Lily Sullivan in Stan Original series ‘Romper Stomper’ (Photo: Ben King).
Roadshow Rough Diamond’s John Edwards has a vivid way of describing Lily Sullivan’s convincing performance as the leader of an anti-fascist group in the Romper Stomper series commissioned by Stan.
“Lily is a star and she is compelling. The camera loves her, she commands real authority, she occupies the screen and you don’t doubt for a minute that she could bash your head in,” says Edwards, who produced the contemporary six-part crime drama/political thriller with his son Dan Edwards.
When that quote was relayed to the actress, she laughed and said: “I love acting because you get to jump into so many different shoes, explore other people and do things you probably would not do in real life.
Sullivan relished working with directors Geoffrey Wright, Daina Reid and James Napier Robertson in the series which premieres on New Year’s Day and follows several characters from Wright’s 1992 debut movie Romper Stomper.
Scripted by Wright, Robertson, Omar Musa and Malcolm Knox, the plot follows Toby Wallace as Kane, who is estranged from his mother Gabe (Jacqueline McKenzie).
Kane infiltrates an anti-Islam group named Patriot Blue led by Blake (Lachy Hulme), which clashes with a group of anti-Fascists. David Wenham is Jago, a right-wing shock jock and the cast includes Dan Wyllie and John Brumpton (who both appeared in the film), Sophie Lowe and Nicole Chamoun.
The flashpoint is a violent brawl which erupted when a small group of anti-Islam protesters encounters anti-racism activists at a Halal food festival in Melbourne, inspired by real events last year.
Sullivan describes her character Petra, a university student activist/anarchist, as a young, powerful, passionate woman who is driven by her own moral compass.
“I did all my own stunts and fight scenes with limbs flying everywhere and crowbars in hail, rain and thunderstorms on St Kilda pier,” she says.
That was a world away from the tight corsets she wore as Miranda Reid, one of three schoolgirls who goes missing on Valentine’s Day 1900 in FremantleMedia’s miniseries Picnic at Hanging Rock, and very different from her roles in the movies Jungle, Sucker and Galore and TV series Rake and Camp.
“Romper Stomper was the first time I’ve undergone a real transformation,” she says. “I’ve been lucky as I have always played strong, driven, complex three-dimensional women.
“The series shines a light on extremism and the nature of hate in a raw and brutal way. I think viewers will find it thrilling and confrontational and I hope it will spark a conversation about what it means to be Australian today.”
She describes Miranda as a free-spirited young woman but also a dreamer who has a fierce desire to break out of the constraints of her school and society.
Her mother had shown her Peter Weir’s film when she was a kid and she studied Joan Lindsay’s novel at school. She deliberately did not revisit the film so she could approach the re-imagining of Lindsay’s novel by Beatrix Christian and Alice Addison with fresh eyes.
She much enjoyed collaborating with directors Larysa Kondracki and Michael Rymer (but did not work much with the third director, Amanda Brotchie).
“Larysa is so creatively charged she was an absolute thrill to work with,” she says. “Michael is gentle, open, knows what he wants and did the second block so effortlessly.”
The actress’ career took off after she made her debut aged 17 in P.J. Hogan’s black comedy Mental in 2012. She sent in a tape for the open audition for Hogan’s film after appearing in school plays, not expecting it would lead anywhere.
“All of a sudden I am on a film set and there was this domino effect where life in the acting world crystallised for me,” she says. “For me acting has become a form of therapy where I can fully express myself and overcome emotions we all feel, like anxiety and self-doubt, and get really good at embarrassing myself.”