Fern Nicholson Nominated for WA Screen Award

fern imageLocal actress Fern Nicholson has just been nominated for Best Actress at the WA Screen Awards.

Nicholson plays Margaret in the short film ‘Potato Peelers’, the 14 minute piece shows three women peeling potatoes in a WW2 London setting. The ladies are having a friendly catch up before a dark revelation takes the story on an unusual journey.

The longstanding teacher and actress had a quick chat with OUTinPerth about the short film, working with family, and the joys of playing a character from another era.

Can you imagine doing anything other than acting for the rest of your life?

[Laughs] The amount of times I’ve asked myself the same question! Look I would have loved to have changed my mind because the industry I work in is just so fickle, but no. The thing is you try really hard to get a real job and you can’t [laughs]. You always end up coming back.

Tell me about the short film ‘Potato Peelers’?

About 20 years ago I did a monologue for my show reel that was recommended to me by a friend that came from an old English play. I liked it, so I set up the camera and did the monologue by myself. My brother came over from Sydney and saw it, both of us talked about it and every now and then we would talk about this monologue and how wonderful this character was.

We decided okay here is a monologue, let’s build a little story around it, and that’s what we did. We decided we’d grab a weekend grab a couple of actors, it was fortunate because it only took us a day and a half to film.

How is it playing a character from another era?

Actors have this incredible opportunity of playing other people, of jumping into the skin of others, and taking on a whole new life a whole new history a whole new belief system. Obviously it’s very important that we’re able to jump back, we go on and adventure every time we have an opportunity of playing a character that is nothing like us.

Does it get draining at times getting so submersed in a character and having to step out of it when it wraps up?

It really depends on what kind of character you’re talking about, whether you’re talking about someone who is emotionally disturbed and you’ve got a lot of scenes that are emotional and yes it can [be draining] there’s no doubt. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to do a lot of takes because of technical problems and it can get quite harrowing. When you love the craft it’s a whole new meaning.

How was it working alongside your brother?

Oh my god, he’s the hardest director to work with but then he’s my brother, we’ve worked in the industry for many many years together and I think because he knows my training and my background he tends to push me a lot harder, but there’s an understanding between us and he’s very much an actor’s director. He’s very free in his direction in that he allows the actor to find something. He likes to work with creative people that thinks for themselves.

How would you summarise your character, Margaret?

There were so many characters like her around and when we saw that portrayed it was seen to have been in a lot of old movies post war and pre war. There was no affection outside of affection, they were friendly to a certain extent but there would be no touching or emotion. A lot of things were kept to themselves because you couldn’t possibly let anybody know what was going on.

She’s actually an old British woman archetype that reminds me of my grandmother a bit! It was quite weird! It’s sort of how my grandmother would react and talk.

The funny thing is I was bought up in London and I remember London but I remember London in the 60s and of course there’s people we mixed with in England – the next door neighbours and the women that used to come around with the scarfs on their head and their aprons on, so my background helped me.

The best compliment I think I got at the premier was a lady came up to me in tears and she held my hand and only said one sentence then she walked away. She grabbed my hand and she looked at me crying and she said ‘how did you know’…and walked off! I mean what do you say to that, you can’t say anything. I just gave her a squeeze on the hand and she walked off. I think a lot of people even today that suppress a lot of things.

I think with these characters we have the opportunity of playing remind people of stuff. That’s what an actor’s job is – to deliver an emotional experience for an audience. When that happens, you feel good about it.

You’re up for a nomination, congratulations! How did you initially take that?

I was actually at my performance academy and I had a message from another academy saying congratulations on your nomination and I actually didn’t know what they were talking about! I was teaching so when my phone went off I said ‘do excuse me’ because I thought it might have been an actor trying to get in contact with me. An hour later I started getting a lot of messages then it suddenly dawned on me, I thought ‘oh my goodness, he did put the film in!’

What a pleasant surprise!

It was! I had absolutely no idea that the producer had decided to do this so it was a lovely shock.

Watch the short film below.

The WA Screen Awards will be held at The Astor Theatre on August 2nd, tickets can be purchased from the Film and Television Institute.

UPDATE: Fern won the award on the big night!

Nadine Walker

Correction: This article has been adjusted from it’s initial publication.




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