Nicole Chamoun breaks through in ‘Romper Stomper’ and ‘Safe Harbour’

Nicole Chamoun in Stan Original series ‘Romper Stomper’ (Photo credit: Ben King).

Ten years after her screen debut in the SBS drama Kick, Nicole Chamoun finally is reaping the rewards for perseverance and hard work with key roles in Stan’s Romper Stomper and SBS’s Safe Harbour.

The Australian-born actress, whose parents emigrated from Lebanon during that country’s civil war, plays Laila, a university student and Muslim who gets embroiled in race riots in Melbourne in Roadshow Rough Diamond’s Romper Stomper.

In Matchbox Pictures’ Safe Harbour she and Hazem Shammas play Zahra and Ismail, an Iraqi couple with two children who are on a broken-down fishing boat crammed with desperate asylum seekers when they encounter five Australians on a small yacht who are bound for Indonesia.

“It’s been an awesome 12 months,” she tells IF. “Kick was my first job and one of my first auditions. Being naïve and green I was under the assumption that ‘I’m an actor now and I’ll just keep going.’

“To learn that wasn’t true was tough but it gave me time to find my love for the craft and to recognise I am in it for the right reasons, because it feeds my passion and there is nothing else I’d want to be doing.”

To make ends meet she did all sorts of jobs in hospitality and dressing up as animals at festivals, and the part-time artistic director at Rowville Secondary College in Melbourne for two and a half years.

After studying at the Melbourne Actors Lab under Peter Kalos she missed out on getting a few key roles and her agent dumped her after 10 years. Three weeks later she was booked for an episode of December Media’s The Doctor Blake Mysteries followed by Sticky Pictures’ Ronny Chieng: International Student.

Then came the breakthroughs in Safe Harbour and Romper Stomper. “I’m optimistic and I’m ready and I’m hungry. The feedback has been amazing on both jobs,” says the actress, who is now repped by Emma Raciti Management.

In Safe Harbour the plot follows the Aussies as they agree to tow the stricken vessel to Australia, but the next morning, the boat has vanished. Five years later they meet some of the refugees and discover someone had cut the rope, resulting in the loss of seven lives including Zahra and Ismail’s nine-year-old daughter.

Of Zahra, Chouman says: “She is a strong, hard-working woman, the glue in the family who is trying to keep everyone together when everyone around her is crumbling.  She takes on the weight of everyone’s problems and comes out fighting. I don’t know if I would have been as strong and determined. It was gut-wrenching for me but this could have been real and has happened to many, many people.”

Chamoun had the pleasure of watching Jacqueline McKenzie at work as Gabe, the estranged mother of Toby Wallace’s Kane in Romper Stomper, and as Helen, an embittered lawyer in Safe Harbour.

“What a powerhouse; you just bow down to that woman,” she says of McKenzie. “She is so specific and subtle in her work, and so generous. I owe her greatly for Romper Stomper because she has a close relationship with Geoffrey and she pushed for me. I did not know her before Safe Harbour but she saw something in my work and decided she was going to be my guardian angel.”

Ivin had been on her directors’ wish list for years so she was thrilled to get the Safe Harbour job. Ivin tells IF her audition in Arabic moved him to tears, observing, “She is an incredibly passionate actor who puts everything on the line.”

She describes Romper Stomper‘s Geoffrey Wright, who co-created, co-wrote and co-directed the six-part series, a sequel to his 1992 movie, as an intense, passionate director who gave her a lot of freedom.

She also enjoyed working with David Wenham as an intimidating shock jock who ambushes her character on air, and with Lachy Hulme as Blake, the leader of the anti-Muslim group Patriot Blue.

In one scene Blake whispers menacingly in her ear “dead woman walking” as she reads a series of abusive text messages on her phone.

This week she is filming Concern for Welfare, a proof-of-concept short film – a precursor to a possible series – co-funded by Create NSW and SBS. Written by Nick Parsons and directed by Fadia Abboud and based on a true story, the film follows a gay Arabic woman who joins the police force.

It’s one of six shorts that will air as part of SBS’s coverage of the 40th anniversary celebration of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival next year, thanks to the Create NSW Generator: Emerging Filmmakers Fund.

Asked about the progress being made to reflect greater diversity on screen, she says: “I am an optimist. I want to get to the point where I am being considered for roles when cultural and ethnic background is not being highlighted. I still think there is a lot of work to do.  SBS is at the forefront of diversity and bringing amazing stories to life.”