Suzie Flack has made it to the big league. She is the first female footballer to play professionally with the men. Written by Jane E Thompson and directed by Alice Darling, Fierce is an unapologetic look at Australian sporting culture, masculinity and gender bias in the sporting world.
Ellen Marning stars as Suzie and it’s given her the opportunity to delve into a character quite outside of her comfort zone.
EM: My initial thought was that this is a really interesting concept from Jane and I saw Suzie as a really intriguing female character. Her physicality is something that I was instantly drawn to as she is one of the most physical characters I have ever encountered. She is very brazen and bold which is something that is exciting for me as an actor to play. I am far more polite and far more people pleasing. She doesn’t have time for that kind of nonsense. Suzie is a lot clearer than I am in what she wants and how she hopes to get that. However, I enjoy being physical and moving and having that sense of being in your body so in that regard I do find parallels between us.
With such contrasts between actor and character, the rehearsal process and understanding of football culture has been an eye-opening experience for Marning.
EM: I’m from New South Wales so I’ve never encountered AFL before, so there was a lot of learning about how the game functions. The first game I went to was the opening match at the AFLW this year and I was there with a friend and I was yelling for the sake of it and I was whooping and it was thrilling to watch. There’s a whole history there that I never knew that goes back to the early 1900s where women played football while men went off to war and then being told they couldn’t play when the men returned. The history of how they fought to have a professional league for women is just so fascinating.
EM: But the rehearsal process has been looking at me as a performer and Suzie as a character and how as a 24 year old woman, I have to override all my go-to conditioned responses with what Suzie would do. That these things are instinctive to me as they are in Suzie because she is about filling every corner of herself and being prepared to fight. It’s been about tweaking my natural impulses to find that fighter mode. Alice and Jane have been great at spotting when these things happen, when you might deflect through sight or with a shoulder, because Suzie does not do any of that.
Playing a female athlete in a sporting culture that is dominated by men, Marning believes there is still a long way to go until women athletes are considered in the same high regard as their male counterparts.
EM: There are leaps to be had in terms of equality especially with regards to pay and facilities available to female athlete. I think you’re fighting a society that doesn’t want you to do it half the time. Being assertive, aggressive and muscular are not always met with approval when it’s a woman being those things, so there’s much more at stake with women in sport.
Marning has grown quite attached to Suzie and hopes that parts of her will continue to live on long after the final whistle blows during the Fierce season.
EM: It’s been great to embody Suzie because I feel strengthened and empowered by the work and this is not always the case. I hope people watching the show can see a different side to how female characters are depicted and how female athletes can be perceived and it will leave a sense of empowerment through that. There have been so many limitations placed on women athletes, and when you are told from a young age you are not capable of doing something then you never know what someone is capable of. Hopefully Fierce can help in removing that kind of thinking, and who knows what we’ll see.
Read more about Fierce here.