WATCH THIS FACE
IN CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD STYLE, A GOLD COAST LOCAL GETS HER BIG BREAK IN LA AFTER MANY YEARS OF FALSE STARTS AND HARD KNOCKS
“I ALWAYS SEEM TO WRITE ABOUT UNDERDOGS AND PEOPLE WHO ARE KIND OF DOING THE FAILURE THING.”
For a woman who’s aiming to make her mark in the tough game of US comedy, it’s a good sign that Priscilla Bonnet is a bit of a hoot. The Gold Coaster is packing her bags for LA after she and her writing partner Julie De Fina landed a deal to develop their comedy series Something Old for the American market.
As fate would have it, it comes at much the same time as their breakthrough in Australia with the two due to begin filming their own comedy series Lemons for the ABC next year.
“No wonder I’ve got anxiety,” Priscilla says (what’s a comedian without a dash of neurosis?). “I’m all over the place.”
Ironically, Lemons is based on the women’s own lives, “going from failure to failure”, Priscilla says, as they were for many years before they finally caught their break.
But will success mean an end to Priscilla’s failure schtick, the rich seam she has been mining for material for years? “Ha, I won’t have anything to write about,” she laughs. “I always seem to write about underdogs and people who are kind of doing the failure thing.
“Most of my characters have kind hearts and good intentions but it just doesn’t come off for them, which is how I am in a way.”
Indeed, if writers need to look to their own lives for material, it seems there’s plenty more where that came from. At 30-something, Priscilla has much to draw on.
She grew up on the Gold Coast. Her father and mother, French-born chef Michel Bonnet and wife Trisha, ran much-loved French restaurants here for many years.
From a young age, Priscilla was performing and singing. “I was in a group called The Young Australians,” she says. “Sort of a girl band but with a boy in it.”
She graduated from St Hilda’s with a scholarship to study law at Bond University — ah, but where’s the material in that?
The bright lights were calling so she threw it in for Hollywood, more or less. She took a job as a waitress at Planet Hollywood in Sydney, telling her family she was going to work there and audition for NIDA.
“I was having the best time,” she says. “I did it for six months and then I thought ‘this sucks’. And I never did audition for NIDA.”
The next stop was a bit closer to the real thing. She enrolled in the famed Strasberg film school in LA, living in a small studio apartment at the age of 18.
After graduating, she landed an acting gig playing a young Bette Davis in the CBS miniseries Lucy about the life of Lucille Ball. No doubt it helped that Priscilla looks uncannily like Bette Davis. It was a promising start to an acting career but that’s when Priscilla began wrestling with anxiety.
“In auditions, my nerves would be crazy,” she says.
“The anxiety was out of control. I think I was putting too much pressure on myself.”
She came back to the Gold Coast and to her high-school sweetheart. But then more material threw itself her way. She won Rolling
Stone magazine’s search for Australia’s best new unsigned singer/songwriter and was scouted to record an album.
“I was a bit of an emo back then,” she says.
“I was more Morisette and they wanted Kylie Minogue. It didn’t really work out.”
But it led her back to LA, this time as a songwriter, where she wrote for other artists including Grammy award-winning Ne-Yo and Paris Hilton. Being back in LA gave her the acting bug again but her old anxiety hadn’t gone away.
Auditions were even more excruciating and, she eventually realised, impossible.
In Priscilla’s version of her life, she lurches from failure to failure, a narrative peppered with black humour and one liners. Then there is the tragicomic. Her eventual marriage to her high-school sweetheart ended in divorce.
“He’s remarried with kids now,” she says. “He was an angel.” There is no one liner to follow.
Returning to Australia, with the realisation her audition anxiety was killing off any hopes of an acting life, she wrote and starred in her own short film Fully Famous that was to launch the next phase of her career. It told the comic tale of two friends looking for fame in all the wrong places. “It was the first thing I’d ever written,” she says. Even for Priscilla, it’s hard to paint Fully
Famous as a failure. It made the 2011 final of Australia’s premier short film festival Tropfest and a video clip from the film was picked up by US celebrity blogger Perez Hilton and went viral. The film went on to win best comedy at the Los Angeles Comedy Festival and got Priscilla an invitation from the ABC to turn it into a television show.
There she was paired with the more experienced Julie De Fina, a comedy writer who’d also experienced her fair share of hard knocks, and the two have been writing together ever since.
“It was introduced to about 10 or 15 other writers,” Priscilla says. “I knew instantly as soon as I met her that she was the one. We had an instant connection.
“I didn’t really know how to write scripts but we worked together for a couple of years to turn ( Fully Famous) into a television series and we were also working on (ABC sketch show) Wednesday Night Fever (in which Priscilla also appeared).”
Things were looking up. The TV series was being shopped around in the US by profilic American TV producer Aaron Kaplan but just when it was all set to go in Australia, the ABC pulled it — as Priscilla tells it, another failure.
“It never got to air,” she says. “They never even shot any of it.”
But by then she’d found her feet as a writer. She and Julie were commissioned by Fremantle Media to develop Something Old, a series about a gold digger who marries a rich elderly man on his death bed only for her risqué farewell gesture to revive him.
It is the concept for Something Old that’s scored the girls a prized US development deal with Kronicle Media, founded by noted producers Korin Huggins and Monique Nash who are dedicated to creating more diverse content about women.
“In the US version, the protagonist is a fun, sassy African-American woman,” Priscilla says. “Her dying husband ends up recovering and leaving hospital and she has to go home and live with him. It’s a real cat and mouse thing — everyone is after his money.”
At the same time, Priscilla is developing a drama series for Essential Media based on the true story of Australia’s first police woman.
Then there’s Lemons, also starring Priscillia and Julie, which is due to start filming mid next year.
“I’m always travelling between LA and Sydney. I’m just going to make the move with Julie and base myself there. We’ll come back to do Lemons but Julie and I are both going to be out there from now on, continuing to work together. The good thing about writing is you can do it from anywhere.”
As showbiz stories go, there can be rich rewards for those who hang around long enough. It’s also very Hollywood that your big break finally comes at the same time as another break based on your lack of breaks. Priscilla may well have to revise her trusted failure theme.