By Mark Morellini
Joanne Samuel was one of the busiest actresses in the 70s and 80s, working on one show to the next. Her roles on hit soaps Class Of 74, The Sullivans, The Young Doctors, and Skyways just to name a few, made her a household name. Today she lives in the Blue Mountains, still works in the industry, and enjoys teaching children drama.
She started performing in musical theatre at the tender age of five. Television commercials followed and a job working in a casting agency in her late teenage years led to acting jobs on Crawford’s high rating cop shows Matlock Police and Homicide. Her acting career then took off.
“I think we saw the best working on television during those years,” reminisced Samuel. “It was a golden time – it was a real emergence of the Australian voice in television and in film. It was all starting to awaken – it was fantastic!”
She has many fond memories of working on Grundy’s hit soap The Young Doctors. She remembers after attending a voice-over job she returned to set 10 minutes late only to be greeted by all the cast and crew in the car park staring at their watches! “We had a flood there once and wardrobe brought out gumboots so we could walk from the studio to the wardrobe room without getting wet!”
Samuel was abruptly written out of The Young Doctors when she won a role in Mad Max as Mel Gibson’s wife. “It was awesome working with Mel! He was such a hard-working young actor who wanted all the knowledge about filmmaking he could possibly find. He was so much fun. The whole experience was great and I feel really privileged to have been part of it.”
Nobody realised what a world-wide hit Mad Max would become, propelling Mel Gibson to international stardom. “I actually went to the States when the film premiered, but I just wanted to come home. It’s tough over there and I had a young daughter at that stage. It’s something that just didn’t happen for me the way it happened for Mel.”
Many other roles in television and films followed including a role as Mrs Bingle the school principal on The Wiggles Movie which she cherishes. “I loved doing that. I still have young kids coming up to me and yelling ‘Mrs Bingle! Mrs Bingle!”
Samuel is currently the founder of the 3 Sister’s Youth Theatre in Katoomba and enjoys teaching children drama. “It’s something I fell into when I moved into The Blue Mountains. With drama for kids, you sit there and watch them grow and change. The community they form is just so special. I started this little theatre company because I wanted them to have the opportunity as professionally as possible. I think arts education is vital for children. It increases their confidence, their sense of self, and they can stand up, speak up, and learn to work with one another.”
Samuel has directed theatre productions but made her feature film directorial debut on the children’s adventure fantasy film, The Legend Of The Five. “This film has done surprisingly well in cinemas and the feedback we’re getting is that kids really do love it. It’s an age-old story of five kids trying to save the world from an evil sorceress who’s quite mad and they go on this journey of discoveries. In going through this dark journey they find out more about themselves and they become closer as friends. It’s a lovely little story of redemption in that way for one another and for the world of course!”
The cast and crew spent six weeks filming in the beautiful Blue Mountains with many months in post-production, editing, and working on the special effects. “This was like making a blockbuster on an indie budget, but my son Jesse is an awesome producer and he pulled it together so well. I was blown away that we attained what we attained with the budget that we had. People in this industry in Australia are passionate if they’re working on your movie and they go well beyond the call of duty.”
And what was it like working with a predominantly young cast?
“I love working with young people. They don’t have the same inhibitions that us oldies have – but perhaps just a little bit of ego!” laughed Samuel.
The talented young cast is headed by Lauren Esposito, a fine young Australian actress who moved to the US after working on Love Child and has found success, her current film Swimming For Gold screening in cinemas. “She’s fantastic! I’d love to get her back. She’s such a hard-working beautiful young actress and we were really privileged to have her.”
Samuel who has an arthouse film ready for release called Smoke Between Trees and commences filming a new film with John Jarrett next January called Who Cares Sal, paused momentarily when asked what the future holds for the Australian Film Industry.
“I’m really hopeful about it and the television industry as well. I think with the internet and all the different platforms that are available it’s given us an opportunity to create content because there’s a real need for it. I know that Australians want to hear Australian stories – but we need to have a little support from the government.”
The Legend Of The Five will be available to rent and buy September 23 on Apple TV, Fetch, Foxtel Store, Google Play, YouTube & Telstra TV Movies.