Director Athina Tsoulis talks about her film

My sister Anne began her writing career in Australia around the same time that I began my film career in New Zealand, and she had been working on I'll Make you Happy for a long time. I was aware of its existence, but I was not in a position to be looking at feature film scripts so early in my career. By the time I was ready, during one of those low points where you never want to write another word, her script was still not assigned.

I liked I'll Make You Happy. It was fresh, vibrant and populated with colourful characters. It was also a different and humane view of a group of people normally despised by respectable society. Liz Stevens, the producer with whom I had been working on other projects, also liked the script, so we came on board and worked closely with Anne to develop it further.

The geographical distance was a time-consuming problem, so to speed up the process and to get it ready for production, I wrote several of the last drafts, keeping the spirit of my sister's story as intact as possible. We both wanted Siggy to be a strong, independent young woman of the 90s.

I wanted to make a fun film with a happy ending that didn't take itself seriously. This doesn't mean that this is the kind of film I want to make forever. It's just that I needed a good laugh at this point in my life.

Making a film on virtually no budget provided an extra challenge on top of the existing one of making my first feature film. The lack of money meant I had to be creative and ditch any expensive ideas. The script had to be re-written again to fit with the budget.

I decided that I would make every character the visual object of each shot. Therefore, with the help and enthusiasm of the make-up and costume teams, we created a unique persona for every character. I was also keen that well-known New Zealand performers like Michael Hurst and Raybon Kan would be as different from their usual appearance as possible.

I wanted to use the best actors, even for the supporting and cameo roles. I've worked with amateurs before, so I know the drawbacks. I looked for very skilled people who could work well within the fast pace of the production.

Choosing the actor to play Siggy was the most difficult, because someone who could look 19 would not necessarily have much acting experience and yet she had to carry the film. It was also important for Siggy not to be overshadowed by the more experienced actors. Jodie Rimmer stood out during the auditions and she makes a wonderful Siggy.

I wanted to get away from stereotypes when casting, so the idea of a baby-faced, blue-eyed blond Michael Hurst playing a low-life pimp really appealed to me. It also appealed to Michael, who threw himself into the role and was a joy to work with.

Carl Bland was suggested to me by Ian Hughes when I was despairing of finding a suitable Lester. I knew within the first minutes of the audition that we had found our Lester. Ian Hughes was great as Ant in Topless Women Talk About Their Lives and I knew he was the Drew we were looking for.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand was chosen to play the prostitute Mel because I knew she would be perfect. I had to find an actor of equal stature to play Mel's lover, Mickie, and Rena Owen came to mind. Luckily, I bumped into her at a film premiere and grabbed her by the arm and said, "do you want to be in my movie?"

I thought it would be fun to have Lucy Lawless in a scene with Michael Hurst. Fate placed her in my path when I walked into a cafe and she was sitting there. Again I said, "would you like to be in my movie?"

All the actors were a joy to work with. They loved their characters and pushed themselves to give their best.

Rewa Harre, the director of photography, is a kindred spirit and I enjoy his low-key way of working. More importantly, our aesthetic sensibilities are in tune. We've built up a good working relationship over the last nine years and making our first feature film together has been great.

Making the film was a fantastic experience. It was empowering, and that's how everyone's first film should be. The work and dedication that producer Liz Stevens put into creating the environment for me to realise the script was exceptional.

The Director - Athina Tsoulis

Making I'll Make You Happy was a happy experience for director Athina Tsoulis, despite the personal financial risk she and producer Liz Stevens took in raising the finance from their own resources and asking crew and cast to work for deferred fees.

"Even though I had to make compromises because we could only afford basic equipment and we had to move so quickly, it was very enjoyable and I thought 'why didn't I do this years ago?'"

Athina has directed several short dramatic films, including the internationally successful The Invisible Hand, a black comedy about a solo mother who does phone sex to supplement her income. This film has screened at the Claremont-Ferrand Film Festival in France - in Competition 1993 and again in a Special Showcase in 1996; the British Festival of Short Film; Creteil Festival Du Femmes in Paris; Women in the Director's Chair showcase in Chicago, Vila do Condo in Portugal, plus the Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch Film Festivals. It has sold to television in France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, SBS in Australia and Channel 4 in the UK.

