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Private Sydney: Molly's stars shine in the background

Samuel Johnson was not alone in facing the challenges of playing a big-name star in the upcoming Channel Seven miniseries Molly.

Although he did have a pretty good head start.

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Private Sydney: Samuel Johnson is Molly

In Seven's new mini-series Molly, a homage to pop music icon Molly Meldrum, local actors take on some of the biggest names in showbiz.

"My dad is an old drinking mate of Molly's, so you know, I've been able to observe him, his mannerisms and his character traits, for a couple of decades ... so yeah, being able to play him was not as daunting as it might have been because I have known him personally for so long," Johnson told PS over dinner on Tuesday.

In recent years Australian television networks have mined a rich seam of contemporary stories involving lesser-known actors taking on celebrity characters, from Sigrid Thornton channelling Judy Garland to Stephen Curry becoming Graham Kennedy.

Director Kevin Carlin with Samuel Johnson in character as Molly Meldrum on set of series Molly. Supplied

Director Kevin Carlin with Samuel Johnson in character as Molly Meldrum on the set of Molly.

Often they are not the lead roles or the actual subjects of the programs, but rather a chorus line of famous faces who become background characters to the central story being told, but because audiences know the characters so well, they are often the most challenging to portray.

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In Molly, among the "iconic" characters to make an appearance is superstar Madonna, a daunting task for any actor let alone Jacinta Stapleton, who is probably best known for playing Amy Greenwood in Neighbours, and more recently was Mercedes Corby in the Schapelle telemovie.

Molly director Kevin Carlin agreed Stapleton bore an "uncanny likeness" to the singer.

"But what really sold it was Jacinta's ability to nail her accent, mannerisms and speech patterns that are very particular. I actually asked Jacinta to do me a favour and come in and play one scene ... I had every confidence that she'd pull it off but still a courageous thing for her to do, as if she gets it wrong, Madonna fans – and there are one or two of them – would be queueing up to let her know. As it turns out, I suspect they'll be applauding."

Samuel Johnson with Molly Meldrum. Johnson plays Molly in mini series. Supplied

Samuel Johnson with Molly Meldrum. Johnson plays Molly in the mini series.

Carlin agrees the prospect of playing such "iconic figures" was a daunting one for actors, having cast virtual unknown Connor Crawford to play '70s heart throb John Paul Young, resplendent in long flowing locks.

"I think part of the actor's attack has to be to put aside public expectation, to try and not carry that weight and to concentrate on what it is particularly defining about that icon," Carlin told PS.

"Also, it comes to a question of impersonation versus characterisation and where the actor should pitch the performance. I think this comes down to the function of that icon."

In the case of Boy George, Carlin said what he actually needed was a specific lookalike, "as the function of the character was purely to underline the status of Countdown, an impersonation really. There was no dialogue, it relied totally on an authentic look, so my casting was done by the makeup designer who knew what she could create from a particular face."

Joe Cope and Kathy Luu playing John Lennon and Yoko Ono as seen in Molly miniseries. Photo: supplied

Joe Cope and Kathy Luu playing John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

However when it came to Freddie Mercury, "he had a performance to carry. Not only did he need the very specific look of Freddie, he also needed to capture Freddie's essence. Makeup's $1200 worth of false teeth helped, as too did costume but Lachlan Wood's ability to capture Freddie's essence, his movement, his confidence were the crucial elements."

One of the most difficult castings was John Lennon, until the day co producer Bethany Jones "saw a bloke in a bar that looked like John Lennon and asked if he could come in for a test. He did and we cast him ... and he nailed it."

Bauer magazine empire loses more gloss

Yvonne Bauer, chief executive of Bauer Media Group
IMAGE SUPPLIED BY ACP OCTOBER 2012

Yvonne Bauer, chief executive of Bauer Media.

It was once referred to as Sydney's Tower of Power when the late Kerry Packer walked the corridors of 54 Park Street, corralling his legions of glamazons and producing some of the finest, most ground-breaking and profitable women's magazines in the world.

But this week insiders at the once great magazine empire were describing a scene straight out of The Hunger Games. As one senior writer noted: "there are people sobbing in their cubicles, it's appalling".

In 2012 Germany's Bauer Media paid a whopping $525 million to James Packer to buy out the family's publishing empire, a sale which would see iconic mastheads such as Australian Women's Weekly, Woman's Day, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Cleo and Belle, all titles pioneered by Australians for Australians, fall into foreign hands under the leadership of billionaire Bauer heiress, Yvonne Bauer.

Rivals now estimate the Australian business could be worth around a quarter of what family-owned Bauer paid, while constant upheaval in senior management ranks and controversial moves, such as sourcing articles from German magazines and translating them into English before "dumping" them into Australian titles, has further eroded the publishing house's reputation with both advertisers and readers.

jim rice 09.02.2011
HELEN McCABE EDITOR AUST WOMANS WEEKLY. ACP MAGAZINES

AWW editor-in-chief Helen McCabe announced last week she was leaving the magazine after six-and-a-half years at the helm.

In the years that followed Bauer's buyout at Park Street, the German company which proudly espouses the credo "We Think Popular", began a campaign of shutting down magazines, with the likes of Madison, Women's Fitness, Grazia, Zoo Weekly, Bourke's Backyard, BBC Good Food and martial arts title UFC all being killed off.

On Wednesday the worst kept secret in Australian media was confirmed when Cleo magazine was unceremoniously axed after 44 years, resulting in yet more job losses and further damaging the Bauer Media brand in Australia, which just days before said rumours Cleo was folding were "pure speculation".

