What keeps Claudia Karvan awake at night
Claudia Karvan wants to feel scared.
The Australian actor may have decades of experience performing in and producing some of the best-known local TV productions, but she never wants complacency to creep in.
"You've always got to feel like there's a lot at stake - I really do,' she tells news.com.au. "Even though it's taxing and it keeps you awake at night, I think it's probably better to have a level of fear to keep you alert."
The series that's keeping her up at the moment is Bump, a 10-part comedy she produces with John Edwards and Dan Edwards, and which she co-created with writer Kelsey Munro.
Set in Sydney's inner west, Bump follows two families whose worlds collide overnight when their kids - school teens Oly (Nathalie Morris) and Santi (Carlos Sanson Jr) - become unexpected parents.
Karvan plays Oly's mother Angie, a teacher already going through marriage challenges when she becomes a grandmother with no notice - Oly's pregnancy and then giving birth was a total surprise, especially to Oly.
Karvan says there are days when she feels all the unknowns that threaten to engulf a TV production.
"It's not a perfect science, there are lots of variables so it's hard to predict what the outcome's going to be. But I think we've had a lot of wins on this - particularly the script, the casting and the performances.
"I hope so anyway. There for the grace of god go I, really."
Karvan said Munro's story pitch and the role of Angie appealed to her.
"A young girl had given birth to a baby at my daughter's school - I think she was in year 10 - so that's always fascinated me, and the fact the kids stayed together.
"And also, being the mother of a teenage daughter, obviously it's something you can understand how it could really derail a family's plans and the hopes you may have for your child, your daughter.
"I related to all of that. But it's also a great canvas for family drama and a great way to get two oddly matched families connected, almost like an arranged marriage."
Karvan knew she wanted to both be in the series and also serve as producer, a hat she's previously worn for Doctor Doctor, Love My Way, Spirited and House Of Hancock.
It might seem like a heavy workload, but she says that doing both at the same time makes her a better actor and a better producer.
"The roles really do complement each other really well," she says. "Being a producer helps my performance and being on set and being creatively and intimately involved, knowing the actors, certainly improves my job as a producer because I'm there in the trenches getting my hands dirty too."
RELATED: The 11 best movies of 2020
While filming a christening scene at St Brigid's Church in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville, Karvan is sitting in a pew, in character. Once her side of the take is captured, she runs off for a production meeting, still in costume. A few takes later, everyone else breaks for lunch.
That's the extra workload that comes with doing both roles, but Karvan says she would absolutely recommend it to any of her actor friends.
"The key really is building up a strong relationship with a very talented writer because really that's the driver, that's the piece of the puzzle that we can't do as actors and producers.
"The writer is there, they're the king or queen when you're trying to get a project up and when you're developing a project. That's the most intense creative relationship."
On Bump, that queen is Munro, a former journalist and foreign correspondent. Bump is Munro's first TV commission, having pitched the idea to the Edwards after originally trying a different story about journalists.
Karvan says the "whip-smart" Munro was incredible to work with, developing the character of Angie together.
"She hasn't worked in our industry so it was just so refreshing to work with her and talk to her about our industry because everything was sort of a surprise. When you see you own industry through fresh eyes, it's great. It pulls you out to make sure you're not getting jaded or falling into default positions or regular patterns. You really don't want to be doing that.
"Kelsey has a very astute eye, she's really keen, really articulate and really conscientious. I just knew we'd get on really well and we have the whole time."
Munro wasn't the only first-timer on Bump with the younger cast, the actors playing the high school kids, relative newbies and recent graduates of drama schools.
Sanson Jr and Morris both say that the show has been a great platform that gives them the opportunity to learn and play a range of scenes, including some intimate ones.
But even while working with an intimacy co-ordinator, rehearsing during a pandemic came with its awkward challenges.
"We had our intimacy rehearsals with masks on," Morris recalls. "We would be getting comfortable with each other and going through the emotions of these pretty beautiful but intense moments but be kissing through masks!"
Sanson Jr agrees. "It was a bit distracting."
In their 20s, Morris and Sanson Jr are a few years out of high school but not so far away from those days as to not have vivid touchpoints from their own experiences.
Sanson Jr says he knew people from school who went through something similar and saw first-hand how an unexpected baby at that age can "emotionally damage" both parties, but argues that you can "either fall apart and let it get the better of you or take it with two hands and make the best of it" like the characters on Bump.
Morris says the series "humanises" the experience. "It's a messed up and crazy thing that happened but a lot of these characters in the show just goes, 'OK, let's deal with it,' and there's no judgment on either of them."
But Morris and Sanson Jr's memories of high school have nothing on co-star Ioane Saula, still finishing year 12 during production, balancing schoolwork with filming. The Canberra-based teen says he's missed many drama classes this year.
The charismatic Saula had played for the state netball team and was a rising rugby union star when an injury benched him.
"I stopped playing for two years and when I came back, it wasn't the same," he says. "It's done me mentally on the field, I don't think as good as I used to so after that I knew I needed to do something else and I found out that performing was that something else."
Karvan says Saula was cast off his taped audition alone.
"It wasn't very well filmed, but it was very clear he just had natural ability, natural charm, natural timing and we literally cast him off that.
"We adapted our script [for him] because we thought, 'Why not adapt it to the real actor?' He's much more unique, much more surprising and idiosyncratic."
Even with all these newbies involved, with an experienced hand like Karvan on-screen and behind the scenes, she needn't lose any sleep at all.
Share your TV and movies obsessions | @wenleima
Originally published as What keeps Claudia Karvan awake at night