Her film Dissolution , a woman's emotional journey while she's having an abortion, screened in Competition at International Film Fest, Sydney's Flickerfest and the 1994 Creteil Festival Du Femmes in Paris. Her first film, A Bitter Song, about a young girl and her immigrant family, screened at the Headland Exhibition in Sydney and the Auckland and Wellington Film Festivals.

Athina's television work includes Revelation, a half-hour sequel to A Bitter Song, which screened in the TVNZ Work of Art series and two half-hour dramas for the True Life Stories series (TVNZ), The Steven Shuttleworth Story and The Jan Wilkinson Story. She has also written, directed or supervised many corporate video productions, most recently The Jury Video (1997) for the New Zealand Department for Courts.

Athina was born in a small village on the Peloponnese in Greece. She grew up in Adelaide, Australia, after her family emigrated there in the 1950s. She trained as a secondary school teacher.

In 1982, she and her husband Barry Reay (now Professor of History at Auckland University) moved to New Zealand, where Athina worked at Broadsheet magazine while she reared her two children. After doing an MA paper in Film Studies at Auckland University, she decided to make films and set about obtaining the necessary skills, including a year of study in England, after which she returned to New Zealand and wrote and directed her first film, A Bitter Song.

The Producer - Liz Stevens

Producer Liz Stevens was prepared to take a share of the financial risk of I'll Make You Happy so that she could produce her first feature film and pave the way for taking other feature projects into the market for international financing.

"We had several films in development and when I'll Make You Happy struck financing problems I didn't want to stay in "development hell". Athina and I decided that the best way to get the film made was to finance the production ourselves. We then had something exciting to show the Film Commission which convinced them to put up post-production finance."

Ample Films, the company Liz operates with director Athina Tsoulis, is currently developing three feature films, Home is Where the Heart Is, Wedding A La Grecque and Pact .

An Australian who has lived in New Zealand for 20 years, Liz came to film producing from a background in education and management. She met Athina five years ago when she was looking for a change of career. It was at this point that the pair began their working partnership, making corporate videos and developing film projects.

Liz moved into the area of drama and produced short films, including Siren, directed by Charles Bracewell, which screened at 22 international festivals as well as the Auckland and Wellington Film Festivals in 1996; and Naya Zamana, directed by Mandrika Rupa, which also screened in New Zealand film festivals and internationally.

Liz was curator of the Moving Image Centre Short Film Programme in the New Zealand filmfestivals in 1996 and 1997 and was chairperson of the Moving Image Centre for two years. She is currently in her second term as chair of Women in Film & Television, (WIFT) Auckland, and a director of The Wordsmith Company with partner Philip Alpers.

Anne Tsoulis - Writer

Since she first began written I'll Make You Happy, Sydney-based writer Anne Tsoulis has accumulated a number of writing credits in film, television and multimedia. She has also worked as a script editor of feature films and is currently working for the Australian Film Commission as a film development investment adviser in the position of Project Coordinator. Sister to director Athina Tsoulis, the two teamed up some time ago to develop their first feature film script.

"I wanted to write a character-driven film that was entertaining and good fun, just for the hell of it. I never dreamt that anyone would actually fund me to do so. As such I'll Make You Happy was born and I began my career as a professional screenwriter.

"The inspiration for I'll Make You Happy came from my 'punk phase' in Melbourne. I originally wrote the film to capture the street life in St Kilda. I used to go to a fish and chip shop which was frequented twenty four hours a day by drag queens and prostitutes.

"I was able to get beyond the mystique that usually surrounds this profession. These people weren't scary at all. Actually, to someone immersed in the punk scene, they seemed quite normal. In writing the script I wanted to breakdown that 'sleazy underbelly' stereotype and get across the underlying human desire to create a sense of community and family wherever you can find it.

Anne asked Athina if she'd like to read the screenplay when Athina was beginning her film-making career in New Zealand.

"It's come such a long way since then. It's been through nine drafts and travelled a very long road. It's been a very interesting collaborative process."

Rewa Harre - Director of Photography

Rewa Harre says it was important that his first feature film as director of photography was also director Athina Tsoulis' first feature.

"I shot all of Athina's short films. We've developed a good working relationship and I'm certainly looking forward to doing more and more with her.

