Bali 2002 – Interview with Claudia Jessie

Four part Australian drama Bali 2002 is now streaming on ITVX. The series is an uplifting drama that delves into the emotional story of how ordinary people from Bali, Australia, and beyond overcame incredible obstacles to restore calm and hope after the terrorist attacks on the Indonesian island in 2002.

Claudia Jessie plays businesswoman Polly Miller and her she tells all about being involved in the drama.

Who is Polly and what is her role in the story?
Polly Miller, as she’s called in the series, is a businesswomen who is newly married for five weeks. She and her husband fly out to Bali, a place they’ve been to before which they loved, and unthinkably they get caught up in the tragic events that took place in 2002. The real Polly [Polly Brooks] was the only person in her group to survive.

Did you meet Polly Brooks before or during filming?
No, mainly because of Covid restrictions, but we spoke on Zoom and texted and emailed each other. We ended up spending a good few hours on a Zoom call. I can imagine Polly gets asked questions a lot and has to relive things about that time, and I didn’t want her to have to do that again. I basically said to her ‘Tell me what you do want to see and tell me what you don’t want to see’. Those were the only two specific questions I asked and the rest was us getting to know each other.

She’s an incredibly funny, quick-witted and very successful businesswoman who I get along with incredibly well. We connected really nicely. I think we’ve both got a bit of a dark sense of humour, which we discovered quite quickly. She’s also such a cool person.

What attracted you to this project?
Getting to tell a true story feels like a rare opportunity, for me at least. I’ve never done it before. And with it being the 20th anniversary when the show aired in Australia, I knew how much it would mean to people. Australia is such an isolated place and Bali is like their go-to for holidays. Alongside what it would mean to people, it’s rare that you get to tell true stories. As I say, it certainly has been for me in my career so far and I would have deeply regretted not seizing on such a fantastic opportunity to play such an incredible woman.

It’s an interesting project to talk about. It’s so different to anything I’ve had to speak about before because, given the nature of the story, we all wanted it to be good. It was handled with so much respect across the whole project from start to finish.

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Were you already familiar with the Bali bombings?
I knew about them but not in great detail. These horrific events happen throughout our lives and we’ve seen so many. I’m 33 and there are things I look back on like 9/11, the London attacks on the tube and the bus, and the Paris attacks. The Bali bombings didn’t feel as plastered across the backdrop of my life as much as something like 9/11, which felt closer to home. My mum and family friends had more of an understanding of the Bali attacks through experience and memory, whereas it was something I looked into more and learned more about once I discovered I had the role.

Were there things you were surprised to learn about the attacks and their aftermath?
All of it. It’s hard to express how awful it was. The strategy of how they intended to hurt and kill people was awful to learn – the first bomb and the second bomb and how they planned to get people out into the streets in order to have the van detonate another bomb. With any of these horrific things that happen, it’s so unthinkable that anyone would want to cause such harm to others. Coming to terms with that is always hard.

How was it stepping into the recreation of the Sari Club, where the real Polly was seriously injured and her husband and friends were killed?
The scene that stayed with me most is after the bomb has been detonated. We have the build-up of them having a wonderful evening, not expecting anything like this to happen, then there’s the scene after that. It was night shoots and the rain was really awful at that time in Australia, so I remember being really cold. It was very choreographed for safety but when the cameras started rolling and we did the first take, a lot of us were crying because it was so horrific. You really throw yourself into it and we were so shaken after that first take.

Again it was that thing of ‘We want to do our best and we want it to be good’. Seeing the set it was like ‘This looks incredible’ but then you go ‘Oh no’ because you know what is going to happen. As a team you want to be respectful and to be as true to it as possible.

How tough was it for you doing the hospital scenes?
I kind of hate talking about acting techniques but I think I’m more of an instinctive and responsive actor. That’s my first gear; it’s where I’m always at. So with the sets and the supporting artists and the hair and make-up, when you go into that room it feels like 70% of the work has been done for you. It felt quite smooth for me to be able to respond to it in the performance that you see and how I played Polly.

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She’s in so much pain but adrenaline is there and adrenaline removes pain, as does pain medication. It’s a lot to get across so sometimes you have to do a little bit less, I think. But Peter Andrikidis is such a warm director. He’s got to be one of the best people I have ever worked with; I adore him. He was always so supportive of those spaces as well and he was keen to talk with me about any concerns I had. But like I say, a lot of it was there for me as I was wheeled into the room.

More than two decades later, why do you feel this is an important story to tell?
There’s that saying about if you don’t know history then you’re destined to repeat it. What we wanted was to show the heart of these heroes who were lost or lived through it. We’re so capable of either/or, by which I mean we are so capable of either altruism or destruction. You see a microcosm of that in how people behave online towards each other. When you’re in the comfort of your car you feel like you can shout anything at anyone, don’t you? That’s what I feel the internet is like.

People are capable of doing horrible things but then they are all these people who are capable of doing beautiful, giving, compassionate things. That’s what the project really wanted to show – the heart of these communities, these people who are at the vanguard of taking care of others with such a rapid response. It’s a reminder that we can take a step towards one thing or another, can’t we? Ultimately we could mean the world to each other, couldn’t we? And we should really. Sadly there’s no light without dark and things like this are a reminder of what we can be to and for each other.

How do you feel about it reaching a wider audience through streaming on ITVX?
I’m thrilled. I loved every one of the people I met and worked with in Australia. It’s been and gone over there, and I’m so grateful and happy that it now gets an extra life on ITVX

Bali 2002 is now streaming on ITVX.

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Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.