TV

On The Ropes packs a punch inside the ring, but for Nicole Chamoun, the real drama starts closer to home

“Boxing is the vehicle for this journey, but it’s really about family”

By Thomas Mitchell

Based on first impressions, you could be forgiven for thinking SBS' latest drama, On The Ropes, is a show about boxing. And on the surface, you'd be right.

All the ingredients are there: a talented fighter, a fearless trainer and a grizzled ex-champion. But there's more to this four-part series than jab, jab, hook.

"Boxing is the vehicle for this journey, but it's really about family," star Nicole Chamoun, 31, tells TV WEEK.

Nicole plays Amirah Al-Amir, an Iraqi-Australian female boxing trainer who wants to prove to her father Sami (Igal Naor) that she belongs.

Amirah grew up idolising her dad Sami.
Amirah grew up idolising her dad Sami.

Ironically, it's Sami, a former world champion, who inspired her to fall in love with the sport.

While her fight to be taken seriously as a woman in the blokey world of boxing is tough, it's Amirah's struggle with those closest to her that makes On The Ropes so relatable.

"Family is important to Amirah," Nicole explains. "They're outspoken and crazy and wild, but she loves them dearly.

"It's not about going against them or in spite of them, but she wants to be heard."

Amirah hopes to transform women's boxing.
Amirah hopes to transform women's boxing.

It's fair to say 2018 has been a bumper year for Nicole. She starred in Stan's Romper Stomper and also scored a TV WEEK Logie Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress for her role in another SBS drama, Safe Harbour.

Interestingly, these three projects all examine the idea of clans.

"I think I'm drawn to that idea of wanting more for your family and having the courage to take a risk," she says.

"She [Amirah] is a gutsy, ballsy, young woman who is passionate about the sport and won't be told she can't do it.

"There is a world of female boxers and boxing trainers and they're not given the credit they deserve. And they're working hard, so it's been amazing to play Amirah, especially the physicality of it."

The boxing trainer thinks Jess has lots of potential.
The boxing trainer thinks Jess has lots of potential.

Nicole maintains she was a boxing novice when production began.

"I'd never put gloves on before," she insists.

But watching the actress duck and weave in the ring, she appears to be a born pugilist.

"I worked my butt off," Nicole says of training five days a week with top-level boxers to get into match shape.

"Plus, our director, Shannon [Murphy], wanted it to look authentic. So we had boxers on hand to ask about the physicality, dialogue, technical aspects."

Stepping into the role of Amirah's budding champ Jess O'Connor is Keisha Castle-Hughes, whom Nicole describes as "amazing and super-generous".

Keisha Castle-Hughes stars as Jess O'Connor.
Keisha Castle-Hughes stars as Jess O'Connor.

"We've actually kind of found our groove," Nicole says of her co-star.

"Amirah sees a lot of herself in Jess. They're similar in that Jess won't be told no – she's a fighter."

Again, Nicole points out there's more to On The Ropes than simply being a show about boxing.

"Young women can watch this and see themselves in these girls," she says. "It gives women the courage to fight, to stand up."

Now that's a knockout combination.

On The Ropes airs Wednesday, 8.35pm, on SBS.

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