Kath & Kim

Addendum, 2010:
Worlds Funniest Island II takes place soon (Oct 16-17). Tickets are being offered at a special price until October 4. Kath & Kim are hosting the Foxy Gala. Go on, you know you want to: buy some tickets. Now. www.worldsfunniestisland.com


While attempting to Google™ ‘Gina Riley’ for a suitable biography and ‘Kath & Kim’ for a suitable synopsis to link to from the introduction to my Julie Dawn Cole interview, I realised that virtually no examples of the former really exist online (although this bio is at least a good starting point for Riley, while Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope interview with Riley and Jane Turner provides quite a full picture), and few of the examples of the latter that do exist (again, apart from Denton’s work, of course) satisfy me as much as my own attempt of the same. So, despite its short-comings (no info whatsoever of Peter Rowsthorn’s contribution to the show; no mention of Marg Downey’s saucey cameo; certainly, no biographical details of the writer/stars) I include here my interview with Jane Turner and Gina Riley. It originally appeared in FilmInk to coincide with the 2002 DVD release of the first season of Kath & Kim .

A recent criticism from a regular visitor to this blog is that I have been ‘slipping’ – updates being posted a week apart. Thus, any excuse to raid the comedy archive is a good one, particularly when it gives repeat visitors something else to read.

In addition to more information on Riley and Turner as performers, and any information whatsoever on the likes of Rowsthorn and Downey, the other thing I’d want to add to this piece is the way in which the opening sequence of Kath & Kim seems to tip its hat to those first seasons of Absolutely Fabulous: the distinct typeface of the title and the white background are so stylised that it would seem deliberate. Was someone cleverly trying to coerce the same comedy audience who loved that particular mother/daughter comedy to give this one a go? Or is there another dimension of humour at work, perhaps a class-based one, whereby the newley ‘effluent’ Aussie middle class is, as ever, taking the mickey out of the upper-middle class English mickey-takers? If so, that’d be really noiyce and un-yews-ual – as far as sitcoms go, particularly as Kath & Kim is now being enjoyed in other territories around the world.

Jane Turner and Gina Riley on Kath & Kim

The first hint came during the highly stylised opening credits, when Jane Turner bent over to look back at us from between the legs of her ridiculously billowy harem pants, while Gina Riley belted out an aptly defiant rendition of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse-penned comedy song ‘The Joker’. The exact moment followed soon after, in the very first scene of that very first episode. When Kath (Turner) turned to daughter Kim (Riley) to utter for the first time the words, “Look at moiye, Kim; look at moiye, look at moiye, look at mooooiiiiye!“ and a new catch phrase entered everyday speech, it was abundantly clear that, in addition to being a comedy lover’s wet dream, Kath & Kim would also prove to be that most elusive beast of Australian culture: the funny sitcom. Jane and Gina, creators, writers and stars of Kath & Kim, have much to be proud of.

“That’s good to hear,” Jane acknowledges appreciatively. In the process of getting the show up, she says, “a lot of crap went down”. Criticisms included the apparent lack of “emotional arc”, ensuring characters “don’t learn” and “don’t change”. Gina concurs: “nobody thought that the show was going to work.” After eighteen months writing the series, it took a further two years to convince the ABC to start shooting it. But Jane and Gina stuck to their guns, concentrating on “what we think is funny and what we think is right.” With their keen eye for detail they got it absolutely right: the misadventures of the would-be “empty nester” and her “hornbag” daughter is a cack.

However, if the characters fail to show sufficient development throughout the course of Kath & Kim’s eight episodes, it is because their characterisations come to the show fully formed. Gina agrees that, in many ways, Kath & Kim is an extension of Dumb Street, the piss-take of Aussie soaps that she and Jane used to do on Fast Forward. Furthermore, Jane has a history of ditzy comedic blonde characters under her belt – or rather, in her handbag – since, Jane admits, virtually every one of her characters has had as a prop “the same sort of white, quilted handbag with gold chain.” The handbag has been passed onto Kath, the latest in a long line of “daggy housewives” Jane has been playing since her Fast Forward days. And Glenn Robbins, who plays Kim’s “hunk of spunk” boyfriend Kel Knight, often portrayed a similarly daggy bloke opposite her. “We’ve had each other’s numbers for a while as those characters,” Jane says. Indeed, it was on a sketch-comedy show that appeared in 1995, entitled Big Girl’s Blouse, that Kath and Kim were born – in a hen’s night scene, as it happens. “Jane naturally fell into the Kath character,” Gina reports, “and I naturally fell into the Kim character, and that was it; we were off and running.”