"I really enjoy her storytelling. Her short films have all had interesting subjects and have been well told with good characterisations. When she asked me, I was in a situation where I really shouldn't have done it without pay because I couldn't afford it, but I hadn't worked with her for two years, so this was a really good opportunity."

As well as Athina's short films The Invisible Hand, Dissolution , Revelation and A Bitter Song, Rewa was director of photography for Sima Urale's short film O Tamaiti and Andrew Bancroft's Planet Man, which have both received international awards and critical acclaim. Since I'll Make You Happy, Rewa has gone on to shoot his second feature, Channelling Baby (director Christine Parker, producer Caterina De Nave).

"I found that a feature is no different from shooting any other film, except you have to be a lot more organised because you're telling a story that's 90 minutes long instead of twelve minutes or half an hour."

Rewa says the visual style of I'll Make You Happy was influenced by the very low budget. "Obviously you're always limited by lack of time and resources, but I find a lot of inspiration comes from improvisation and using the resources around you on the day and that was one of the things I enjoyed about the film.

"It's a contemporary, fun, human story with twists and interesting characters, so we wanted to make the film as colourful and photographically interesting as the characters. To me that's the beauty of film. It's like painting a picture - you feel your way in. I like to express myself as much as I can with colours. I reckon there's no limit, really."

Emma Aubin - Costume Designer

Dressing prostitutes, pimps and drag queens kept costume designer Emma Aubin's team amused every day. "We had such a great time working on it," she says. "I really enjoyed working with director Athina Tsoulis to use the clothes to help enhance the comedy and establish the characters.

"With sex workers there has to be something that attracts attention, whether it's flesh or colour or reflectability. There has to be something that will catch the eye in a headlight.

"For Siggy (Jodie Rimmer), Athina wanted a sense that although she was young, she was actually earning enough money to buy pretty much what she wanted. She also wanted to keep Siggy in warm colours so that she was in a spotlight in a sense, as opposed to the rest of the women, who are just a little bit more faded and jaded looking.

"Lester (Carl Bland) spends most of his time indoors, agoraphobic. He's an ex-actor, so to give him that heightened theatricality, we gave him old robes which also gave him a feeling of being layered and weighed-down. When he breaks out of the apartment, he's in his best white lounge suit to give a sense of freedom, and the pale blue shirt and white pants he wears at the end suggests optimism and wide open spaces."

Lou (Michael Hurst) was a joy to costume. "He thinks being a pimp's cool. He thinks he's a Hollywood version of a pimp, and that's where his dress sense comes from, but he's kind of missed the point!"

Lou's fabulous silky yellow flamingo shirt was once an awful yellow sundress that Emma found in a suburban Auckland clothing store. "Wardrobe supervisor Amanda Barnes made it from scratch in one hour.

"The funniest wardrobe item was Michael's boots. For a joke one day at fitting, we put him in some women's boots - white ones - which gave him a jaunty, awkward tight-pants walk."

Fran the dominatrix (Sandy Ireland) spends most of the film in black PVC outfits. "It's a protective thing. Black doesn't reflect light, so it's a good way of putting distance between you and someone else. Once she falls for Drew (Ian Hughes), her costumes become less hardcore, more colourful.

"We wanted Drew to be a blank canvas, very functional, almost as if he was wearing a uniform. As he gets drawn into the adventure and falls in love, he becomes quite handsome and his clothes become more colourful."

The comedy of the scene between Fran and the policeman, Jock (Bruce Hopkins) was accentuated by his underwear. "I wanted the cop to look like he was a big child, and the singlet tucked into undies looks like a big boy. I couldn't resist!"

In addition to her costume design work on films such as Lost Valley and Wild Blue (both directed by Dale Bradley), Emma also works as a model and actress. She studied design at NIDA in Australia.

Michael Lawry - Composer & Music Co-ordinator

"I knew that this was going to be a movie packed full of music," says musician Michael Lawry. "It pumps along."

Michael worked on the music for Athina Tsoulis' short film Dissolution. He spent nine years as a member of one of New Zealand's best-loved chart-topping rock bands, Headless Chickens. As well as writing some specific pieces for the film, he searched for existing music to enhance the moods of the film and to help Athina balance the comedy and tragedy of the story.

