Little Diva Rising

Old Friends and New

I wrote last week that I would also talk about the crew behind Little Diva Rising, so I’ll start with the person who kicked everything off: Tony Nicholas.

Me, as grizzly as always, with Tony Nicholas

In 1977, my family moved into a new house – only four other families lived in the street. Several months later, another family moved in across the street – Tony’s. He was about a year older than me, but as kids we bonded and had the same sense of adventure and imagination and temerity – the typical way kids look at and experience and challenge the world.

Tony was always a fan of the fight genre – particularly Bruce Lee, whose mystique was huge in western culture at that time. I was never an ardent fan of martial arts action movies – I can appreciate them, but they’re not something I’d (usually) watch and rewatch – but we had similar tastes in other movies, such as the Rocky series. When Rocky III came out, Tony and I gathered up all our coins (literally) and went and saw it in the city one weekend. (This was before you could find a cinema in every shopping plaza.)

Not long after, Tony’s family moved, and that seemed to be it.

But about fifteen years later, I got a phone call from him – he’d bumped into one of my cousin’s, which had led to them talking and Tony discovering I was pursuing writing. He was pursuing acting. Although I was scribbling lots when we were friends as kids (especially for high school English), I didn’t talk about writing as an aspiration with, well, anybody. So we didn’t know each of us had these similar interests.

Tony has appeared in lots of things, and also works as a fight choreographer. He’s a master of several martial disciplines, and has also helped train other actors to be able to work in the fight genre. He’s awesome at networking, but his best feature is that he has a big heart, is selfless, and just a really nice guy. You won’t meet as many people as genuine as Tony.

Acting is like writing – or any of the arts in Oz: it’s fucking hard. We’re such a small country (in terms of population) and not a lot of money gets pumped into the arts, which is a shame, because we have some really talented people.

Tony is somebody who decided to take control of his own destiny, and asked me to write something in which he could star – that’s stuff I talked about last week, so I won’t cover it again. But in pushing forward with Little Diva Rising, Tony sacrificed his own acting priorities – in the other scripts I’d written, he had main roles, whereas in Little Diva Rising it’s a cameo (albeit an important one that’s meant to develop integrally as the series goes on). But that’s who Tony is: willing to sacrifice his own interests for the greater good. So far, he’s worked on set being an everyman, uncomplainingly doing whatever’s needed to keep the production moving forward.

And the production did move forward on Saturday, with shots taken of the bulk of the cast (which I’ll cover another day), and shooting the scenes of Dr Nicola Harper, who is a child psychologist in Little Diva Rising retained to offer her professional opinion on child stardom.

Ana Isabel as Dr Nicola Harper

Now I hadn’t met any of the actors prior to production starting. Most auditioned. Some were handpicked, but then asked to audition. Maria, one of the producers, handpicked Ana Isabel to play Nicola Harper because they’d worked together previously, and Maria thought Ana fit the look and feel of the character.

To Maria’s credit (as she has done with all the cast), she nailed what I was seeing in my head just from her interpretation of the script. When I write, I have a general idea what my characters would look like – not just in terms of their physical appearance, but the way they hold themselves, the way they conduct themselves, the way they speak, and even the way they feel. Ana was the personification of it. It’s gratifying and a little bit humbling to see your characters walking around in the flesh, rather than just living inside your head.

Ana was lovely from the moment she walked on set, and came replete with clothes and props to bring Nicola to life – the purview of small productions, which can rely on actors’ good graces (and possessions), rather than a disposable budget where we can buy what we want. She also had a good understanding of the character and her views and got right to the core of who she is.

In the script, Nicola’s scenes are (purposely) disassociated from the main narrative. Everybody else is immediately grounded in the story in some way, and then there are cuts to documentary-like interviews with those characters to provide context. Nicola didn’t have that grounding (as that’s meant to be introduced later). She’s a professional retained by the documentary team to provide an opinion so, initially, has to stand outside what’s going on, looking down on it.

It couldn’t be easy for any actor to simply walk in without that connectivity and to hit the ground running. They immediately have to be that character. They don’t have somebody else to play off; they don’t have other scenes as a frame of reference; they don’t have a body of work that informs them, and influences them. They just have to be – it’s a formidable ask.

But Ana was brilliant from the moment she sat down, putting on the character like she was a familiar jacket that had softened to the contours of her body, and adapting to impromptu tweaks that I suggested. By the end of her scenes, I’d regretted not writing more for Nicola (although I felt similarly about Ben and Joel last week – this might become a common sentiment for me).