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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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,
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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!"
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