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alison whyte

Foxtel aims to satisfy

It was not just the simulated sex nor the frequent nudity that Alison Whyte found confronting in her role as a prostitute for the new Australian drama Satisfaction.

But in the research phase of the gig, Alison had to visit an elite Melbourne brothel with the rest of the cast to discover what actually goes on in a world that remains a mystery to many.

She also had to read transcripts of interviews between prostitutes and psychiatrists.

"It was great to sit down and speak with people who work in that industry and it's quite fascinating, but I found it very confronting seeing what people get up to," Whyte says.

"But also my character's journey is really about her going into it. So it was a journey that you see and to a certain extent it's the same for me as a performer.

"It was the first time I'd taken my clothes off for the camera and simulated sex with other actors, so in a sense it wasn't a huge acting job. I was going through it in a sense."

Whyte, a mother of two, plays a mother of two who worked in a lingerie shop until she met a sex worker. Then she enters the world's oldest profession by a gradual process, working in a high-class brothel, first as a receptionist, not as a prostitute.

This is until a day when a young man arrives at the counter and she asks what sort of woman he would like. "Someone like you," he sheepishly answers.

She becomes one of five high-class prostitutes featured in the show which will be the flagship Australian drama on Showcase, a new Foxtel channel promising a host of cutting-edge dramas.

It will be dubbed controversial, because of its sex and violence. It does, after all, depict the lives of working prostitutes.

But it also shows the lives of five escorts outside their mysterious world, as they struggle with family lives and relationships.

Whyte insists she struggled more to make what will be her most controversial scenes than viewers will watching them.

"I'd never done that sort of thing before and frankly, I'm not in my 20s ... and I've had a couple of children," she says.

"So it has been very confronting. But it's a fascinating world. The show doesn't glorify the industry or condemn it, it just tells stories about this group of women."

Whyte says a lot of the stories are told with humour, which she says is reflective of how the sex workers deal with many issues.

"It makes no secret that this a tough profession and being part of it comes at a cost," she says.

NIDA graduate Bojana Novakovic, the youngest prostitute at the dark but elaborate gentleman's club featured in the show, treated the process in contrast to Whyte.

She disrobed at her first opportunity as a means to break the ice with castmates, who also include Diana Glenn, Peta Sergeant and Madeleine West, all renowned for their work on a number of successful Australian dramas.

"It's going to be controversial because it's about a subject that people don't talk about," says Novakovic.

"That's fine, if it's controversial that means people will be curious and watch the show. But it's in no way controversial for controversy's sake."

Novakovic said while nudity wasn't an issue during the shooting of the show, there were surprising challenges when it came to filming the show's sexual content.

"I'm European, it doesn't matter, any excuse really," she says, giggling.

"I took my clothes off on the first day. We were in the green room with all the girls and I just thought let's get this over and done with straight away.

"The most challenging scene was when there was this guy who just wanted a hug, it was hard to work out how to do it without looking weird. Also showing intimacy without kissing, that's awkward."

Novakovic says, once the topic of nudity has been well and truly exhausted, that Satisfaction, at its core, is a character drama.

"The girls themselves are very interesting," Novakovic says.

"If the show becomes known for the nudity that would be a real shame, this is real drama. Extremely realistic."

And how would she know?

She relied not only on notes supplied by Satisfaction's writers, but on her own personal curiosity, taking her boyfriend along to a brothel separate from the cast, so she could ask questions anonymously.

"I think he was a bit freaked out, but I found them so incredible," she says.

She doesn't just mean the workers but their clients.

"They're there to be anonymous," she says of the clients. "Of course, they're there to get a root, but sometimes there are other reasons. Just to be close to someone, or because they've got a fetish they don't feel comfortable fulfilling anywhere else, or they want to feel power, or disempowered.

"Basically, they have an urge that needs to be satisfied and anywhere else it'd be frowned upon. But what's freaky is how normal they all look."

Novakovic says, like anything, there are positive and negative aspects to consider.

"To these women, the high-class sort of prostitute, street walkers are like what drug dealers are to the pharmaceutical industry," she says.

"It's been proven that it's safer to go to a licensed brothel, where the girls get routine check-ups, than it is to pick up someone at a club and have sex with them."

October 30, 2007