on.”
Shaun Micallef’s Mad as Hell returns 8:30pm Wednesday on ABC.