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Interview with Raelee Hill

Date of publishing: 20th March 2008

Interview with Raelee Hill Raelee Hill is an Australian actress best-known for her roles in some of her country's most successful television series. Her first major role was as Loretta Taylor in Paradise Beach, which was followed shortly afterwards with the characters Serendipity Gottlieb in Neighbours and Constable Tayler Johnson in Water Rats. Raelee is most widely-known internationally though for her part as Sikozu Svala Shanti Sugaysi Shanu in the sci-fi television series Farscape. Having originally auditioned for the part of Commandant Mele-On Grayza she was considered "too likeable" for a villain and the role of Sikozu was created especially for her by Executive Producer David Kemper.

She made her film début in the 1996 romantic comedy Hotel de Love, and her theatre credits include the role of Wendy in Pan for The Jim Henson Company, as well as Tasting Sugar Lake for Budinskis Theatre. She had a role in the 2005 Indonesian film about the 2002 Bali bombing, Long Road to Heaven. (Biography from Wikipedia)

Her recent film role is in 2007, appearing in The Final Winter.

Interview with Raelee HillGilles Nuytens: You are a great advocate of the dramatic industry in Australia, but Reality TV seems to blight networks these days. Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel, where reality bites its own dust, in the near future?
Raelee Hill: O… the creature that is Reality Television… The future does look brighter though, I think. Reality came along and bit Australia’s drama budgets on the ass – it was just so cheap for producers to churn out Dancing With The Cooking/Renovating/Fashion Designing Big Brothers. And so they did. Our channels became clogged with it. But at the end of the day, people want stories. People want well-written scripts that inform, mirror, challenge, inspire. I feel the Reality programmes are flagging in their ratings today. They’ve lost the novelty they once had. Variety programmes are now stealing drama’s budgets (though I have more respect for some of these programmes. Some of the talent that steps on those stages, my god… amazing.) I am certainly confident that drama shall have its day in the sun again, however. Naturally I hope it’s sooner rather than later. The amount of graduates coming out of our arts schools with nothing to audition for today… scary. And sad.

Gilles Nuytens: Your newly released film, The Final Winter, now available on DVD, has been extremely well received. Are there any new projects on the horizon for you at present?
Raelee Hill: The Final Winter was very well received, critically. Paramount told us it was the ‘most well received’ Australian film of the year, which was certainly exciting. And encouraging. The film was shot on about 3 bucks 50. There were a lot of newcomers involved and it was so great to be a part of it – their freshness was infectious. The crew rocked (fun to reunite with Waldo who did sound on Farscape. And the divine Mr Johnny King, props extraordinairio). But what was it I was saying earlier about the Drama industry? Hmm... there were few auditions to be had after it’s release. It’s the way it goes in Oz. Nice to be a middle-sized fish, but o the pond is very, very small. I was kept busy at Sydney’s film school, assisting in student director’s casting processes (which I always find fascinating. I could be a ‘professional reader’ forever more and Love It.) And also some promotions to do o.s. for another film I shot in 06.

Gilles Nuytens: How different, if at all, was the rather frantic approach to filming that Farscape had, compared to other TV dramas you have worked on? Has that frenetic experience been an asset when it comes to new roles/ acting choices?
Raelee Hill: Shooting television is notoriously frantic. Unlike most films (particularly the hefty budgeted US numbers, where you can get a whole day to shoot 10 seconds of visual), tele usually has to happen quick. Real quick. Time is money and all that. Television actors, if they want to continue to get roles, have to be pretty quick on the uptake, and the more experience you have of this kind of pace, the better equipped you become to handle curveballs from directors or last-second script changes. What made Farscape that little bit more of a challenge, was all the added-extras you just don’t normally have to contend with on a gig. Mad sets, mad dialogue, mad pyros, mad costumes, mad special effects. Couple all this with the fact that half your cast is 90% blind due to contact lenses, and you got yourself one crazy old ride. If you had a roomful of actors today, all having a chat about work, and if some of those actors had done some time on Farscape, be it a long running role or just a small guest part, then they’d look at each other knowingly and nod their heads slowly, memories of darkened soundstages and a crackling energy clouding their eyes. Cables & commotion. Body chaffing where chaffing just has no right to be. As an exercise in keeping your shit together on set, Farscape was perfect.

Gilles Nuytens: You worked, before Farscape, with the Jim Henson Creature Shop on the stage production of 'Pan'. Did that experience help you to adapt to working alongside puppets and animatronics when it came to Farscape? Also, do you think that your use of wirework in Pan was a contributing factor to the decision of having Farscape's Sikozu be able to shift gravity?
Raelee Hill: I loved working with the creatures. We all did. Everyone would look forward to those scenes. And during performance, the creatures would become just another fellow player. During the scene, you’d be looking into the eyes of a living, breathing character, just like any other character. Both of you propelling the story on. I love working with puppeteers & have had the good fortune to do both film & theatre with them. Puppeteers almost have to be doubly observant of emotion/movement. As an actor you have to try to convey, but it’s just within your own body. As a puppeteer you have to take all that emotion & try to convey it within and through another object. It’s fascinating. All the flying I did as Wendy on stage put me in good stead for the wirework on Farscape. I think Sikozu would always have had her gravity abilities however, regardless of my previous experience. Every show needs a chick who can climb walls, don’t ya think?