Initially, the mockumentary voice-overs and the housing estate setting of Kath & Kim – harking back to Sylvania Waters – clearly marked middle Australia as the butt of the joke. Hence a mixed response from the critics – ‘elitist’ Sydney Morning Herald gave it the thumbs up but ‘populist’ Daily Telegraph had to withhold approval until the realisation sunk in that it’s own readership also had a sense of humour. According to Gina, “the response was the opposite in Melbourne.” However, while journalists largely misinterpreted where exactly she and Jane were coming from, the audience “cottoned on” pretty quickly that they “were taking the mickey out of ourselves as much as anyone else”. Jane adds that, having no pride, she and Gina were shameless. “We pulled out our warts and our carbuncles and our monobrows and our love handles; we dredged up our own lives.”

Although the DVD release of Kath & Kim fails to include commentary or a ‘making of’, it does provide an additional hour of material. Takes in which the actors crack each other up (Jane mostly blames Magda Szubanski, who plays Kim’s “second-best friend” Sharon: “it was very hard to maintain order with naughty girls like her around”), more mockumentary sequences and ‘wine time’ ruminations and even Sharon’s handy cam footage of Kim’s own “connubials”, initially deemed superfluous to the finished product, were far too funny to lose outright. The real question, now that Jane and Gina have raised the bar so high, is “where to next?” Not giving anything away, Jane says, “because the relationships are set, we can take them anywhere and do anything with them. We just want to keep it as real as possible.”


Not A Bad Egg After All

Still quite early in the course of the 2004 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, comedian Matthew Hardy’s show Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions] was proving very popular. Of the one hundred eighty-odd shows on during the festival, Willy Wonka Explained was one of eight or so that had sold out. Hardy had tapped into our collective unconscious.

Be that as it may, Julie Dawn Cole, who played Veruca Salt in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, whom Matthew Hardy has somehow coerced to be in his stage show, and with whom I had the pleasure of chatting to at one of the Sydney semi-finals of Raw Comedy, has been about the easiest person to interview. This is in part because Cole is an actress and voice-over queen, so she knows precisely how to communicate. There were no technical considerations to take into account – she spoke well, into the microphone, without ‘hissing’ or ‘popping’. The fact that we’d already chatted about much of this before the interview took place certainly helped. Julie Dawn Cole is a great story-teller. Most importantly, however, she is a sweetie – sincere and effusive in conversation.

Our chat was more extensive than the final edit would suggest; it dealt with the Festival show itself, and Cole’s involvement in it, and included her reminiscences of the other ‘kids’ from the film as well as the Oompa Loompas. However, the best edit was the one that dealt soley with Julie’s recollections of filming Willy Wonka, particularly when coupled with excerpts from the film’s soundtrack. Judiciously chosen to provide imagery and/or irony, the songs underline some of the key points beautifully. For that reason, I provide lyrics along with the dialogue below. The songs should be of some interest to the comedy lover because they are the work of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley who also wrote the song ‘The Joker’ (from their musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd) which Gina Riley sang as the theme to Kath and Kim.

With a little luck, Willy Wonka Explained will go on the road – not just in Australia, but also to Edinburgh for the next Fringe Festival.

With its talk of Easter eggs and chocolate, this interview was broadcast on Saturday 10 April 2004 – a fitting treat on the day before Easter.

Enjoy the print version below (at least until the transcript is moved to the Radio Ha Ha website), or, to hear the sound file, subscribe to the FREE podcast Radio Ha Ha by pasting this link into your podcatcher: http://podcasts.2gb.com/radiohaha.xml. The Julie Dawn Cole interview is now part of Episode 10.

Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole) and Mr Henry Salt (Roy Kinnear)

Veruca Salt: Gooses! Geeses! I want my goose to lay gold eggs for Easter.
Mr Henry Salt: It will, sweetheart.
Veruca Salt: At least a hundred a day…
Mr Henry Salt: Anything you say.
Veruca Salt: …and by the way…
Mr Henry Salt: What?
Veruca Salt: I want a feast!
Mr Henry Salt: You ate before you came to the factory.
Veruca Salt: I want a bean feast.
Mr Henry Salt: One of those.
Veruca Salt: Cream buns and fruitcake with no nuts,
So good you could go nuts.
Mr Henry Salt: You can have all those things when you go home.
Veruca Salt: No, now. I want a ball…

Demetrius Romeo: Julie, how did you originally land the role of Veruca Salt?

JULIE DAWN COLE: I had just started at stage school in London – we have stage schools, where you do half a day’s vocational work and half a day, educational – and they had decided that the brat had to be played by an English girl, so they came to London to do the casting and I just went for a cattle-call audition. I’d only been at the school four months, so it was pretty well my first job, and I got re-called, and re-called, and re-called, and I found that I’d got the part.

Music: ‘Pure Imagination’ - Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder)

Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination,
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination…

JULIE DAWN COLE: The whole thing was magical. It was fantastic. It was filmed in Germany, Munich, for three months, so it was my first trip away from home, having this kind of weird experience, mucking around with the other kids. It was a bit like camp for us: we all hung out together. There was no TV so we played a lot together. And then being a part of this thing, which, little did I know, was going to be with me probably for the rest of my life.

Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)

I want a party with roomfuls of laughter
Ten thousand tons of ice cream
And if I don’t get the things I am after
I’m going to screeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaammmmmm.

Demetrius Romeo: You actually celebrated your thirteenth birthday during the production of the film.

JULIE DAWN COLE: That’s right. I had my thirteenth birthday when we were filming the scene where I went down the chute. I was sitting in another studio. I was a little bit frightened of the director, it was a bit intimidating and I was sitting there, I think with Denise, in another make-up room somewhere, and somebody came running in saying, ‘you better get down to the set, Mel Stuart’s going mad, you gotta get there, you gotta get there’. I was running, running, running, thinking, ‘oh my god, I’m in trouble now’. I ran into a completely darkened set, and there was a birthday cake there, and everybody was singing happy birthday. I blew the candles out and Mel said, ‘okay, right, now, on with the filming!’ and that was it, and they chucked me down the chute.

Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)

I want the world
I want the whole world.
I want lock it all up in my pocket,
It’s my bar of chocolate.
Give it to me now…

JULIE DAWN COLE: It was a chocolate cake, and the spooky and bizarre thing is that I don’t like chocolate. Can you believe that? I’ve worked on it since. I can now kind of eat some ‘chocolate’ chocolate – like Easter egg chocolate – but chocolate cake? No way!

Demetrius Romeo: So you were the one kid let loose in the chocolate factory…

JULIE DAWN COLE: …that didn’t eat the props! I was cheap – saved the budget thousands.

Music: ‘The Candy Man’ - Bill, the candy store owner (Aubrey Woods)

Willy Wonka makes everything he bakes
Satisfying and delicious.
Talk about your childhood wishes:
You can even eat the dishes!

Demetrius Romeo: Apart from not wanting to eat the walls of the factory, were there any other negative aspects to making the film?

JULIE DAWN COLE: Well mostly they were good, but there is a rather bizarre aspect. Bearing in mind I was twelve turning thirteen, and this is a very important time for a girl and things happen. You start sprouting in certain areas and you’re very proud of them even though they’re not bigger than a jellybean. I always remember this day when I had to stand in front of the direct and producer while they were scrutinising my chest, saying,

‘Well, no, I can’t see them.’
‘Yeah, I can see them. Look, if she turns this way you can see them.’
‘No, I don’t think…’

And I thought, ‘oh no, please…’

‘We’re gonna have to strap her down and put binders on…’

I was thinking, ‘strap her down and put binders on?’ And I was very proud of my little bumps. Anyway, I think my bumps were so frightened by the whole experience that they regressed.