"The film doesn't really suit 'nicely, nicely' bands. I've sourced music from Suicide, The Skeptics, Head Like A Hole for the sleazy rock. I've also chosen a pretty nice song from Dunedin band HDU for an emotional scene near the end. There's music to suit the dominatrix scene, the black humour, the sleazy cafe. It's a fun, light film and we've chosen music from different genres and time periods - 60s through to 90s - to keep it interesting.

"This isn't a violent movie, but we are using music slightly out of context in places because it works, for example with the heist, which is high drama but also high comedy, and the unnerving feel to the opening is the Speedy J remix of Depeche Mode's 'It's No Good'.

"It was great to be able to use tracks from international bands like Depeche Mode and New Order. Athina and Liz worked hard at getting the rights to this music. Fortunately, the bands were generous when they realised the no-budget nature of the film.

"I didn't make a conscious decision to include New Zealand tracks. Those are tracks that I knew would work. It's the natural thing to do really because it's what you hear every day.

"The New Zealand music complements the overseas music very well and features some of our best musicians like award-winning singer Fiona MacDonald (ex-Headless Chicken member) who does a cover version of the Easy Beat's song 'I'll Make You Happy' which I produced for the closing credits."

Jodie Rimmer as Siggy

Teenage sex worker Siggy is Jodie Rimmer's first feature film role. Strong and feisty, Siggy looks after her agoraphobic HIV-positive flatmate Lester (Carl Bland). She motivates her friends to improve their lives when she comes up with an outrageous plan to steal from Lou (Michael Hurst), the possessive pimp whose lecherous advances she continually avoids.

Twenty-four year old Jodie, who is working as Lilith in the new US television series Young Hercules, has featured in several New Zealand television series including Shortland Street, Riding High and The New Adventures of Black Beauty. She has appeared in music videos and as a presenter on MTV's Havoc and TV3's Behind The Wheel, plus several theatre productions and television commercials.

She relished the role of Siggy. "I loved her. She's searching for adventure, she cares about the people she's working with, and wants to help them to fulfil their dreams. The title 'I'll Make You Happy' is what that's about, really. She yearns to make the people around her happy."

Jodie lives ten minutes' walk from the film's Auckland street location - Karangahape Road - which is a colourful combination of bohemian, multi-cultural and red-light communities. "For research, I spent a lot of time parked in my car watching the women working the street."

Jodie felt privileged to work with some of the biggest names in the New Zealand film industry on her first feature. "It was exciting, working with mentors like Rena Owen (Once Were Warriors) and Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Desperate Remedies).

"Michael Hurst (Hercules, The Legendary Journeys) was fantastic. The amount of play and freedom he likes to have in the rehearsal process was just great. We had a really organic chemistry going on. And because his character, Lou, was so sleazy to my character all the time, he would apologise profusely! I'd be like 'Hey man, it's cool!'"

In the plot, Siggy has a connection with Lester, played by Carl Bland, which she keeps secret from him for some time. "It was really divine working with Carl. I've always had a rapport with him and we just clicked into the Siggy-Lester connection. It felt so natural."

During the shoot, Jodie suffered a huge emotional upheaval. "My parents had a major car crash, right in the middle of all the heavy stuff I was filming, and I couldn't go and be with them.

"Here I was playing this young woman who lost her mother in a car crash. And at one stage I didn't know whether my father's life was in question or not. It was so traumatic I feel sick even thinking about it now.

"I remember sitting in the location with full make-up on, howling to them on the phone 'I love you, I love you', hanging up, going back to make-up, going out and shooting the scene. I knew that I couldn't be with them. I just accepted it, and it really touched me on a different level. I had this great appreciation for life."

Jodie says making the film was one of the best experiences of her life. "I was doing what I absolutely love to do and I was doing it every day. I was the lead, and so it was my story and the pressure was on me, but I'd wake up every morning and think 'Yes!' I loved Siggy. I've always wanted to carry a story. It's so different to playing a support role. It was wonderful to have a journey of such length.

"It was really interesting working with Athina because it was her first feature and mine, and we got to travel through that together. When you're working so closely with a director it's a great experience."

