Meet the trailblazing NSW director Kate Dennis (The Handmaid’s Tale), who is taking the US by storm
In October 2017 Kate Dennis was honoured with the Create NSW Annette Kellerman Award with Vogue Australia, which honours trailblazing women in Hollywood, at the AiF Awards. We spoke with Kate about breaking into the US industry and how her work in Australia has helped shape her career.
How does it feel being only the second recipient of the Create NSW Annette Kellerman Award?
It was such a lovely surprise. When you’re over here in LA, working round the clock, it’s nice to be reminded of what matters. I’m very grateful to everyone in Australia who has supported me over the years. I’ve been so lucky to work with great producers like John Edwards, Imogen Banks, Fiona Eagger, Ian Collie and Amanda Higgs. The award is a lovely reminder of all that support.
You’ve had so many different roles in your career, leading up to direction, and you’re now one of the most sought out Australian directors working in the US. What do you feel has been the biggest challenge in getting to this point?
That’s a very hard thing to pinpoint! I think the greatest challenge was my move to the US. I’m very grateful to Tracey Robertson for paving the way with ABC Studios, and to Tim Busfield for all his support. Though Secrets and Lies laid the foundation for more work, working in the US has been a little like starting over. It’s such a big industry here, you have to prove yourself again and again. With the help of RGM and my agent and manager here, it’s been a full throttle uphill climb. But I’ve loved it! I think the biggest challenges in the US are really navigating the politics of show-making on a big scale, and also the managing the subtle cultural nuances - many of which don’t appear until you burrow down into the material.
You’ve recently worked as the set-up director of Harrow, Hoodlum’s 10-part crime drama commissioned by the ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International, which premieres here on March 9. Can you tell us a about working on that project?
I can tell you that it’s pretty hard to make a show that’s meant to compete in the US with an Australian-sized budget! It was a lot of fun to work with Tracey Robertson, Nathan Mayfield, Leigh McGrath and Stephen Irwin again. Ioan Gruffold was a delight.
Last year you were also nominated for a prime-time Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale episode ‘The Bridge’. Can you tell us how you came onto the project?
My agent at the time at William Morris Endevor (WME), Lisa Harrison, had been in talks with Warren Littlefield about me doing Fargo and I think the offer stemmed from those conversations. It was great timing all round – great timing for the show given the current political landscape, and great timing for me with where I was in my career.
To top it off you’re also shooting your first pilot, an untitled, character-driven medical drama for NBC. Is there anything you can share with us on this project?
Let’s see…it’s for NBC, written by David Schulner with Peter Horton executive producing. It’s based on the incredible biography of Dr Eric Manheimer - who came into Bellevue Hospital (the oldest hospital in the US) and turned it around. Part stubborn bully, part compassionate idealist who wants to save the world – it’s the journey of one man against the system. A very timely ode to what the healthcare system in the US could be, if enough people in power really cared.
Before you moved to the US you worked on many great Australian series. How did your training and experiences in the Australian industry help prepare you for directing on what is now one of the world’s biggest series?
I would not be where I am now if it wasn't for the incredible film-making community in Australia. I came up through feature films, clapper-loading then focus-pulling, then script-supervising. And I then moved into directing TV. The Australian industry is full of tenacious, highly creative and can-do people who are able to deliver great shows with a keen sense of humour without taking themselves too seriously. It’s refreshing!
The award, which is given to a pioneering role model for Australian women demonstrates and raises awareness around gender equity in the industry. With that in mind, what advice do you have for any female practitioners emerging in the industry?
Keep doing what you do, and don’t let anyone tell you, ‘you can’t!’ Follow your heart and believe that you have a unique voice. Because you do!