Bauer also announced this week that sister magazine Dolly had effectively been shrunk by half as it focuses on the digital world rather than magazines, further alienating the masthead from the millions of women who grew up reading it, while rumours persist its two biggest money earners, Woman's Day and the Australian Women's Weekly, will soon be merged, with one editor overseeing both titles and yet more job losses.

Last week AWW editor-in-chief Helen McCabe announced she was leaving the magazine after six-and-a-half years at the helm and with apparently no job to go. She was put on six months' "gardening leave" within days of the news coming out, while insiders told PS it was precipitated by "yet another meeting with management in which she found herself banging her head against the same walls she has been banging her head up against ever since Bauer first took over."

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31:  James Packer, Chairman Crown Resorts, is seen launching the second Reconciliation Action Plan at Crown Entertainment Complex on July 31, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. Reconciliation Australia has classified the RAP at an Elevate level recognising that Crown is working towards real change and reconciliation for indigenous Australians.  (Photo by Pat Scala/Fairfax Media) *** Local Caption *** James Packer

James Packer was paid $525 million for the family's publishing empire by Germany's Bauer Media. Photo: Pat Scala

PS's repeated calls to various management remain unanswered, including interim CEO Andreas Schoo, a former lawyer who is one of Yvonne Bauer's right-hand men in Hamburg who was dispatched to Sydney following previous CEO David Goodchild's sudden departure last December after just one year in the job. Goodchild followed Matthew Stanton, who quit Bauer after six years, a move which prompted Yvonne Bauer to issue a note to staff admitting it had been a "tumultuous few years" for the Australian operation.

"What an understatement," one of Bauer's Australian editors told PS at the time.

Old hack

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 31: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall attend the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Pool/Indigo/Getty Images)

Love's young dream: Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall. Photo: Indigo/Getty Images

Following Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall's surprise engagement last week, a rather delicious irony has been noted within British media circles.

Back in 2014, British journalist Nick Davies, the man who exposed the phone hacking saga that shook the Murdoch empire to its very core, aired claims in his book, Hack Attack, that Murdoch's The Sun was suspected of hacking Hall's phone around the time she broke up with Mick Jagger, the father of her four children.

In January 1999, The Sun ran a "world exclusive" under the headline "Jagger Divorce". According to Davies, a reporter on The Sun, whom he dubbed Sand in his book for legal reasons, had listened to the voicemail messages of one of Jagger's "team".

No doubt Rupert now has Jerry's number on speed dial.

Comedy culture

Cast of Here Come The Habibs, new sitcom on Channel Nine. L-R: Tyler De Nawi (as Elias), Michael Denkha (as Fou Fou), Camilla Ah Kin (as Mariam), Sam Alhaje (as Toufic) and Kat Hoyos (as Layla).

Culture shock: the cast of Here Come The Habibs. Photo: Nine Network

Channel Nine has been accused of everything from racism to supporting terrorism ever since it started screening promos for its new sitcom Here Come The Habibs, about a Lebanese family from Bankstown who win the lottery and move into Vaucluse.

"But you know what, the show is just about a family overcoming common obstacles. In the first episode it's about a dispute with a neighbour over a fence … they are universal themes which everyone can relate to," Nine head of drama Andy Ryan told PS.

Without giving too much away, the show does have its comedic moments and is intentionally confronting in a Fat Pizza sort of way, like the lamp stand being carried by a young Arabic man that is mistaken for a rocket launcher by their new eastern suburbs neighbours, or the horrendous Vaucluse snobs saluting the commodore at the local yacht club over Pimms and lemonade.

While the Habibs in-your-face gags lack the subtlety of SBS's excellently nuanced The Family Law, when it comes to turning multiculturalism into comic gold, both shows hold great hope.

Stress relief

Family Feud -  Grant Denyer

Grant Denyer

Bumps felt: Grant Denyer.

Late last year Grant Denyer's manager Titus Day told PS to "let it go" when he was approached for comment after the pint-sized quiz show host suggested a settlement had been reached with Woman's Day over those unseemly reports about Denyer and his wife's alleged $4,000-a-week methamphetamine habits, claims the couple denied following their stint in a Thai rehab clinic.

In fact, no settlement has been made nor have any lawsuits been launched by Denyer.

This week the Family Feud host revealed his new method to deal with "exhaustion", which was the reason he gave for his visit to rehab.

Denyer said: "Vanessa, my make-up artist, just likes to finish the show off and get rid of the negative energy and give me a head massage."

Whatever works for you, Grant.

Frosty reception

Photo of 2DAY FM's new breakfast team, Bachelorette Sam Frost and Australian comedian Rove McManus. Photographed Friday 30th October 2015. Photograph by James Brickwood, SMH NEWS 151030

Out in the cold: Sam Frost and Rove McManus. Photo: Supplied

A few questions have been raised around the corridors of Austereo's 2DayFM about recently installed breakfast duo Rove McManus and his The Bachelorette star sidekick Sam Frost.

Lately, listeners tuning into the show have heard the likes of Rove's associates Peter Helliar, Tom Ballard, Wil Anderson, Cal Wilson and Stephen Curry chattering away with Rove, eating up whatever air time was left for fledgling radio star Frost.

Rumours have also been flying that Rove's other great mate, Carrie Bickmoore, has also been asked to join the show, from a studio set in her Melbourne home and for some seriously big coin.