Carl Bland as Lester

Carl Bland, with a background mainly in theatre and comedy, saw the role of Lester as the perfect chance to explore the similarities between comedy and tragedy. A year earlier, he had played the tragic character Edgar in a New Zealand theatre production of Shakespeare's King Lear.

"The technique of playing tragedy and comedy is the same. Both require the same skill - an openness and child-like vulnerability, with total belief in the truth of what you are feeling and saying without layering it with obvious emotion.

"Lester lives in his own tragic/comic world and was a delight to play. His clumsiness and his inability to deal with life make him funny, but it's also quite moving. It's a fine line and that's what I liked about the film."

Lester is an actor who hasn't worked since he became HIV-positive. He has confined himself to his flat, which has become his stage on which he is a solo performer. Lester plays at suicide and makes pathetic attempts to hang himself. "I do think Lester realises he is a hilarious figure. He always has the ability to stand outside himself and judge his own performance. I think that's what saves him in a way."

Carl appreciated the freedom he was given by director Athina Tsoulis to explore his scenes. "Athina let me improvise a lot and I felt very free, which was fantastic. I feel a great affinity to this film. Athina feels like a kindred spirit to me - an 'outsider' like myself, not fitting into a convenient pigeonhole.

"I felt quite strongly that I wasn't really acting, Lester was really me and it wasn't a performance. It's so rare to be able to work like that."

Carl auditioned for I'll Make You Happy the day before he flew to Spain, where he appears on television regularly as a butler in an advertising campaign. It's a role his father Peter Bland held for 16 years before the advertising agency cast Carl as his replacement.

"I wasn't worried or stressed about the audition. I read and I walked away. But I think even then, Lester felt very much like me. During the shoot, because Lester's so intense, I had to spend most of my time in a corner not talking to anyone. It was the only way to make it possible. I was a nightmare to live with, I can tell you!

"I wanted to work on I'll Make You Happy because it was a great script which works on many levels. Each character has a moment of transformation, the balance between comedy and believability seems right and no-one fits into a straitjacket of class, gender, sexuality or country, which for me is like a breath of fresh air."

Michael Hurst as Lou

"Lou is a self-important crazed sexual animal," declares Michael Hurst, who had the pleasure of playing the self-crowned King of Sleaze in I'll Make You Happy.

"I always thought he had his own movie running in his head, and in his movie he was the King of Everything. But in the real world, nobody else had that movie!"

Michael is better known to viewers of the American TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (which is filmed in New Zealand) in which he plays Hercules' comic side-kick Iolaus. He says he "took Lou on because I really wanted to play something different to what I'd been doing for a long time".

In fact, some viewers may find it hard to recognise him at first in his tight leather pants, retro flamingo shirt and white cowboy boots. "Lou is stuck in the eighties' cliche of a pimp, and he's never gotten out of that time-warp. There are times where he's really pathetic!"

Lou has a predatory relationship with his "best girl" Siggy (Jodie Rimmer). "I think Siggy is the thing he can't have. I don't necessarily think he loves her even though he says 'I love ya, baby' all the time. He just wants to get the sex off her. He can't understand why she wouldn't want to, because in the movie that's running in his head, every woman wants to have sex with him. That's high currency in Lou's world."

When Siggy disappears after a late-night run-in with Lou, his sex workers set about undermining his negligible power. And when Siggy offers them the opportunity to knock him off his pedestal by hijacking one of his shady deals, they are only too ready to take it up.

"I thought it was a great little story," says Michael. "I liked its darker, steamier sort of edge. I found it quite funky and I don't think that a lot of New Zealand film has gone that way.

"Athina's style is quite unusual, compared to anything I've worked with. It's very European. She kept it loose in terms of shots. That meant there was a sense of theatricality about it, and let's face it, the most theatrical character is Lou, so I felt really comfortable having that space.

"To make this movie with no budget was a really good statement for Athina to make, although it sets a scary precedent, because we don't want this industry to be an industry of no-budget movies. In fact, I hate that whole concept.

"But this film had legs, and I liked the atmosphere that was created out of doing it for love. It was still bloody hard work with long hours, but it came with a lot of commitment that I really appreciated."

Michael has played lead roles in several New Zealand feature films, including Death Warmed Up, Dangerous Orphans, The Footstep Man and Desperate Remedies.

