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EXCLUSIVE: Claudia Karvan reveals how COVID affected her career and gets candid on her emotional reaction to new book venture

''It was intense.''

By Helen Vnuk
Claudia Karvan has starred in some of Australia's favourite dramas. But making a documentary about Australia's favourite novels turned out to be a very different experience.
Claudia flew around the country to interview authors, but with just a small team, it meant she had to do her own hair and make-up.
"Can't you tell? I can!" she asks TV WEEK, laughing. "I was like, 'Wow, I really did not miss my calling as a hair and make-up person!'"
Another challenge for Claudia was working without a script.
"That was the biggest shock," she says. "It was intense."
In Books That Made Us, Claudia shares her personal reactions to novels. (Image: ABC)
Despite that, Claudia says working on the three-part documentary Books That Made Us was "a joy". Before filming began, she read 25 Australian novels she hadn't read before and revisited another 17.
Growing up, the actress was a "voracious" reader. But that changed when she became a stepmother at 22 to Holiday, her partner Jeremy Sparks' daughter, and then mum to her own kids, Audrey and Albee.
"Having young kids, you just don't have the time," she says. "Your life is divided between work and raising young children."
But Claudia, 49, never stopped reading completely. For example, she says her relationship with her mum Gabrielle "pivots almost entirely around books".
"Even this morning I was texting her about a particular author – not an Australian author – who she despises, and I finally read one of her short stories. Like, 'I agree, Mum. I didn't like it either!'"
In Books That Made Us, Claudia shares her personal reactions to novels. She tells Christos Tsiolkas she threw his 2008 best-seller The Slap across the room and didn't pick it up again.
"It was when the young girl started lying about the sexual abuse," she explains. "That was years ago, before Brittany Higgins and the whole #metoo movement. But for me, I found it really triggering to have to invest in a girl who was lying about being abused."
Claudia has a strong reaction of a different kind when she starts reading out loud from Craig Silvey's 2020 book Honeybee.
It's a passage about a trans teenager contemplating jumping from an overpass, and she has to stop reading because she's crying.
"It's always embarrassing to lose it in front of people," she admits. "I wasn't expecting that to happen during the show, to be honest."
"Your life is divided between work and raising young children." (Image: ABC)
As for the 1950s comedy novel They're A Weird Mob, that inspires Claudia to tell the story of her stepfather's father, Greek immigrant George Karvouniares. George changed his surname to Karvan after suffering xenophobic attacks, including children throwing bricks through his windows.
"I think we can all do better in welcoming people who want to start new lives," she says.
Books That Made Us also sees Claudia revisiting Puberty Blues, the 1979 surfie saga made into a TV series in which she starred.
There was a rumour circulating earlier this year that the series would return. Claudia heard the rumour too.
"I loved Mrs Vickers," Claudia says of the Puberty Blues character. "I'd play Mrs Vickers any day!" (Image: TV WEEK)
"I loved Mrs Vickers," she says. "I'd play Mrs Vickers any day!"
For now, Claudia's focus is on Bump, the series she co-created and stars in. She's developing storylines for the third season – "we're in the middle of that now" – while finishing work on the second.
That season was shot in Sydney during the recent COVID outbreak, which she says "played a lot of havoc" with the schedule.
"Every day was a bit of a miracle," she says. "I think we only lost one day due to someone being a close contact. But we're editing all the episodes now and there's no sign of a pandemic on screen, which is the last thing we'd want to be reminding people of."
For now, Claudia's focus is on Bump, the series she co-created and stars in. (Image: Getty)
Now that Sydney's lockdown has come to an end, Claudia is relishing getting out and about.
I went out to four restaurants in the first week and saw two movies in one day," she says. "It's pretty lovely."
And, even though her work on the documentary is done, she's still picking up books all the time.
"I'm back in the habit of reading."

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