By Patrick McKenzie
Grace Truman is impressive.
At the age of 16, she has already performed with the Bell Shakespeare Company in Titus Andronicus, The National Theatre of Parramatta and Belvoir St Theatre in productions of Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam, and is in her final year of high school – studying a full HSC course load. I’m sitting down to chat with her in the living room of her family home in Birchgrove – the same one that features throughout the web series she’s co-created with her Mum.
“I’ve literally just come out of a chemistry assessment,” she tells me.
The inspiration for the web series, Graceful: Amazing Grace series two, is immensely personal. In late 2014 her father, AWGIE Award-winning screenwriter and actor Jeff Truman, passed away suddenly. Inspired by the stories and memories that he left behind, Grace and her Mum, director and producer Julie Money, devised a series that they would create and write together to celebrate him, with Grace as the star and her Mum in the Director’s chair.
“We decided that we needed to find a way that we could remember my Dad so that we could keep his memories alive. The web series format is so flexible and gave us so much freedom, we could put it out there for free and everyone could access it, and we could share my Dad’s stories with as many people as possible.”
A healing process
The series follows Grace, playing a slightly fictionalised version of herself, dealing with the throes of her teenage years in high school. At the beginning of every episode, she sings its theme: “Where are you now that I miss you,” in reference to her Dad, who appears in the show as a sort of imaginary friend that only she can see, serving advice – and plenty of comic relief – in times of struggle.
“He’s only appears to me because it’s meant to be me thinking about what he would say. It’s me taking a breath and finding my own way to get through things,” Grace says.
This version of her Dad is played by Ben Wood (Top Of The Lake, Underbelly), who may be most familiar to viewers as the perennial father figure and recurring Australian everyman in a vast number of TV commercials over the last decade-and-a-half or so. Wood’s cheerful performance lends some necessary levity to the series’ steady undercurrent of loss and mourning. Grace says Ben was a natural fit for the role.
“As soon as we met we had this instant connection… he looks kind of similar to my Dad in many ways. We say that he’s a taller, younger version of him, but he’s got that kind of nature about him that reminds us of my Dad.”
Across both series, each episode covers familiar themes such as fears, friends, and choices, with the anecdotes her Dad uses to advise and entertain being inspired by real stories that Grace and her Mum have written into the series.
“He had a big personality and was always the entertainer.”
It’s equal parts Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy and Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, universal so as to be relatable and entertaining, while also functioning as a carefully-considered autobiography, dipping in and out of situations evidently taken directly from reality.
One such episode is Father’s Day, the finale of series one, where Grace and her Mum – played by the legendary Justine Clarke of Play School and All Saints fame – confront what should be a celebratory day which, for them, can’t help but remind them of tragedy. In one scene, they sit on the couch together under a blanket made from Dad’s old shirts. Grace confirms that the blanket was the real deal: “It was an amazing project that a friend offered to do for us and is a really nice connection that we have to him.”
The intention with series two, Grace tells me, was to “step it up.” Thanks to development and production funding from Screen Australia, she and her Mum were able to spend more more time developing story ideas and writing scripts together.
“It’s been a long road to get here, we were kind of relieved and excited to be making the second series after getting through so many drafts and applications for funding, which is not an easy process.”
Building on experience
Besides appearing as an extra in a number of projects directed by her Mum, the bulk of Grace’s acting experience has been in the intervening time since the release of the first crowdfunded series in 2017. She explains that her theatre performance experience taught her a lot about how to approach series two.
“I thought a lot more about how I, as a character, could give the words more shape and more colour, especially when we were writing the series. I think for series two I tried to be more detailed and subtle in things I brought to the character.”
When I joke about whether she and her Mum ever came up against any creative differences as collaborators, Grace reassures me their working relationship is much alike theirs as mother and daughter; of coming closer together in the face of adversity.
“I think we really enjoying working together because we think in a very similar way. We edit each other a bit, and come unstuck at the same point a lot of the time and just talk it through together and find a solution.”
Their ability to work through challenges has certainly paid off, with series two already earning awards at a number of international digital film festivals, namely the 2020 Digital Media Fest in Rome, where it received both the ‘Best Drama Series’ and ‘Best International Web Series’ awards.
“I think he would be so proud of my Mum and what we’ve achieved.”
Looking to the future, Grace says she would love to combine her love for science and performance experience somehow. For now, however, she hopes that, with Graceful, viewers that may have had similar experiences will find comfort and reassurance that there is another side to having lost someone in their lives.
“I hope viewers can see that if I can get through it, they can get through it. That those problems that, in the moment, seem insurmountable, can be overcome, sometimes it’s just about stopping and taking a breath.”
Graceful: Amazing Grace series two is streaming on YouTube now.