Gemma Bird Matheson relishes the dual roles of writing and acting

Alexandra Keddie, Drew Weston and Gemma Bird Matheson in ‘The Housemate.’

Frustrated with the scarcity of job offers, two years ago young actors Gemma Bird Matheson and Alexandra Keddie decided to launch their own production company, Chips & Gravy Films.

Their maiden production was The Housemate, an affectionate take on The Bachelor. They spent several thousand dollars of their own money to make a 4-minute teaser, in which they played friends who are searching for the housemate of their dreams, posted it online and got 260,000 views in the first week.

So they sent the teaser to Rick Kalowski, then the ABC’s head of comedy, who called them within 30 minutes and quickly commissioned a series of 6 x 5′ episodes for iview.

Since then the duo have created four or five projects which are in development with Screen Australia, while Matheson also performs in plays (currently the Griffin Theatre Company’s Superheroes) and in TV shows such as Content.

In 2018 she went to Los Angeles as a finalist in the Heath Ledger Scholarship and secured a US manager, Grandview. While she was in LA for pilot season in February 2019 she tested for, and won, the co-lead role in Ludo Studio’s Content, billed as the world’s first vertical comedy.

Produced by Meg O’Connell and written by Anna Barnes, the ABC show starring Charlotte Nicdao as Lucy, an extrovert chasing Internet fame, and Gemma as her best friend Daisy, is nominated for Short-Form Series at this year’s International Emmy Awards.

Matheson landed her first significant screen role, aged 18, in Canadian horror movie The Drownsman while she was living in that country for two years. Directed by Chad Archibald, the plot followed a group of friends who conduct a seance to make contact with the sinister titular figure and are pursued by a serial killer.

“I had a cool death scene as my character had a chain wrapped around her neck and was pulled through a trap door,” she tells IF.

Gemma in ‘Deadhouse Dark’ (Photo credit: Lauren Orrell.)

After returning to Australia she met Keddie while they were doing an advanced diploma in screenwriting part-time at RMIT. Both dropped out after a lecturer told them the diploma was no guarantee of getting work.

Among her acting credits are the Deadhouse Dark horror anthology, ABC ME’s Trip for Biscuits and the ABC short form series Why Are You Like This?

Chips & Gravy Films’ slate includes Me and Herpes, a 6 x 5′ romantic comedy created and written by Matheson and Kasia Vickery and produced by Gemma and Hannah Ngo.

Gemma will play Saffie, who, after discovering she has herpes, reaches out to Bek (Vickery), who has ghosted her since their one night stand. Partnering with NSW-based health promotion organisation ACON, the producers aim to raise awareness of sexual health for queer women.

Screen Australia has provided production funding for The Power of the Dream, a six-part mockumentary comedy created by Keddie and Bobbie-Jean Henning for Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

Intended to shoot in Melbourne later this year with Megan Ham directing and Cate Hartmann producing, the show follows two cousins-best friends Amy and Brooke, who have always wanted to go to the Olympics despite their complete lack of sporting prowess. With the next games approaching, they are determined to achieve Olympic glory no matter how uncoordinated they might be.

(L-R) Claire Lovering, Gemma Bird Matheson and Aleks Mikic in ‘Superheroes’ (Photo credit: Prudence Upton.).

Inspired by her own experiences as the daughter of a Papua New Guinea-born mother and South African father, Matheson created 50 Shades of Black (Girl), a 6 x 10′ comedy-drama, one of 10 projects selected for the SBS/Screen Australia Digital Originals workshop.

Producers Lizzie Cater and Ratidzo Mambo are in talks with an international partner for the show which will follow Gemma’s Hanna, who gets mistaken for another, more successful black girl at a gig one night. This inspires Hanna and her best friend Bonnie (Mambo) to conduct an experiment: What else can they get for free by pretending to be other people of colour?

Scripted by Mark Rogers and directed by Shari Sebbens, Superheroes, the saga of two women living small lives in the era of big politics, is playing at the Seymour Centre. Gemma portrays Emily, who lives in Thirroul, with Aleks Mikic as her boyfriend. Clare Lovering is Jana, who lives in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina.

Asked about the balance between acting and writing she is striving for, she says: “I like the agency that creating and writing gives me to tell the stories I want. But I love doing plays and projects with other people who have fantastic ideas.”

A member of Actors Equity’s diversity committee, she says: “A lot of what I write is based around race, culture, religion and sexuality, and normalising the lives of people who haven’t had their stories told.”

The Chips & Gravy Films partners aim to foster new, diverse talent and towards that end will soon select one person or team to mentor, helping them to get their projects to the next stage and giving advice on scripts or Bibles.