Television is a strange beast. Often what we see is depressing or highlights the negative side of our human condition so it’s heart-warming to find a program that makes you feel better after watching it.
That’s a good description of Anh’s Brush With Fame, the ABC series where the multi-talented Anh Do persuades high-profile people within their own professions to sit and chat to him while he paints their portrait.
It’s a simple idea, but it soon becomes fascinating viewing, thanks to the presence of Anh and his comfortable relationship with his subjects.
Working with an old set of paint knives, Anh paints away while keeping up a constant stream of chat with his subject.
The first program featured Magda Szubanski, and Anh’s gentle but probing questions led her to share with him what her refugee parents went through, and how they reacted when, in her mid-30s, she needed to reveal her homosexuality to them. What is joyous about this scene is Magda explaining that her parents’ love and acceptance of her gave her strength to cope.
The second show, with media personality Amanda Keller, beat the commercial competition on the night, winning its slot with 841,000 viewers—35,000 more than the opening episode. It seems that word had filtered out that Anh’s Brush With Fame was riveting television.
Anh is a master of putting people at ease and getting them to forget they are being watched by hundreds of thousands of people. In the second episode, Amanda Keller shares the trauma and heartbreak of enduring years of IVF, with people constantly asking if there were any results.
Just watching her we experience some of how soul-destroying this was. But there is a happy ending, where the final cycle resulted in a son, followed by another one a couple of years later.
What comes across as Anh paints and chats is his genuine interest in their story. There is no posturing where the interviewer becomes more important than the story. With his big smile and obvious empathy, Anh is creating television magic as we become privy to the inner person behind the celebrity names.
Both Magda and Amanda had highly personal stories that they were happy to share with this genial former Vietnamese refugee, who has contributed so much to Australia as a stand-up comedian, actor, Archibald Prize finalist and author of The Happiest Refugee.
Anh’s approach to his subjects is grounded in love, not ego, and his persona and attitude are reflected in some lovely words from the Bible—‘Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud’ (1 Corinthians chapter 13, verse 4).
I think all his sitters for Anh’s Brush With Fame would agree.