Strictly ad­mirable

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Guide - ERIN McWHIRTER

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.‘‘

Type­cast:

play­ing Fran lim­ited the roles avail­able for Tara Morice (be­low) with her big­gest fan Mil­dred Levine.

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