Career

Danielle Cormack and Claire Chitham on why working together on Fresh Eggs was a moment to cherish

''Not only do I get to share the process with an actress I love, but also a friend who inspires me,'' Claire says of her longtime friend Danielle.

By Sebastian van der Zwan
When Woman's Day visits Claire Chitham and Danielle Cormack on the rural Auckland set of their new comedy series Fresh Eggs, it's a rare day off from filming after a gruelling 10-week shoot and they're literally leaning on each other for support.
"Hey, you're giving me a wedgie right in my camel toe!" cries Danielle as Claire pulls her to stop her sinking into the mud while they pose for photos in glamorous outfits not exactly designed for a day on the farm. Claire was on the Kumeu set until 10pm the night before, filming scenes that involve
her running through the nearby woods dressed only in red lingerie.
"I hope I don't look like I belong in an '80s porno video," she quips. "I felt like a giant walking icicle and was hideously uncomfortable on many levels, but fortunately, unlike Outrageous Fortune, I haven't had to do many sex scenes."
Danielle, meanwhile, had stayed up until the early hours watching RuPaul's Drag Race after flying in from her Sydney home.
She grins, "I dedicate all my waking hours to that show and my brain is filled with so many drag queens right now, which is why I sound so crazy. I'd love to do drag someday, but my huge ambition is to be a judge on Drag Race. I need RuPaul to discover Wentworth. Ru, if you're reading this, call me!"
Though they both became household names starring on Shortland Street in the '90s and have been friends for almost as long, Claire, 40, and Danielle, 48, haven't actually worked together until Fresh Eggs.
"It feels super-special," admits Claire. "For so long, we've been talking about little projects we could do to try to make it happen, so for this to come along and for her to say yes at the same time I got my role was pretty fortuitous.
"I started on Shorty when I was 16, and Danielle and Robyn Malcolm were the actresses I looked up to the most," Claire continues. "I thought if I could emulate even half of a career like theirs, I'd be a happy lady.
I must've met Dan a few years later, but it wasn't until I left Outrageous and moved to Sydney that we ended up spending a lot of time together.
"When someone you admire as a colleague becomes a friend, it's a really important relationship. We taped auditions and practised American accents in her apartment. Dani was a support system and has mentored me in very beautiful ways, even outside of acting."
In fact, the pair had become so close that in 2012, when Danielle – mum to Ethan, 23, and Te Ahi Ka, eight – relocated to Melbourne to star in the hit prison drama Wentworth, Claire moved in with her as a nanny for her youngest son.
Danielle recalls, "It was great because there are only so many hours in the day, so I consciously choose to be around people who are grounded in authenticity, and there's just no bulls**t with Claire.
"She's honest and will call me on the things I need to be called on. A good friend isn't someone who agrees with everything you say – it's someone who will listen but also be a good guide.
"Claire and I can be there for each other in terms of our personal lives. I cherish our friendship deeply. It's a real gift when people can be vulnerable and let you take care of them, and they can return the favour as well. Claire's the kind of person I can call when I'm feeling a bit kicked in the guts. She's a wise woman. I feel safe in her arms."
When they're not working, the two women love going for bush walks and hitting the beach together. "We dissect the world, and analyse life, love, movies, boys and family," tells Danielle.
There hasn't been much downtime for nutting out the planet's problems in the great outdoors during this particular shoot, but Claire says filming the new TVNZ 2 show with such a good mate "has enriched the entire experience tenfold".
She explains, "Not only do I get to share the process with an actress I love, but also a friend who inspires me. Dan never rests on her laurels. She's always trying to push the boundaries, and make something better, more unique and more interesting."
For Danielle, the chance to film back in New Zealand was an added bonus. "I hadn't worked here for five or six years, so I was really keen," she says.
"It's great to be home with friends and family, but also it's the ingenuity and number-eight-wire attitude that Kiwis bring to pull these massive productions together which I've always admired."
Cohen and Claire as optimistic couple Wade and Penny.
However, the thing that really attracted Danielle to Fresh Eggs was the scripts. "The tone was unlike anything I'd ever come across," she explains. "It's laugh-out-loud funny, but also incredibly dark and I like that black comedy. I haven't been involved with that on screen before – only in my private life!"
Claire plays girl-next-door Penny, a big-city book editor whose world turns upside-down when she and husband Wade, played by Cohen Holloway, relocate to a small town.
The actress tells, "Penny's a nice, average, middle-class every woman who is pushed on to a rollercoaster ride she didn't expect. By the end of it, she's even braver, bolder and bolshier than I am."
Danielle, meanwhile, plays career criminal and resident psychopath Lulu.
Danielle in character as Lulu.
She grins, "Lulu is an horrific monster and a fantastic villain, which is very exciting for me to play. It's 50 shades of rage! She's damaged, angry, racist, sexist and everything I despise in a human. Do I agree with how she behaves? Hell, no. But have I had fun playing it? Hell, yes! Hopefully, people will love to hate her."
But while it's been enjoyable playing Lulu, getting the look hasn't been quite so fun, with Danielle forced to sport long, blonde hair extensions, lengthy acrylic nails and "a really bad fake tan".
She sighs, "The weight of my head has increased threefold and these talons have caused me lots of trouble – opening car doors, going to the gym, going to the toilet … Need I say more?
"I was in a yoga class the other day when one of my nails pinged off my hand and went flying on to my neighbour's mat. She looked at me aghast with my mince-and-cheese dye job – dark underneath and blonde on top. It's a lot of maintenance that I couldn't be bothered with. I'm trying to eliminate obstacles in my life, not create more!"
Meanwhile, Claire's been learning how to fire rifles and dealing with a lot of fake blood on set. "That's actually been the highlight of the whole thing for me," she smiles. "I got to shoot someone in the head and then I was skating about in the blood in my gumboots.
"I'm not sure what it says about us, but Danielle and I have spent a lot of time analysing how to kill someone and get away with it on this shoot. By the end of it, we will successfully be able to commit murder and dispose of a body. If that's not the sign of a true friendship, I don't know what is!"

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