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

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - ENTERTAIN - WORDS: DENISE RAWARD

“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.

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