Top of the Lake: like mother, like daughter

Top of the Lake changes location for season two.

Top of the Lake changes location for season two.

After the international success of the crime drama Top Of The Lake, New Zealand director Jane Campion was always keen to do a second series.

But what made it extra special for her this time around in Top Of The Lake: China Girl (starting on UKTV on Tuesday, August 22), was the rare opportunity to work with her actress daughter Alice Englert.

The pair had combined on Campion's short film The Water Diary in 2006 when Englert was just 11 but their paths had not converged professionally again until now.

Alice Englert, left, and Jane Campion, right, with Top of the Lake castmates at the Cannes Festival earlier this year.
Neilson Barnard

Alice Englert, left, and Jane Campion, right, with Top of the Lake castmates at the Cannes Festival earlier this year.

Both mother and daughter are effusive in their praise of each other but Campion admits she chose to stand down from some scenes involving Englert and passed them on to her co-director Ariel Kleiman.

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Jane Campion arrives at the Sydney premiere of China Girl.
Mark Metcalfe/Getty

Jane Campion arrives at the Sydney premiere of China Girl.

"I did want to direct her (Englert)," admits Campion, "but I am first and foremost with her a mother and when she gets mad with me I get upset. You know directors and actors – there's a little bit of play going on there and I just can't see straight. I chose the episodes I wanted to do and he (Kleiman) did the rest."

Englert, who turned 23 last week, has her own take on why Campion decided to opt out of some scenes.

"I think she asked Ariel to direct most of the scenes where I have to wear less or be in difficult and complicated situations," laughs Englert.

"We worked quite a bit together in the more family realm of the story. It seems so strange to call it the 'family realm' of Top Of The Lake because it sounds safe. It sounds comforting and it isn't. It's complicated and scary."

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Top Of The Lake: China Girl, which received a standing ovation when it screened this year at the Cannes Film Festival, focuses on Detective Robin Griffin's investigation into the death of an Asian woman, whose body washes up on Sydney's Bondi Beach.

The six-part series, which follows on from the success of the first Top Of The Lake, set in central Otago, has attracted a star cast including Nicole Kidman, Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth in Game Of Thrones) and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid's Tale), who reprises her role as Robin Griffin.

Englert, who has featured in the films Beautiful Creatures and Ginger And Rosa, plays Robin Griffin's daughter, Mary, who was born after Robin was raped as a teenager.

"From that rape she had a baby which she gave up for adoption and I am that baby," states Englert.

Robin meets Mary again in Top Of The Lake: China Girl for the first time since the adoption. Mary, whose adoptive mother is played by Nicole Kidman, is involved in a relationship with an older man who owns a brothel.

Mary thinks the brothel owner is "the most noble and kind man she has ever met" but other people are not so sure.

"I think this is a very romantic season in a way," says Englert, "in more than just there are some great and complicated love stories. There's true romance of just human connection – between Mary and her mother and the fantasies that she has had of her. She (Mary) is in a very complicated relationship with a much older guy."

Despite being Jane Campion's daughter (her father is Australian film-maker Colin Englert, who divorced from Jane in 2001), Englert was just a regular part of the cast on the Top Of The Lake set.

"I think she (Campion) has done a great job of treating me as she treats the rest (of the cast)," says Englert. "She does challenge us and she does push us but she's very good.

"I feel very confident working with my mum because I always understood that part of her and I could always see the clarity that she has in that part of her life ...

"I always found that was something I could easily relate to and easily respect. It was easy to work with her because I want to do what she wants me to do because I trust her. She's great."

Campion clearly thinks Englert is pretty great as well.

"I tried to play to some of her strengths," admits Campion, "but she also had to meet the role. The character is a little bit younger than she is but I think Alice has the depth and experience to carry off a really difficult role."

Englert started acting professionally at the age of eight in the film Listen and has had a passion for the world of performance ever since. But Englert makes it clear she was never forced into the industry.

"I don't think there was any pressure on me to become an actress," she says. "In fact, there were warnings. I definitely think a lot of what has made me whatever kind of actress I am now has come from being in a family that was in film. I feel good about that and happy."

Liking the Lake look

This new season of Top Of The Lake was based at Sydney's Bondi Beach, which begs the question why still call the production Top Of The Lake when clearly there is now an ocean involved?

"It's just a brand really," explains director Campion. "The new name is China Girl with this story. I know it's a problem and don't quite know how to get around it."

Co-writer Gerard Lee chips in that despite the location, the name Top Of The Lake will remain a constant.

"It's a branding issue. If we do three Top Of The Lakes it could be even stranger," he laughs. "(How about) Back Of The Lake?"


 - Sunday Star Times

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