Mother and child re­union

Di­rec­tor Jane Cam­pion and her daugh­ter, ac­tress Alice En­glert, talk to Chris Bush about work­ing to­gether on the Top Of The Lake se­quel.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Af­ter the in­ter­na­tional suc­cess of the crime drama Top Of The Lake, New Zealand di­rec­tor Jane Cam­pion was al­ways keen to do a sec­ond se­ries.

But what made it ex­tra spe­cial for her this time around in Top Of The Lake: China Girl (start­ing on UKTV on Tues­day), was the rare op­por­tu­nity to work with her ac­tress daugh­ter Alice En­glert.

The pair had com­bined on Cam­pion’s short film The Wa­ter Di­ary in 2006 when En­glert was just 11 but their paths had not con­verged pro­fes­sion­ally again un­til now.

Both mother and daugh­ter are ef­fu­sive in their praise of each other but Cam­pion ad­mits she chose to stand down from some scenes in­volv­ing En­glert and passed them on to her co-di­rec­tor Ariel Kleiman.

‘‘I did want to di­rect her (En­glert),’’ ad­mits Cam­pion, ‘‘but I am first and fore­most with her a mother and when she gets mad with me I get up­set.

‘‘You know di­rec­tors and ac­tors – there’s a lit­tle bit of play go­ing on there and I just can’t see straight. I chose the episodes I wanted to do and he (Kleiman) did the rest.’’

En­glert, who turned 23 last week, has her own take on why Cam­pion de­cided to opt out of some scenes.

‘‘I think she asked Ariel to di­rect most of the scenes where I have to wear less or be in dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cated si­t­u­a­tions,’’ laughs En­glert. ‘‘We worked quite a bit to­gether in the more fam­ily realm of the story. It seems so strange to call it the ‘fam­ily realm’ of Top Of The Lake be­cause it sounds safe. It sounds com­fort­ing and it isn’t. It’s com­pli­cated and scary.’’

Top Of The Lake: China Girl, which re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion when it screened this year at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, fo­cuses on De­tec­tive Robin Grif­fin’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the death of an Asian woman, whose body washes up on Syd­ney’s Bondi Beach.

The six-part se­ries, which fol­lows on from the suc­cess of the first Top Of The Lake, set in Cen­tral Otago, has at­tracted a star cast in­clud­ing Ni­cole Kid­man, Gwen­do­line Christie (Bri­enne of Tarth in Game Of Thrones) and Elis­a­beth Moss (Mad Men, The Hand­maid’s Tale), who reprises her role as Grif­fin.

En­glert, who has fea­tured in the films Beau­ti­ful Crea­tures and Gin­ger And Rosa, plays Grif­fin’s daugh­ter, Mary, born af­ter Robin was raped as a teenager.

‘‘From that rape she had a baby which she gave up for adop­tion and I am that baby,’’ En­glert says.

Robin meets Mary again in Top Of The Lake: China Girl for the first time since the adop­tion. Mary, whose adop­tive mother is played by Ni­cole Kid­man, is in­volved in a re­la­tion­ship with an older man who owns a brothel.

Mary thinks the brothel owner is ‘‘the most noble and kind man she has ever met’’ but other peo­ple are not so sure.

De­spite be­ing Jane Cam­pion’s daugh­ter (her fa­ther is Aus­tralian film­maker Colin En­glert, who di­vorced from Jane in 2001), En­glert was just a reg­u­lar part of the cast on the Top Of The Lake set.

‘‘I think she [Cam­pion] has done a great job of treat­ing me as she treats the rest (of the cast),’’ says En­glert. ‘‘She does chal­lenge us and she does push us but she’s very good.

‘‘I feel very con­fi­dent work­ing with my mum be­cause I al­ways un­der­stood that part of her and I could al­ways see the clar­ity that she has in that part of her life... I al­ways found that was some­thing I could eas­ily re­late to and eas­ily re­spect.

‘‘It was easy to work with her be­cause I want to do what she wants me to do be­cause I trust her. She’s great.’’

Cam­pion clearly thinks En­glert is pretty great as well.

‘‘I tried to play to some of her strengths,’’ ad­mits Cam­pion, ‘‘but she also had to meet the role. The char­ac­ter is a lit­tle bit younger than she is but I think Alice has the depth and ex­pe­ri­ence to carry off a re­ally dif­fi­cult role.’’

En­glert started acting pro­fes­sion­ally at the age of 8 in the film Lis­ten and has had a pas­sion for per­for­mance ever since. But En­glert makes it clear she was never forced into the in­dus­try.

‘‘I don’t think there was any pres­sure on me to be­come an ac­tress,’’ she says.

‘‘In fact, there were warn­ings. I def­i­nitely think a lot of what has made me what­ever kind of ac­tress I am now has come from be­ing in a fam­ily that was in film. I feel good about that and happy.’’

This new sea­son of Top Of The Lake was based at Syd­ney’s Bondi Beach, which begs the ques­tion why still call the pro­duc­tion Top Of The Lake when clearly there is now an ocean in­volved?

‘‘It’s just a brand re­ally,’’ ex­plains di­rec­tor Cam­pion. ‘‘The new name is China Girl with this story. I know it’s a prob­lem and don’t quite know how to get around it.’’

Co-writer Ger­ard Lee chips in that, de­spite the lo­ca­tion, the name Top Of The Lake will re­main a con­stant.

‘‘It’s a brand­ing is­sue. If we do three Top Of The Lakes it could be even stranger,’’ he laughs. ‘‘(How about) Back Of The Lake?’’

Top of the Lake changes lo­ca­tion for sea­son two.

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