This document is part of the Ocean Girl Archive — Last update: 2009-01-03 — sourcemeta

Source: 1, 2, The Age, Green Guide, p. 10
Author:Mark Lawrence

Poise not power, secret to Ocean Girl role

When producer Jonathan Shiff began looking for the actor to play the lead role in his new children’s series Ocean Girl (preview page 2) he knew he was looking for someone with elusive qualities.

He admits that at first he was looking for the wrong thing: because the role was physically demanding he had been looking for a good swimmer, or athlete.

“Very quickly it became obvious that they could not necessarily act well; so we began looking for the best actress. Second, we were looking for movement, almost an ethereal presence. She had to be a little different to the average young girl,” Shiff says.

“So it’s no surprise that we eventually came back to a ballerina like Marzena; they all have that natural charm, poise and a presence, as well as physical skill, plus an ability to work hard.”

Polish-born Marzena Godecki, now 15, was selected from more than 500 applicants. At the time she was learning modern dance and ballet and needed every ounce of the skills already learnt for her role as Neri, a beautiful, young and mysterious child living alone on a Barrier Reef island with a 40-tonne humpback whale as her only companion.

Shiff explains. “Marzena had to be dive-trained. She had to learn to buddy-breathe, breathe on one scuba-tank, cross frame while she was filmed, then go to another diver and take another breath and cross frame again and go back to the first guy.”

Serenity was another quality Shiff looked for because, as beautiful as the reef scenes appear, there was real danger involved. “She had to be calm,” said Shiff. “Being in open water – there are real fish, real sharks and it’s quite deep. She needed to be prepared for someone to say ’righto, we’re now going over the side of the boat; there’s going to be three cameras down there; this is the shot we require.

You’re going to be required to act; to swim, focus and not to distracted by the other people down there and the fact that there might be something hovering in the background like a manta ray passing by.”

The result is a beautiful performance by Godecki and, indeed, the entire young cast, in turn supported ably by the adult talents of Kerry Armstrong, William McInnes and Alex Pinder.

Shiff says that his main priority with Ocean Girl always was to produce a “successful, accepted children’s series” rather than push a particular message.

“Neri is an allegory for being in touch with nature, pushed to the extreme. Here are the people of the underwater city who can only put their nose against the glass, and look at Neri with her hair swaying in the current, while she peers from behind a rock looking in, wondering what’s it like in there.”

Ocean Girl premieres on Channel 10 at 4.30pm Monday.