His television credits include The Ray Bradbury Theater, Typhon's People and Highwater.

He is one of New Zealand's most respected Shakespearian actors and directors and has also directed several episodes of Hercules, The Legendary Journeys and Xena, Warrior Princess plus the US telefeature Amazon High. and the short film I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, which he co-wrote.

He is currently developing a feature film, The Silver Fiddle.

Ian Hughes as Drew

"Drew is Super-Nerd, Super-Uptight Guy" says Ian Hughes, who played the repressed bank clerk who sees the good in everyone and falls in love with dominatrix Fran (Sandy Ireland).

"I liked Drew as a character. I liked what he went through and where he ends up. He never stops being himself," says Ian. "He gets drawn into the underbelly of his neighbourhood when he finds Siggy (Jodie Rimmer) collapsed on his doorstep one morning, but he remains true to himself throughout. He just finds a way to continue being Drew the Nerdy bank clerk within this world of pimps and prostitutes.

"He sees them as nice people who've always been really nice to him. They let him be involved and take an active role. And in this adventure he doesn't have to get his clothes scruffy. He doesn't see what's wrong with adventure in a nice clean shirt."

Ian played Ant in Harry Sinclair's award-winning New Zealand feature film Topless Women Talk About Their Lives. "I've found that on films with a tight budget, everyone is working really hard to be creative. Every person in the process is going 'how can I make this process more efficient, quicker, cheaper?'"

Ian says that's a contrast to the work he's done on the American big-budget TV series, Hercules and Xena: "You really are the show-pony on those things. Everyone gets you cups of tea while you stand around and watch them reel off metres of film. You don't have to do a lot of thinking. The stimulating thing about low-budget film is when you get to the end of the day and you've been thinking really hard all the way through, it's incredibly satisfying."

Director Athina Tsoulis allowed room for improvisation, which Ian appreciated. "It's one of the things I've been going into more in my acting - getting a bit more adventurous."

Ian's television work includes Hercules, The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, Shortland Street and Citylife. He also has a background in theatre and comedy, as well as television commercials and music videos.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand as Mel

Jennifer Ward-Lealand plays Mel, one of the more experienced prostitutes who spends most of her time in the neighbourhood cafe with the other hookers, grumbling about her pimp Lou (Michael Hurst) and how to get off the streets.

"Mel and her partner Mickie (Rena Owen) are one of those couples who have been together forever," says Jennifer, "Rena and I worked on being as real and loving and connected with each other as we possibly could. I liked their familiarity with each other, and appreciation of each other."

One of New Zealand's leading actresses, Jennifer has played lead roles in two feature films The Footstep Man and Desperate Remedies , for which she won the best actress award at the Sitges International Festival of Fantasy Film, and in the short films I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and The Bar.

She has appeared in numerous New Zealand stage productions, most recently starring in The Herbal Bed for the Auckland Theatre Company. Her television credits include guest roles in Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules, The Legendary Journeys, Shortland Street, Full Frontal and Letter To Blanchy.

She met director Athina Tsoulis through their membership of WIFT (Women in Film and Television). "Athina gave me the script which I read and wanted to keep reading. I really wanted to know what happened. It's not often you get a script like that. It had a feel-good thing about it and there were no moral judgements made on the characters and I thought I'd be interested to see that as a viewer.

"Michael Hurst (my husband) also read the script and we told Athina how much we liked it and that we were both really pleased to be involved in the project. At that stage she and producer Liz Stevens decided to go ahead with funding the film themselves.

"Once we accepted we were doing it, that was that. We approached the work as if we were getting paid. You're either in or you're out. And we jumped in and did it."

Rena Owen as Mickie

Rena Owen found it an absolute joy working with Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Mel) as her partner Mickie. She says when she saw the "cast-to-die-for", I'll Make You Happy was too good to resist.

"One of my main reasons for choosing to do the film in my one week off of the year was the opportunity to work with Jennifer, and Michael Hurst, and indeed the rest of the cast, who were an exciting group of people to work with, and Rewa Harre who is a wonderful DP."

"In this country we all know it's damn hard work and there's little financial reward, so it really makes you question who you're going to work with. You can only do projects that you really believe in and can be committed to."

