Every few years, a tabloid story pops up about a teenager who didn’t know she was pregnant until she started giving birth. We never really hear about what happens next.
The new Australian series Bump, which premieres on Stan on New Year’s Day, explores this terrain, examining how two families cope.
Co-produced by and starring Claudia Karvan, the series reunites her with long-term collaborator John Edwards, who made Karvan’s much-loved series Love My Way and The Secret Life of Us.
But this time, there are some new faces are along for the ride, including creator and first time screenwriter Kelsey Munro, and emerging actors Nathalie Morris and Carlos Sanson, who play the teen parents.
With episodes directed by Geoff Bennett, Gracie Otto and Leticia Caceres, Morris delivers a star turn as pregnant teen Oly (Karvan plays her mum Angie). She sent her audition tape in from New Zealand.
“We didn’t have to see a second audition,” Karvan says. “She was living and breathing Oly the moment we saw her.”
When Morris heard she got the part, she tells the Hlcarpenter.com: I thought it was insane – because I hadn’t met them yet!”
Oly’s journey is at the heart of the show. When we meet her she is a nerdy teen with a nerdy boyfriend; she still turns to a stuffed toy for comfort, and is determined to do well in her exams. It’s as much a shock to the viewer as to Oly and her parents when she starts experiencing the early stages of labour in a school toilet cubicle.
“She’s a perfectionist, she’s an overachiever, she’s obsessive,” says Morris. “The character has all these little quirks that I haven’t seen on screen. When I was reading the script I was like, ‘Woah – the creators of the show have really picked up on the world of teenagers.’ She has a lot of layers and depths. But is also quite funny. I felt like I could be myself in this audition, that I may be right for it. It’s all the parts of me that I had hidden.”
Likewise, Karvan’s 45-year-old mum-turned-grandmother, Angie, is full of complexity and nuance.
“She’s done the hard yards as a parent and she can taste freedom – but then she gets dragged back into it,” Karvan says. “It’s not your choice when you become a grandmother. In life you just have to stand up when your name is called.”
Stan had been looking for a show with a female focus, and “we came along at a perfect time”, Karvan says. “After two years in development we had a bit of a dream run making it – but the biggest curveball was Covid.”
The last four episodes were brainstormed during lockdown, over Zoom – “I had butcher paper stuck all around the bedroom walls,” says Karvan – and the production, which filmed in Glebe, Sydney, had to work around Covid restrictions: actors were quarantined, social distancing was enforced, intimate scenes were rehearsed using masks and the cast and crew had to take regular Covid tests, with individual catering on set.
“We didn’t have one incident but we had real blindsides,” Karvan says. “This is a show about a newborn baby and usually you can get a newborn baby – but because of restrictions, the youngest baby we could get was three months old.”
Each episode of Bump is just 30 minutes long: a departure from the usual one hour slots allotted for dramas on free-to-air television. As a veteran of Australian drama, the short-form genre excited Karvan.
“We’ve never been able to pitch half hour shows [before streaming],” she says. “There’s the belief that you do half hours if you are a skit comedy show. It was a massive relief to stick to expedient story telling, to not having much fat. You’ve got to respect your audience, and you have to understand that you have so much competition for attention – you can’t waste people’s time.”
The show certainly doesn’t waste time, packing its episodes with a rich, complicated world of teens and their parents as they work their way through a real-life urban myth.
“I wanted to make a show full of humanity, an optimistic show, a show that shows human beings to be resilient – even though there is brutality,” says Karvan. “I also wanted to make a funny show.”