Claire van der Boom relishes the chance to play multiple nationalities, a handy skill for the Australian actress who impersonated a Greek girl in the WWII miniseries The Pacific, an uppity Pom in TV's Hawaii Five-0 and, in September, a tortured Los Angelino on Broadway in Sam Shepard's play Heartless.
In the past month she has auditioned for two US films, as a Russian and as a Ukrainian, and in Sydney last week she tested for the role of a German woman in an Aussie movie. Early next year she'll play a French character in the Australian WWI film The 34th Battalion.
“I love accents; they help to separate the character from yourself,” the NIDA graduate, who has been based in Los Angeles since the end of 2009, tells SBS Film. “There's so much access now on the internet to accent websites or to listen to people with accents on YouTube. And I always go to see a dialect coach to nut it out phonetically because I'm a perfectionist with that stuff. I'm terrified of someone who is French picking up that I'm not French.”
Ian Sparke, the executive producer of The 34th Battalion, cast Claire after working with her in The Pacific and Sisters of War. Sparke has written the screenplay about the Australian Army unit which fought fierce battles against the Germans in France with his son Luke Sparke, who will make his directing debut.
Claire will play a woman named Simone who meets four young Aussies from Maitland in rural NSW who joined the Army after the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. The ensemble cast includes another US-based Aussie actress, Emilie de Ravin (Lost, Once Upon a Time), Luke Hemsworth, Charles Mesure, Les Hill, Nick Farnell, Henry Nixon, Andrew Lees, Vince Colosimo, Ashley Zuckerman, Tony Bonner and Khan Chittenden.
Director Roland Joffé offered her a role in Singularity, an Australian-UK co-production that was to star Josh Hartnett, Bipasha Basu and Neve Campbell in a romance spanning two continents and three centuries. She was supposed to play a diver in the contemporary section of the film but dropped out, which may have been a blessing in disguise because the production company went into liquidation and the film was never completed. “There was not a lot of communication,” she says. “I had the role but they moved the second part of the filming to London and I don't know if they shot any of that.”
She did enjoy the audition when the director asked her to ignore the script and improvise, evidently to test her emotional responses.
Claire had a recurring role as the ex-wife of Scott Caan's character, Detective Danny 'Danno' Williams, in the first two seasons of Hawaii Five-0.
In Heartless, she replaced Julianne Nicholson in the Signature Theatre Co. production when the season was extended for two weeks. That was her second Broadway engagement after portraying a wild young woman from New York who's into Salinger, Kerouac and pot in David Rabe's 1960s-set play An Early History of Fire earlier this year.
“Theatre is so much freer than film and television,” she says. She spent a week with Shepard, observing, “He has a wild sense of humour about his own work. He gets a real kick about the kind of absurdism next to his name. People came out of the play trying to make sense of it in a much more linear way and he had this great smile on his face. One of his great inspirations is Beckett.”
The actress, who is represented by WME in the US and in Australia by United Management, has worked steadily since she left NIDA. “You can get nervous in the downtime,” she says. “I have learned to keep myself busy with other things. I still have a great drive but to do work that I am really inspired by. I have learned to say no to a lot of stuff but there are boundaries to what I am willing to do, keeping my integrity with levels of sex and violence and the quality of the people you work with.”
She had wanted to act ever since she was in year 8 and a teacher asked her to read a monologue from Nick Enright's musical play On the Wallaby, which was inspired by tales of homeless men who roamed Australia during the Great Depression.
While she enjoys living in Los Angeles, she tries to come back to Oz twice a year. As to whether she sees her long-term future in the US, she says, “I have no idea. My greatest joy would be to work in Australia but there are these wonderful opportunities over there, which become quite addictive.”