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The Breaker Upperers: The Interview

The Breaker Upperers: The Interview (Madeleine Sami and Jackie Van Beek)

A new female oriented brash comedy straight out of New Zealand has just hit cinemas – The Breaker Upperers – written, directed and starring long time shakey isles stage and screen talent duo, Madeleine Sami and Jackie Van Beek. Playing to full house screenings at the fanciful Sydney Film Festival, the comedic elements are boundary pushing sexuality and relationship humour with the heart in the right place, although little decorum.

A pair of freewheeling women decide to start a business helping people break up, or at times, make up. Talking with them left me in high spirits discussing broad comedy aspects from a girl’s point of view and thoughts on Australia’s own, angelic Celia Pacquola.

How much of the story is based on fact?

Jackie Van Beek – Seven percent only, the corrugated iron artwork featuring in the film is inspired by Madeline’s mother – she has all that in weird places. The characters are mashed up from people we know although pushed to more of a ridiculous level. We haven’t known anyone to be in a coma to get out of a relationship, so that’s made up.

Were you both always going to be the leads?

Madeleine Sami – Yes absolutely, who else could write the perfect parts for us and we have worked together before.

Jackie – Madeline is the funniest actress in New Zealand. We have been through highs and lows together so decided to write the screenplay for us, as two women breaking up couples for cash, the central characters with a couple of male love interests in the mix without letting them dominate…you know (laughs).

Did you meet on Kiwi comedy Eagle Vs Shark or earlier?

Madeleine – Earlier, I was 14, Jackie was 18. Been friends a while, we have done theatre together and thought we should transform our friendship into movie form.

Jackie – We wrote on/off four years then had a 22 day shoot. Writing is the hardest stuff to get right.

Is the act of sex less meaningful in movies as it’s so openly discussed?

Madeleine – Interesting question Shane. What’s been happening, especially with women is now possibly being reflected on screen as a little more meaningful.

Jackie – We definitely set out to write a confident female buddy comedy, it was important to us to convey how we ourselves sit around chatting about sex as much as the men we know do. It’s rarely reflected on screen. To answer your question, sex is too often mundane in movies rather than that special moment.

Madeleine – I think there was a time where women in mainstream films were not allowed to be vulgar or crass for comedic reasons or too precious, we don’t feel like that is fair. If they are allowed to do that, it is because they portray a hard core pyscho killer, a prostitute or crazy comedienne being obnoxious for the sake of it.

How does Kiwi humour differ from Australian?

Madeleine – Many similarities although Kiwis seem to have less confidence in the delivery which is actually charming. Naivety or small town vibe works. You have a lot more hot movie stars, far more attractive than ours. Cate Blanchett and Margot Robbie with their distinct features and talent for drama or comedy are priceless.

Jackie – What happened in NZ the last 5 to 10 years, probably thanks to our friend Taika Waititi, we moved to embrace the ridiculous nature we possess feeling proud to put unreservedous on screen.

Did you wear any of your own clothes or accessories in character?

Jackie – No but what I did do is ask if I pay $500 to Jane (head of costumes), can I keep anything that i want? That worked except a pair of really expensive earrings. Although I feel embarrassed while the film is coming out, people will stare at me thinking: I am the character, an emotional cynical horrible single woman in gym clothes with no kids.

Congratulations on the overwhelming applause at Sydney Film Festival. The film has since had mixed reviews, do you take notice of critics?

Madeleine – Our publicists only show us the good reviews (laughs), what have you written? What I say to any bad review is if you don’t like women or don’t like diversity, that’s totally up to you.

Madeleine – Warm reaction to the film so far, we hoped that people would like it and make audiences laugh. The film festival crowd was terrific, reviews may not be great but they are still good from what I know.

Jackie – You can’t make a movie for everyone, it won’t hurt us if a few dislike it. We set out for a female centric comedy culturally specific in NZ.

Will there be a sequel or TV series spin off planned?

Jackie –Maybe, it’s been talked about. Just got to work it all out if interest gains momentum. Nothing planned, just all talk so far.

Would you describe it simply a chick flick or appealing to guys too?

Madeleine – No way, it’s for dudes too of course. We have been delighted at how many men have remarked their enjoyment to the movie. Many men I have bumped into in their late 20s taking their mothers to see it, that’s cute.

Loved seeing Celia Pacquola, one of my favourite Australians.

Jackie – National treasure, she’s great. We enjoy working with her, playful and a good dramatic actor as well. We just told her, you really have to cry so we made her upset (laughs). She was so committed and gave herself to those moments.

Finally, Madeleine, your memories of being in Xena Warrior Princess.

I was in one of the final episodes, Lucy Lawless and I bonded and now are very good friends and if you didn’t blink, you would see her in the montage at the beginning. We actually could’ve made a whole scene out of Lucy’s footage alone. At the end she mentioned, it was the most creatively satisfying work I have done for ages.


Shane A. Bassett

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