This deftly choreographed encounter was accomplished on a production where Freeman worried that the fact that she had to wear a mask due to COVID-19 safety requirements meant that her ability to communicate with her cast might be impaired. Torv, who regards The Newsreader as one of the most satisfying experiences of her career, says, “What Michael [Lucas] wrote is what we shot, but there were lots of nuanced bits in between and it felt as though it was evolving as we were shooting it.”
Actors talk about Freeman as a director who arrives each day thoroughly prepared, knowing exactly what she wants, but also open to discussion. It would be easy to miss her on set: youthful, softly spoken and unassuming, she looks like an assistant who might be sent on the coffee run. “All directors are prepared, but Emma is meticulous in the amount of homework that she does,” says Glitch star Patrick Brammall. “And you’d think that it’s all been shot in her head, so there’s no room for collaboration, which is far from the case: she loves collaborating.”
Brammall and Freeman had worked together on Last Man Standing, The Alice, Offspring and Hawke, but he moved from a supporting actor to a lead with Glitch (2015), the drama on which Freeman shifted from being an episodic director to overseeing an entire season. He says that he was keen to sign on “as soon as I heard that Emma was on board. I knew she was a master at drawing out the messy human-ness of things and that was key for that show. I thought that it was the perfect time for her and for me: we were both stepping up to the next level.”
Before that, though, there were indications of her talent and dedication. The Victorian College of the Arts graduate became the first woman to win Sydney’s Tropfest short film competition in 2002 with Lamb. As a young director, she worked for producer John Edwards on Secret Life of Us and Love My Way. When it came to employing her again for the police drama Rush (2008), he marvelled at her commitment. “Melbourne was meant to be a character in Rush,” he says, adding that, in preparation for her episodes, “Emma went out at night with a torch, up storm-water drains, down canals”, to research locations.
In Australia, we tend to celebrate the achievements of actors. Freeman is a behind-the-scenes star working on home turf who deserves our attention and admiration.
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