FIFTEEN years might have passed since Strictly Ballroom captured the imagination of the Australian public, but for some its impact remains undiminished.
Leading lady Tara Morice says Strictly Ballroom gave her profile a huge boost, but the film limited her opportunities to prove herself in other roles.
She found it difficult to shake the tag of Strictly Ballroom’s Fran, the ugly duckling character who blossomed into a passionate, beautiful young woman.
Morice tells her story in the doco My Biggest Fan, which focuses on the actor’s experiences of meeting her greatest admirer, 75-year-old Mildred Levine from Florida.
‘‘It’s frustrating to think people see you as something (a character) and shaking that is difficult,’’ says the 44-year-old actor who in recent years has had bit parts in Australian films Razzle Dazzle and Candy.
‘‘A big part of accepting that was doing this film ( My Biggest Fan) and now I am celebrating it ( Strictly Ballroom) again. I could use my brain again and challenge myself instead of just getting small parts, which was frustrating. I hope My Biggest Fan is a funny, inspiring tale of a disillusioned actress forging an unlikely relationship with a devoted, lipsyncing grandma.’’
Most celebrities have fans and some fans are more forthcoming then others. Levine’s admiration for Morice was intense.
It was Levine’s heart-warming first letter that attracted Morice’s attention.
Levine wrote how she had planned a screening of Strictly Ballroom to take place on September 11, 2001.
When news broke of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre, Levine doubted anyone would attend.
To Levine’s surprise a huge crowd turned up, eager to escape, momentarily, the horrific events of the day.
On the other side of the world Morice was going through personal dramas. Her marriage to Australian director Craig Pearce was over and she was contemplating being a single mother to their now 13-year-old daughter Ondine.
‘‘I got that letter a few days after 9/11 and to know that Strictly Ballroom had brought all those people together made me cry,’’ Morice says.
‘‘I was feeling a bit lost myself because of what I was going through in my personal life. So, when I would tell people the story over the years they would all say it was a great story and I had to do something with it. Now felt like the right time.’’
So a nervous Morice jumped on a plane for Florida.
‘‘The doco shows me getting on the plane and I was pretty terrified,’’ Morice says.
‘‘It’s such a big step to decide to meet her. We had never spoken on the phone and I was sure that Mildred would think I was Fran and not me when I finally met her because she was such a huge fan of the movie. Now she is like part of the family, she sends my daughter and me birthday cards with money and speaks to us all the time. It’s a wonderful friendship.’’
The documentary explores how Morice dealt with being labelled ‘‘the next big thing’’ at 28, only to be described as ‘‘washed up’’ by 30.
‘‘It was pretty depressing to find myself in a ‘Where are they now’? column at 30’,’’ she says.
‘‘It’s hard because you get sucked up in the hype and you feel special. You are travelling the world and Anthony Hopkins is telling you he loves your film. It’s flattering. Then as time goes by it starts to lessen and you begin to feel lost. I found it hard to slot back into ‘normal’ society after that.
‘‘Meeting Milly (Mildred) and her friends just proves that you can do anything, at any age. They are still holding their concerts and have so much energy. They made me accept that being big in one thing is fantastic. I am not a failure or some kind of old loser has been. It’s better to have been a has-been than never-was.‘‘
playing Fran limited the roles available for Tara Morice (below) with her biggest fan Mildred Levine.