Nicole Chamoun has had a dream run in 2018. Her year started with Romper Stomper, the TV series based off the controversial film, but she also had a show-stealing performance in SBS drama Safe Harbour and is now wrapping up the year as the lead in the compelling and full-of-heart boxing drama On The Ropes. That's three high-profile dramas in one year.
Chamoun is one of the two leads of On The Ropes. Alongside Keisha Castle-Hughes, Chamoun stars as boxing trainer Amirah - a woman trying to make a name for herself as a trainer in a male-dominated sport who is also in the shadow of her father Sami (played by the great character actor Igal Naor).
After an intensive morning of shooting on location in the western suburbs of Sydney, Nicole spoke with SBS about filming the show. We started our conversation talking about acting in the presence of Aussie screen icon Jack Thompson...
Chamoun: I spend half the time just beaming at him. I’m told “Okay Nicole, enough with the smiles”. I’m like “It’s Jack Thompson”.
SBS: You’ve met a number of major names at this point...
I’ve been lucky to work with David Wenham, Lachie Hulme… some incredible actors. Jack Thompson is a magic unicorn.
SBS: What was it about this show that made you know it was the show you wanted to work on.
It’s Amirah having such a strong and clear voice. A voice that I hadn’t heard before. A voice that I really wanted to speak. That was the thing for me that drew me to this project.
SBS: Are you much of a boxing person?
I am now.
SBS: Did you know anything about boxing before you got involved?
Zero. I didn’t know anything before, but I threw myself in early on from before the audition stage. I didn’t want to cheat anything. I self-taped, so I made sure I did some work prior to that. The world of boxing is so interesting. It’s a performance - there’s so much drama in boxing that it lends itself to filmmaking.
SBS: Do you think your interest in boxing will extend beyond the making of the show?
I’ll be boxing for life. I won’t be competing or anything like that. [laughs]. But I certainly will keep it up as far as fitness goes. It’s such a great escape to let out steam and punch something. It feels really good.
SBS: You’re playing a trainer on the show. Thinking about trainers in movies, it’s usually an older, grizzled guy. One doesn’t immediately think of a young woman doing it.
NIC: The thing that shapes it from the beginning is the truth behind it. Just because it hasn’t been portrayed on screen doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Female boxers and female boxing trainers are out there… It’s funny, because these are some of the issues that my character gets her back up about, so when they’re discussed in interviews, I am quick to defend.
I went to Google and started my research. I found some incredible trainers and boxers. Lucia Rijker is probably the most famous of them. She was the opponent in Million Dollar Baby, so that’s how people would know her. The world is there and I was fortunate enough to work with an incredible female boxing trainer. I met some amazing pro-fighter boxing females. The world is there and it’s alive and rich.
SBS: How early into the process did you learn how to box and how important is it for you to look like you're at the top of your game in the same way that Keisha needs to as the boxer on the show? Is there a difference?
It’s a choice that we made. She’s young and she’s energetic and vivacious. So, physically, it was really important for me to get in shape. Not in fighting shape, but as close to it as I possibly could. I was training for five days a week boxing, and five days a week weight training, eating right, and doing all the right things. And yes to get into physical shape, but so much of the physicality shapes who this character is. And so by doing the exercise and the boxing training, I found so many elements to Amirah and to the world. That’s where I met the women and the men - just hanging out in the gym, and smelling the gym. All of that stuff, the world is so rich. It went hand in hand.
SBS: A number of shows recently from across the globe have been vocal in wanting to explore ideas of ethnicity and culture. This show doesn’t seem like it is overtly tackling that, but it is an undercurrent theme woven into the texture of the series. Was the shows more subtle approach a deciding factor to wanting to get involved?
SBS is at the forefront of bringing interesting, diverse stories to the screen. Yes, this family is of Iraqi cultural background and are Muslim, but that’s not the thing we are focused on. It colours the characters and the world, but it’s certainly not the focus. For me, it’s all about story, and the writing, and the characters, and telling an interesting story. It needs to come from that place.
SBS: So, it’s very much story first, cultural thematics later.
It’s important to see those faces on our screens, absolutely. And SBS does that really well, but the story has to be strong. That has to be what’s driving it.
SBS: Obviously, we saw you crying up a storm in the last SBS production...
SBS: It was a very emotional role. What was the general reaction from people?
It’s been really positive and, I think, thought-provoking, which is important to me. I’m really proud of that project and feel really fortunate to have worked with Glendyn (series director Glendyn Ivin) and such an amazing cast and crew. That character will live in me forever. It was heartbreaking and I’m glad it has come through and people connected with it.
SBS: In the past year you were in Safe Harbour, On The Ropes, and Romper Stomper. These are heavy roles - are you desperate to do a romcom at this stage?
Nope! Bring it! The fun is in the drama...
It’s all about good storytelling. If it’s comedy, I’ll do it. If it’s drama, I’ll do it.
On The Ropes airs every Wednesday night at 9:30pm on SBS. Episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand.
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