As Melbourne streets empty and the city shuts down, so too many of the creative industries that have given Melbourne the enviable title of Australia’s foremost City of the Arts. COVID-19 has pushed creatives to find new ways of expressing themselves. Directors and actors who would usually be working on the stage are finding new modes of expression to maintain a sense of output and continuity in the Arts. The Pact is an example of how with dedication and inventiveness new art can emerge phoenix like from what appears to be a city shrouded by silence.
The story revolves around a young woman called Morgan (Rose Flanagan) who has moved to Berlin to escape a past filled with drugs, booze and unhealthy relationships. However Morgan hasn’t fully managed to let go of her past in Australia because when she finds out that her ex-boyfriend and partner in crime Brett (James Biasetto) has gone missing she pulls out every trick in her not unlimited emotional bag to find out what has happened to him. Peeling back layers of her past leads her down dark roads where she must face demons of her own making as well as dealing with the detritus of many broken relationships from the familial and further.
The premise uses Morgan’s distance from Australia to bait the hook and we watch her as she conducts a series of Skype conversations with everyone she thinks may be able to locate Brett. Morgan assures her family that her search for Brett will not lead her back into her former life as a drug addict. She claims her sobriety is a stable to her lawyer brother Tim (Chris Farrell) and her ex-cop father Jack (Greg Caine) but as her search progresses she is pulled further back into the past where something unspeakable occurred. As she contacts more people that surrounded her at the time, her sobriety is compromised, and she starts to take emotional risks that could eventually have real world consequences for all involved.
The work rests heavily on identification with Morgan as she struggles to find Brett and attempt to make some kind of peace with what she has left behind in Australia. It is a unique challenge for actor Rose Flanagan who shepherds the viewer through all the stages of Morgan’s search and what reigniting the past costs her. From seductive, to cajoling, to aggressive, and contrite Morgan’s interactions are compelling viewing. The constraints of the actress working on her own in isolation make her work more impressive.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak to Rose about the process of working on the production.
The first thing people are going to want to know is what it was like working in a room on your own being directed via Zoom? As someone who has worked on stage and television I’m sure you’re used to having the synergy of other performers around you to help keep focus and character. How did you find the process of working within the constraint differed to what you are used to?
There is nothing like being in the room with people, I really miss that.
On this project however, the distance and isolation, and that feeling of being alone and away from everyone, is similar to what Morgan is going through. In that sense the remote process helped create the right space for me to experience that detachment.
There are definitely challenges to being your own (completely unqualified) tech – trying to get the right lighting for frame rate, slating correctly, making sure audio and webcam are recording, collating and uploading takes, and the sinking dread thinking you messed up any of these elements on any given take. I already had abundant respect for crew members but doing it myself for this series took my appreciation to a whole new level! Thankfully, I had the highly experienced John Erasmus – our remote tech, editor, and entire crew – patiently instructing each aspect. He even talked me through what light bulbs to buy at the supermarket – I’m sure there’s a “how many actors does it take” joke in there that ends with “they hire a tech”.
Having said that, on a traditional set it can sometimes be difficult to get into character with so many people around, particularly for heightened emotional states. I was able to rehearse on set and I could spend hours on set in character by myself as Morgan before the shoot began. I bond with music so I had a Spotify playlist with a couple of songs for each interaction that I would blast while watching myself on webcam which melted away the thoughts of being in my own house and helped me sink into Morgan’s environment. I would also often slate as Morgan and remain in character between takes. In that way, this was a rare and unique opportunity to work organically and uninterrupted as the character for extended periods of time. Although my dog Barry did walk into shot a couple of times which could tend to throw things off.
Morgan is a difficult character to connect with at first. She isn’t really humanised until some of the later episodes. When you were crafting how you’d portray her what was the process behind making her more vulnerable and easier to identify with?
There’s so much grey in this series. I love that audiences are not sure whether to like or loathe Morgan, not sure what she’s done or if she’s done it, if she’s getting the raw end of the stick or if people’s coldness towards her is justified. The ambiguity is something Pete (Peter Blackburn the series director) expertly weaved throughout the show. I’ll be honest, when I first read some of the scripts there are choices Morgan makes that had me so frustrated with her. Much like the audience, I had to work hard to decipher her truth and complexities that inform these decisions and eventually, as is the actor’s job, you crack the code. Pete and I had extensive discussions around Morgan’s background, relationships with other characters, current circumstances, past events, and sociological factors which shape her. That’s something I find beautiful about what Pete and the writers have curated, that while Morgan’s behaviour, attitude and choices can be difficult to reconcile with initially, as the series goes on you peak behind her crumbling walls of defence and what unravels is a very human story about pain, addiction, love and loneliness which are universal connectors.
The entire production rests on your believability as Morgan. Did you find that a bit intimidating?
I definitely found it challenging to undertake a dramatic lead role. I’m usually cast as a comedic side player so it’s a departure from my comfort zone for sure. I think at first I underestimated the scope of what I was saying yes to – partly due to the show’s creator Gabe (Gabriel Bergmoser) originally pitching it to me as a six-episode five minute quick and casual little ISO project.
The series was still developing as we were shooting so we could be simultaneously doing a table read for episode 7, script analysis on 6, rehearsing 5 and shooting 4. In the final 7 shoot days we shot 7 episodes, and in fact the final day we shot 3 episodes back to back, so it was undoubtedly the most demanding role but also the most rewarding I’ve had.
Pete and I were working so closely, and his techniques and methods focus on generating organic truth. Combined with the fantastic scripts and the skilful, talented cast members working opposite me, I feel the responsibility and credit for believability is very much shared. I also had John (John Erasmus series editor) hyping me up after pretty much every take which was always welcome!
Is there a particular interaction with a character in The Pact that you are particularly proud of? If you could choose one of the calls as vital to the character’s development which would it be?
There are so many moments that jump out. The cast of this show is amazing, over half I had never met in person before shooting and even with the distance we all got along and bonded so well in such a short time frame. Every episode was filled with its own magic moments, particularly in the second half of the series when things really heat up. I won’t give away any spoilers so I’ll say something I loved was when Pete would trick us. All of the characters have secrets they keep from each other, that Pete also had us actors keep from each other. During rehearsals and between takes Pete would often take us for private chats on zoom, we’d go on mute and take our headphones out while he talked to the other actor. It often resulted in wildly different and unexpected performances on subsequent takes which shifted the energy, breathed new life to the scene and prompted unrehearsed curiosity and reactions. In episode four there’s a part where Chris who plays my half-brother Tim full on screams at me. It was so removed from how we had been rehearsing and you can see the genuine shock and fear on my face in that moment. There’s no beating authentic moments like that and there’s plenty of them in this series.
Currently streaming on YouTube you can find the first three instalments of fourteen episode feature The Pact on the Bitten By Productions site at: