Sea Patrol: articles

Saskia Burmeister

Saskia Burmeister is determined to steer her own career.

Full steam ahead

Debi Enker meets a dedicated and determined actor with her eye on the horizon, in more ways than one.

The brisk navigator on the fictional HMAS Hammersley, Lieutenant Nikki Caetano, takes her coffee strong and sweet. She downs a caffeine-and-sugar hit that's "four clicks coffee, four clicks sugar" and "guaranteed to keep the dead awake". The fuel keeps her pumped and alert, which is exactly what the ambitious young naval officer played by Saskia Burmeister in Nine's series Sea Patrol aims to be.

As a navigator, she's focused, keen-eyed and disciplined. As a young woman, her eye is wandering with interest towards her colleague on the ship, leading seaman Josh "ET" Holliday (David Lyons). For Burmeister, the divergent desires driving the character were an instant appeal the first time she read the script.

"One of the things that really attracted me to Nikki was the fact that she's young but she's also incredibly driven and there's this beautiful tug-of-war between these two aspects of her character," says Burmeister.

"She wants to be a really professional navigator and she wants to be the best officer that she can be. But, on the flip side, she's also falling in love for the first time, and there's no fraternisation aboard these boats, so it creates this really wonderful chemistry between these two characters in the very tiny hallways. That was what drew me to her, a real conflict in her character."

Burmeister also notes a rebellious streak in "Nav", something she believes sets her apart from the other senior female officer on the ship, the "XO", played by Lisa McCune.

"Nav's incredibly professional, she works hard and she wants to impress her captain (Ian Stenlake). But she has a bit of a rebellious side. Whereas the XO is very much by the book, everything is regulation, Nav will push the boundaries a bit."

Shooting the series, says Burmeister, 22, was "the most method acting experience of my life" and through it she learned a lot about the rules and regulations governing her character's working life.

"We had three weeks' rehearsal boot camp, where we learned everything about the navy; then we had two months out on the ocean, on the patrol boat, right before Christmas. It was an amazing time, out on the Great Barrier Reef, followed by a couple of months on the Gold Coast in a studio.

"We needed to understand what we were saying in order to play it and that's why I think this series is so different from other drama series: because of the attention to detail. We all addressed each other in our character names for six months. With co-operation and support from the navy, we worked so hard every day to make sure that everything we were doing was real. Every button that I pushed was the right button. The navigational jargon was right. It was challenging to need to be so on the money with it, but when you walk away at the end of the day and you know there's been such attention to detail, it's very rewarding."

At the show's launch in Sydney late in June, Burmeister was hoping for news that Sea Patrol would go into a second series. The buoyant ratings since its debut would have been a boost both for the embattled Nine Network and for a cast and crew hoping for more work, and a second series has now been commissioned. But beyond another stint as Nav, Burmeister is plotting a personal course that includes pursuing prospects in the US, developing new projects and planning her wedding early next year to actor Jamie Croft.

"It's one of those sappy, sappy stories," she says with a shy smile. "We met on my first feature film (The Pact) when I was 16. We played boyfriend and girlfriend, had our first screen kiss together."

Now, the pair share a production company, Chalk Dust Productions, and have conceived an idea for a short film they hope to make.

Burmeister recalls that the acting bug bit her early. "I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was five, watching Meryl Streep in The River Wild. My father is a photographer and my mother is a producer, and my father's photographic studio is in our house. As a little girl, I would wake up in the morning and there would be models and clients and make-up artists and art directors around. So I was introduced to that world - to me it was all performing - really young."

By the time she was 10, she had requested an agent so that she could start doing commercials and, by 19, won viewers' hearts with her performance as the smart and frequently sulky Erica Yurken, the spirited heroine of Hating Alison Ashley. Since then, she has appeared as a modest young orthodox Jewish woman in Tony Krawitz's acclaimed short film Jewboy and played a Russian prostitute in the forthcoming feature The Jammed.

For now, the course she is plotting for herself includes "lots more travelling", wedded bliss and casting around for the right roles. "I went over to Los Angeles and set up a few meetings there. I'm trying to find the right job because I like my work to be as diverse as it can be and I don't want to be doing the same thing over again, whether it's film, television or theatre. I'm trying to find the right thing for me at the moment."

But whatever the future holds, it seems that more time poring over maps and charting the courses will also be on the radar. Production on Sea Patrol 2 is scheduled to start in October at Mission Beach, Cairns and the Gold Coast, on a new Armidale-class sea patrol boat.

By Debi Enker
August 9, 2007
The Age