Gilles Nuytens: When it comes to Farscape, we saw many sides to Sikozu. Clearly still alive at the end of Peacekeeper Wars, in what direction would you like to see her arc going? A Walter Matthau/ Jack Lemmon scenario with Grunchlk...?
Raelee Hill: Matthau & Lemmon… too much. But certainly not beneath her! Sikozu’s the kind of personality who I think would ally herself to anyone, if it meant she’d get one step closer to her ultimate goals. She’s a “Means to an End” kinda girl – she can get away with it too, because she’s got the uber-intelligence to never be suckered by her temporary allies, and to not be swayed from her own agenda. She’s more comfortable in the background – don’t ask her to lead, because, like all geniuses, she knows full-well it’s never the King who’s got the real power, but rather, the Queen.

Gilles Nuytens: The pairing of Sikozu with Scorpius in Farscape's fourth season was a stroke of genius. Can you please tell us a little bit about what that relationship was like to play out, both for yourself as an actress, and how you saw it affecting the character of Sikozu?
Raelee Hill: If Sikozu was going to be interested in anyone, it had to be Scorpius. The first day I lay eyes on Scorpius I thought, “Yep… now here’s the love-interest for me”. I think Sikozu found many noble things in Scorpius – his obvious intelligence, his curling mind, his dogged & passionate pursuit of his ambitions. She was drawn to him like a magnet. Before our characters started working more together, I tried to plant the occasional, shall we say ‘flirtatious’ seed into the story. Lingering looks while other characters would turn away; half-smiling at him when perhaps I should’ve been looking at him in fear, or disgust. Power-hungry personalities find other power-hungry personalities either a huge threat, or a huge turn-on. I decided the latter would be the more interesting choice.

Gilles Nuytens: If you could pick any moment in your career thus far, where you had a 'My God, this is what I love about acting' moment, what would it be?
Raelee Hill: Wow. What a question. What a marvellous marvellous question. I could get flowery right now. I could say it’s the moment you step out on stage and a hundred lights hit you and it feels like you’ve been kissed by a thousand sunrises all in an instant (which it does); or I could say it’s the moment you do something completely out of your own world, like flying or fighting or falling, something that’s completely extraordinary that people just don’t get to do in their normal lives, and the adrenaline rush is supreme (which it is). But nay. I have to say that my Golden Acting Moment/s always happen in the humble rehearsal room. When I’ve been toying around with a script for days, in my own mind or with my fellow players, and suddenly, suddenly something clicks. It could be the simplest little sentence in the script, seemingly benign, harmless, inconsequential, but suddenly something shifts in your head and bang! – a whole new world of understanding suddenly opens up to you. You’ve never thought to think that way before. That’s my Golden Moment. And that pinpoint moment of realisation, that expanding awareness, empathy, possibility… it’s not drenched in floodlights or suspended 60 foot in the air from a wire, but it’s the most wonderful thing about the job.

Gilles Nuytens: From the episodes commentaries, I received the impression that on the set of Farscape there was a greater interaction between writers, directors and actors; the actors especially were often asked, even encouraged, to contribute with their own ideas to give their characters more depth and as many different facets as possible. I would like to know whether this was a unique experience, or if you encountered such freedom on other sets.
Raelee Hill: I think good producers and good writers know that it pays well to have their actors contributing to their own characters, or to the general fabric of the stories. It most certainly happened on Farscape. They made sure the cast knew their input & ideas were valued. Our writers were so embracive, so welcoming. And they were terrific fun to be with. Collaboration is essential for a rich production. The trick, of course, is to ensure that everyone’s on the same ship, steering in the same direction. I love the challenge of taking on a script where the writer’s word is god, trying to make their every single word and vision work for my character, but I also knew that the door was always open for me to chat to the writers if I had ideas of my own.

Gilles Nuytens: I’ve read somewhere that you like to read books and to write in your free time. Have you ever considered writing your own book, or script for TV or cinema?
Raelee Hill: Books, I adore. I often get more involved, more affected by a book than a film. The older I get, the soppier I get too, methinks – there’s been many a book lately that, when times get tough for the protagonist, I’ve had to put down. Can’t bear to read on for fear of heartbreaking pages to come. Wimp. I write every single day of my life and, truth be told, I get a bit antsy if I haven’t had the time to pen a line or two at some stage during the day. Like some flippin addict. It’s all letters to friends though. Have never had the balls to attempt a novel (balls indeed. Of all the arts, I think writing is handsdown the most exposing. Wanna make yourself vulnerable? Tell a truthful tale…) Writing something with a plan to publish is on the (ever-increasing) One Day list. For the moment though, my poor mates shall just have to put up my constant stream of trivialings, I’m afraid.


© 2008 - Interview by Gilles Nuytens for The Scifi World
Contributions by Em Fripp, Nymeria (special thanks!)


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