The do-it-themselves attitude of director Athina Tsoulis and producer Liz Stevens also inspired Rena to be part of the film.

"I thought Liz and Athina's making it without having raised production finance was admirable and worthy of support. I believed in the script. I felt I could bring something to the role and it gave me the opportunity to support Liz and Athina's courage."

Rena Owen has won international accolades for her role as Beth in Once Were Warriors, and stars in an upcoming New Zealand feature When Love Comes. She also has a cameo role in the Australian feature Dance Me To My Song which was selected for competition at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

She loved playing the "very juicy cameo role" of Mickie. "I loved the characters. They're the sort of characters I could identify with. Real tough, streetwise females with a lot of heart and humour and humanity. Mickie was a really fun role to play, and it's nice to be tarted up!" Sandy Ireland as Fran

Australian comedian Sandy Ireland plays Fran, the dominatrix. When Anne Tsoulis, a friend of Sandy's, first wrote the script, she had Sandy in mind for the role of Fran. Anne introduced her to director Athina Tsoulis, who agreed that Sandy was perfect for the part.

"I have a comedy character who is a dominatrix. I had met and interviewed B&D madams in Melbourne and Sydney, so I knew the role well. I knew I was being looked at for the role of Fran two years before the shoot date, but I didn't really believe it until I was on the set. The role was easy to get into but the rubber costumes weren't!

"I always liked the idea of a story about sex workers that wasn't particularly about the sex. Sex wasn't the be-all and end-all of their existence. They aren't being portrayed as victims or being saved from themselves by some guy. They all have their own destiny and their own goals, and really the film is about achieving those goals."

Sandy describes Fran as "a very strong character who wants to work for herself and not be beholden to her pimp. She's doing her small business course so that she can get out and set up her own business. Fran is the rough diamond. She wants to help but she doesn't want to be beholden to anybody else."

Siggy (Jodie Rimmer) touches the soft spot in Fran's heart, and Fran becomes a kind of mother to her. "Fran sees Siggy as someone who needs to be protected from what goes on out on the street. She wants to help her emotionally by being a good friend to her."

Sandy Ireland has a successful career in television and stand-up comedy. She brought her solo show Precious! to the 1998 Auckland International Laugh Festival. Her comedy experience encouraged Ireland to play the role of Fran straight.

"Playing a comic situation straight is funnier than trying to push the comedy," says Ireland. "As in everyday life, you may not be feeling terribly funny, but something will happen and you see the comedy within, even if you were being deadly serious about it. I think that's the only way to play comedy."

Raybon Kan as Mouse

Raybon Kan will surprise New Zealand audiences in his first feature film role as Mouse, the greasy, hapless cafe operator who idolises Lou (Michael Hurst).

He is best known as a sell-out success on the stand-up comedy stage with his solo shows An Asian At My Table and Comedy Fu. His television experience ranges from appearances in and writing for the comedy show Skitz to film reviewing for an arts programme. Before he ventured into stand-up comedy, Raybon was a newspaper columnist and television reviewer. He has published one book and is currently working on another.

"It was fun to do something different, to not be doing stand-up. That way I couldn't be held accountable for everything I said!" he jokes.

Though he started out "polite and nice" on-set, Raybon says his sleazy lines and a daily rub-down with baby oil to achieve a "greasy-chip look" took their toll on his personality. "I found that just playing the part made me more sleazy. Day by day I became sleazier towards everyone in the crew! Once you start behaving in a certain way, I guess the circuits to that part of your personality get busier and busier until it starts flowing. I discovered I was becoming a total sleazebag!"

One memorable day, Raybon was already on set in full costume when he remembered he had to place a bet on a tennis game. "My only option was to go to the TAB in this great polyester suit with white shoes and pink shirt unbuttoned to the navel, with a gold medallion, hair slicked down and a fake moustache on. I looked like a parody of someone in a betting shop. They could have taken great offence, but when they saw I was placing a bet properly they knew I was one of them!"

"I liked that Mouse was two-dimensional but not stereotypical and I approached it as a cartoony character. I didn't want to make him too deep!"

Mouse eventually gets his moment of glory in the film, which Raybon sees as "an amusement ride. I like I'll Make You Happy because it isn't preachy or angst-ridden. It is pure entertainment."

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