Aussie actor’s great European escape from COVID lockdown
A dream job in Europe almost turned into a coronavirus nightmare for Australian actor Belinda Bromilow.
The Perth native, well known for her role as quirky nurse Betty in Channel 9's Doctor Doctor, finished filming for Stan's new period dramedy The Great just in time to leave Italy before coronavirus cases exploded in the country.
With her husband, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tony McNamara, executive producing the series and penning eight of the 10 episodes and her children in tow, it was a family affair. Their two sons, aged four and six, always travel with them as their studies through a Steiner school can be completed remotely.
"It was really lucky we managed to get everything done before the world stopped," she says.
"We were not aware of it when we were filming in Naples. Life was normal and then by the time we got on the plane two days later from Rome we were aware of things happening. We were temperature tested at the Rome airport and when we got back to the UK one of my kids had this terrible fever and breathing difficulties. As it turned out was just a bit of asthma, but we ended up at hospital with my eldest boy. We had to visit the coronavirus pod because of where we'd been in Italy.
"In the end it wasn't COVID-19 but it was a bit freaky."
The Great is a satire loosely based on the rise of Catherine The Great from outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia's history.
Elle Fanning plays Catherine, an idealistic young girl who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to the mercurial Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult).
"If you're watching the show for a biopic of Catherine The Great then this is probably not the show for you," Belinda says.
"If you want a show about people and the way we relate to each other and the things we struggle with and strive for, and you want it to be funny and surprising then I reckon you're in for a treat.
"The focus really is on the tone rather than any adhering to any historical accuracy … it's really refreshing, dark and very irreverent."
Belinda plays Aunt Elizabeth, the great Aunt to Peter who is more like his mother figure.
"She's really eccentric, which is territory I love playing in. You're less hemmed in by ideas of right and wrong and what's appropriate. She breaks a lot of rules in that way," she says.
"She's very happy in her place in the royal family. While she has some quite liberal ideas about the arts and education, perhaps a little selfishly she doesn't want that to compromise her life. She wants to live in the manner to which she is accustomed.
"She has some quite surprising contradictions in her character, and as an actor you can really sink your teeth into those contradictions and play around with how knowing and conniving she is and yet how oblivious and naive she is."
As her first foray into period drama, The Great's first episode was a painful lesson in the fashions of the day.
"In the pilot I couldn't really breathe," she says.
"When we got into filming the rest of the series, I had a chat with the costume designer about the fact that I was in agony and I couldn't maintain that for another nine episodes. I need to be able to breathe and eat, so we changed the design of the boning and loosened the corset.
"My character wears britches, or pants, in some of the scenes and that felt very decadent. I ate big lunches those days."
Belinda can also be seen in the fourth season of Doctor Doctor, streaming on 9 Now.
One episode features her character Betty trying to offer some words of wisdom to badly behaving doctor Hugh Knight (Rodger Corser) while he's handcuffed to a bed.
"That was great fun to film actually. I've always wanted to get Rodger handcuffed to a bed (laughs)," she says.
"Sky's the limit with Betty; her backstory is very colourful.
"One of the funniest things about the scripts that come through is Betty will make some casual reference to this extraordinary past life of hers. She's been married four times - to women and men - and owned some kind of club in Shanghai. She's travelled the world doing all sorts of insane things."
The country drama has already been renewed for a fifth season.
"Everyone hopes Betty find some kind of lasting romantic relationship, but having said that I think she's pretty happy in her own company."
The Great premieres on Stan today.