Tina Arena and Paul Mercurio in a scene from the movie Promised, screening at the Italian Film Festival. (supplied by Kathryn McGowan)
Tina Arena and Paul Mercurio in a scene from the movie Promised, screening at the Italian Film Festival. (supplied by Kathryn McGowan)

The personal reason why Tina Arena made a movie

FORTY five years into her career, there are not too many firsts left for Tina Arena.

However the singer is about to make her feature film debut in new Australian movie Promised.

"I've had some film offers before, this one felt right," Arena says.

Also the debut movie for writer/director Nick Conidi, it follows the story of two Italians who are 'promised' to each other as kids by their families.

For Arena, reading the script was instantly personal.

"My parents were the last official arranged marriage in their village in Sicily. The family arranged it, my mother's brothers knew my father. She was lucky she knew him, sometimes strangers were put together. But it's been a beautiful ending, they've been married 60 odd years. So obviously I related to the script completely, I thought it was a story that needed to be told."

In Promised, a five year old Robert and newborn Angela are promised in marriage by their fathers. By 1974 Robert (Daniel Berini) is 25 and has returned to Melbourne from studying law in England, however Angela (Antoniette Iesue) is dating another man. Yet their families (Arena plays Angela's mother, Paul Mercurio plays her father) insist the promise and tradition must be upheld.

"It follows the trajectory of traditional courtship," Arena, 51, says.

"In 2019 the whole art of dating and is so incredibly different. I thought it was beautiful to show the younger generation how their grandparents may have met and what the tradition and the process was. There's something really beautiful about it.

"We live in such a different world now. Something like online dating is so foreign to me, I just don't get it, I understand that's how it goes for some people, I'm not judging it, but I thought it was important to highlight the way things used to be done. Developing the tools of getting to know one another another."

Arena filmed Promised back in 2017, four days after finishing her Innocence to Experience greatest hits tour.

"Finished touring and then boom, straight onto a movie set for the first time. It was fun, I loved it."

While it's her first film, she's no novice to acting - with lead theatre roles in Australia and the UK including Cabaret, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Notre Dame De Paris and most recently Evita spread throughout her million-selling music career.

"It's been a passion for a long time," Arena says of acting. "When I did Promised, I was ready to learn something else. It still involved something that I loved doing - storytelling. It just felt really natural. I didn't feel like I was stepping into unfamiliar territory, I felt really comfortable and loved the process and the collaboration. It felt like it was the right time. I'd be up for more acting, but it's got to speak to me. I like things with some grit."

It's been an interesting year for Arena. After beginning in Sydney last September, Evita ended in Melbourne in March (it became the highest-selling production ever at Melbourne's Arts Centre) but the "gruelling" role saw Arena clear her schedule to decompress.

"I was a bit burnt out, which is normal. I was expecting it. But I didn't expect the break to be so long. I've enjoyed taking the time to zoom out and see what I want to do and what's next. It's a luxury to be able to do that, and it's really important. It's been a while since I've had that break. I'm workshopping some things now to see where I want to go next, I'm mapping out a trajectory, it's exciting."

Singer-songwriter Tina Arena. John Feder/The Australian.
Singer-songwriter Tina Arena. John Feder/The Australian. John Feder

She recorded her own version of Ave Maria, which can be heard at the end of Promised. "It's one of the most famous prayers, and a little prayer wouldn't hurt anyone these days," Arena says.

"The church we filmed that scene (with Ave Maria) in is St Mary's in West Melbourne. That's where my sisters and I were all baptised, so that church holds quite a profound history for the Arenas. It was bizarre to go back and film there."

Arena is starting to ponder her next career move. Her only live performances this year will be two shows in Sydney's Coliseum Theatre in December, although she made a surprise appearance at Splendour in the Grass festival with Matt Corby in July.

They performed a soulful reinterpretation of her hit Chains, at Corby's request.

"He's so wonderful and so gifted," Arena says of Corby. "I'd love to do more work with him."

Arena has now guested at Splendour in the Grass twice (first with Client Liaison) and with The Falls reaching out to Daryl Braithwaite and now John Farnham, she admits she'd be up to playing a festival in her own right.