Music: ‘Pure Imagination’ - Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder)

If you want to view paradise
Simply look around and view it,
Anything you want to, do it,
Want to change the world,
There’s nothing to it.

Demetrius Romeo: Have you had any contact with Gene Wilder?

JULIE DAWN COLE: I saw him when he came to London to do ‘Laughter on the 23rd Floor’, which is the Neil Simon play. I wrote him a letter saying, ‘Dear Gene, you may remember me, I was Veruca Salt. I used to sit on your lap and you used to tell me stories. I’m coming to see the show and would love to say hello’. I gave it to the stage doorman who said, ‘well, Mr Wilder never sees anybody, he’s gone before the audience are out’. I said, ‘fair enough, but give him the note anyway and I’ll come backstage after the show’. So I rushed around there and Mr Wilder’s dresser was waiting to show me down into the royal sanctum, and he was there and he said, ‘Ah, well, I guess Veruca wasn’t such a bad egg!’

Music: ‘I Want It Now’ - Veruca Salt (Julie Dawn Cole)

I want the works.
I want the whole works.
Presents and prizes and sweets and surprises
Of all shapes and sizes
And now!
Don’t care how, I want it now!
Don’t care how, I want it nooooooooooooow

Demetrius Romeo: Julie Dawn Cole, thank you very much.

JULIE DAWN COLE: Thank you very much, Dom.

And as if that weren’t enough, here’s the yet-to-be-published FilmInk version:

One of the most popular shows at this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival was Matthew Hardy’s Willy Wonka Explained [The Veruca Salt Sessions], not least of all because it featured Julie Dawn Cole, the actress who played Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory nearly thirty-five years ago. Julie says that appearing in Hardy’s show was a risk and a gamble, but one that paid off. Partaking in this non-reverential look at one of the most popular kids’ flicks ever made, she says, has been “one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Julie Dawn Cole had been at drama school a mere four months when she attended the “cattle-call audition” to play “the brat” in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. “Then I got re-called. And re-called. And re-called. And I found that I’d got the part.” One of her fondest memories of the production was of celebrating her thirteenth birthday – on the day they were filming the scene in which, desperate to snatch a golden egg, she is sent tumbling down a chute.

“I was a little bit frightened of the director and I was sitting in another studio somewhere, and somebody came running in saying, ‘you better get down to the set, Mel Stuart’s going mad’. I thought, ‘oh my god, I’m in trouble now’. I ran into a completely darkened set, and there was a birthday cake there, and everybody was singing happy birthday. I blew the candles out and Mel said, ‘okay, right, now, on with the filming!’ and that was it, they chucked me down the chute.”

Gene Wilder, a real sweetie who would tell the children stories, organised for a colour photographer to take a series of stills of the occasion. “It was my best birthday present,” Julie says. Better than the cake, it turns out. In the most bizarre stroke of irony, Julie Dawn Cole is one of those rare people who dislike chocolate, and it was a chocolate cake. “Can you believe it?” she says. Let loose in a chocolate factory, she was one of the kids who wouldn’t eat the props. “I was cheap – saved the budget thousands!”

Cole’s one negative experience was the day the director and producer scrutinised her chest, discussing whether or not it required strapping down. “I was twelve turning thirteen, and this is a very important time for a girl,” she explains. “You start sprouting in certain areas and you’re very proud of them even though they’re no bigger than a jellybean.” No action was taken in the end, her ‘sprouting areas’ so frightened by the attention that, she says, they regressed.

Speaking of ‘no bigger than’, what about those creepy Oompa Loompas? According to Julie, they used to have “wild parties” where they’d “drink the German beer.” It didn’t take much to fill them up. "Coupla pints," Julie says, "and they were up to the brim!”

When Julie recently caught up with Gene Wilder, he took a step back and surmised that “Veruca wasn’t such a bad egg” after all. This sweet memory is one souvenir amongst many that the actress has retained. They include a golden egg, two golden tickets and an everlasting gobstopper, not to mention a multitude of fans that share comedian Matthew Hardy’s obsession for the first character Julie Dawn Cole ever portrayed on screen.