fter years of playing the bridesmaid and never the bride, Miranda Tapsell has decided it is time to simply knuckle down and write her own happily ever after. The Logie-winning actor is not only planning her own real-life wedding later this year, but she is about to take the plunge into leadinglady territory for the first time in her career. And the subject matter won’t be much different.
Next year, Tapsell, 31, will appear as a bride in the romantic comedy Top End Wedding. It is a project that is particularly close to her heart, and also a significant achievement – Tapsell wrote and produced the movie. When she found the time to do so is a good question, since it’s become almost impossible to switch on a TV in recent months and not see Tapsell as you flip channels. She won accolades for her poignant portrayal of single mother Martha on Love Child. She has been looking through the square window with a new generation of youngsters on Play School. And tomorrow night, she will make her debut on another hit Nine Network drama, Doctor Doctor.
It has been a while since Tapsell dipped her toe into the world of film – Top End Wedding marks her first since she made her big-screen debut in 2012’s The Sapphires. “I have been working fairly consistently,” Tapsell tells Stellar. “And they’ve been great roles. But I want to show that I can carry a story.”
What she did not want was to sit around waiting for casting agents to come knocking. So Tapsell followed the lead of her friend and mentor, actor-director Leah Purcell, creating her own opportunity by sitting down and starting to write the film with her friend Josh Tyler. That was four years ago. By the time they had finished their script, things had changed.
“I was just happily single and independent but writing this super-romantic story,” she says. Then, through mutual friends, she met comedy writer James Colley. “Writing about love continued my belief in it. That’s why I love romantic comedies. I just went, ‘Wow!’
“I enjoy his company. He’s kind to me. I am his equal. So far, he’s only ever treated me with love and respect. And he always likes to hear what I have to say. He never dismisses it. What could I possibly lose?
“It’s not like I always dreamed of myself in the big white dress. But I always believed in spending the rest of my life with someone – where even the hardest parts can be smoothed out. My parents have been married for 42 years. And all they’ve ever taught me is to be brave and to be kind. Because they treat each other with such respect despite how they can occasionally get frustrated with each other, as you do in a marriage.”
Colley popped the question during a visit to a park where Tapsell used to play as a child. “I didn’t know that he had planned it all, so I was growing more and more frustrated,” she says. “I was like, ‘What is happening?’ Because I felt like I was being taken around the mulberry bush. And then when he proposed I felt so terrible.”
Colley was raised in New South Wales and Tapsell is from Darwin. Each comes from a tight-knit family but, due to the nature of their work, they have made a life in Melbourne, far from where they respectively grew up.
But the Northern Territory has always remained close to Tapsell’s heart – and it is there, in the vast expanse of the stunning Kakadu National Park, that Tapsell joins Stellar for a special photo shoot that celebrates not only her roots but also our second anniversary. And it is what she had front of mind as she wrote her movie, which shot there earlier this year and is set to showcase what makes the region so special. “We are going to really celebrate the best things about the Territory… People think it’s this backwater, that it’s our deep south,” she says. “It will be nice for people to see something different.”
Showcasing that diversity in cinema has been a key objective of Screen Australia’s Indigenous Department, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and helped mount the production of Top End Wedding.
“Australia’s First Nations peoples are some of the world’s oldest storytellers,” department head Penny Smallacombe tells Stellar. “We’ve been telling stories for thousands of years through art, song, dance – and now film. These stories are a vital part of our history as a nation.”
And, as Tapsell points out, “The romantic comedy genre isn’t well known for its protagonists not being Caucasian. It’s really important. I want girls from different backgrounds to see this. You should see the statistics on just how often women of colour get swiped left – rejected – on Tinder.
“Going through high school and then university, the boys and men around me were only ever exposed to one idea of what beauty is. If [blue-eyed blondes] are all they’re exposed to, then that’s what’s going to inform their taste in women.”
Making the film, Tapsell says, was an enormous confidence boost. “I might not be Elle Macpherson. I might not be tall. I might not be blonde. But I did feel beautiful. So it was really nice to have that. And I had to back myself because I had written it and it was going into production.”
rom the start, plenty of people questioned her childhood dream of becoming an actor. “People would constantly comment on my height or my being brown,” says Tapsell, who stands at a diminutive five foot. “That hasn’t scarred me. It really did make me feel satisfied when I could surprise people by being someone else – someone they never imagined me being.”
She was eager to launch a career in her early teens, and wanted to drop out of school to do so. But her mother Barbara, a teacher at Darwin High School, urged her to finish her education first, and instead supported her passion by taking her to the theatre and ferrying her between dance and drama classes. “My mum would show me Deadly Vibe [a publication that showcases the achievements of Indigenous people in many fields], and I would read about people like Deb Mailman and Aaron Pedersen.”
Years later, Tapsell would star with Mailman in The Sapphires. “I was proud of how I managed to keep it together when I first saw her,” she recalls with a laugh. “Deb was incredible. She treated all of us as her equal. She constantly made sure that we were supported in the scene and that we felt comfortable doing it. It was my first film, too; to have her ground me like that was a really wonderful thing.”