WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Wow, what a journey it’s been for the character who came back from the dead! After we were teased with a glimpse of Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson, played by Pamela Rabe, in last season’s finale of Wentworth, this year she returned to our screens, although much different to what we’d seen before.
After being mugged in episode two, she claimed to have no memory of who she was or what she’d done – something plenty of people (including fans!) doubted. However, in the final moments of the gripping finale to season eight’s Part 1, it appeared that Joan was speaking the truth as we witnessed her horrified realisation of her past evil deeds. In a twist, however, this has occurred after her committal hearing, where it’s already been decided that she’s in a fugue state. It’s a situation ripe for the character to use to her advantage.
Pamela Rabe talks to us about her character’s return to the show, her journey in the first part of season eight and what it bodes for her in the second and final instalment!
Foxtel Insider: What appealed to you about returning to play Joan, who we all thought was dead?
Pamela Rabe: The first thing that appealed to me was just the opportunity to work with who I consider the most wonderful work family I’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege to collaborate with. I just wanted to make sure that the reasons for her return were grounded in something that could be credible for an audience and that’s tricky when she’s required to handle some of the more gothic, melodramatic aspects of the storylines.
Having said that, it was just then a really great challenge to be able to tackle: who is she if she’s not the person that she and the audience remembers? It ended up becoming very rewarding, learning about the aspects of this character that we’d all created, how they would manifest, you know, without some of the obvious things like the black gloves and the glint in her eye.
Insider: For pretty much the entire season of Part 1, no-one – neither the characters in the show nor the fans! – knew whether she really did have amnesia. How did you approach playing that?
Pamela: I think probably the same way that Joan would if she was trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes! But that’s actually the dilemma for her, really, isn’t it? The little girl who cried wolf. If you’ve been a master at playing people and playing games, how do you convince people that you’re not? [However] even with memory loss, she’s still the same person and she has the same intelligence and knowledge of the world in a way – she just doesn’t remember aspects of her own behaviour. She understands that she is not to be believed in a dangerous place where the alliances that you make and the things that you do really affect your survival rate. It’s a real dilemma but, as I say, a delicious one to tackle.
Insider: Was it enjoyable exploring her backstory through the flashbacks?
Pamela: I think that’s one of the strengths of all of the Wentworth stories – if you’re lucky, you get a glimpse into more detail about what makes the complexity of the characters – so yes, of course, it’s always a privilege, these little glimpses through the seasons of what makes Joan tick or what she’s grappling with in terms of her own history.
Insider: Tell us about her breakdown and those final scenes of the last episode of Part 1 where she comes to the realisation: “I am Joan Ferguson. I am The Freak.”
Pamela: Well, I guess that’s what Part 2 is going to be all about, isn’t it? What does it mean? What does it mean for her? What does it mean for the people around her? It was an extraordinary sequence to film, both terrifying but kind of exciting because, as always with Wentworth, you have so many skilled people at the top of their game, working incredibly quickly on minimal budgets, but we’re always aiming for the stars, really wanting to achieve something special. And it was quite exciting to pull that off, with Darrell Martin, our DOP [director of photography], and Kevin Carlin directing.
Insider: What was it like filming those scenes where she’s been locked in her cell and forced to wear a spit hood?
Pamela: I mean, they take great care obviously in the props department and the art department [so] that you’re not going to do yourself any damage, but it has to be real enough that you’ve got some resistance, that you have something to play with. I have to say, filming that sequence was a mingling of [where] I couldn’t see very well, you didn’t know where you were going, it was a dark room, but at the same time I was very excited all the time, thinking, “Oh I wonder what shots they’ve got? Am I giving them what they need?” And so it’s both terrifying and exhilarating.
Insider: It’s so incredible to see that all come together – but what will it mean for The Freak?
Pamela: That literally is the question: for Joan, what does this mean? What’s this power that all those aspects have finally, you know, congealed inside her and now she has to live the reality of all of those memories existing now, all of it clear? Now that she knows it, who else is going to know and, if so, how do they find out and what does it mean – for all her friends and enemies?
Insider: How is she going to fit in with the other inmates when she goes into general?
Pamela: Well, rather uncomfortably, I would’ve thought! [Laughs] But the wonderful thing is that she does have this big secret now and the question is: how does she live with that, who knows about it, how do they find out and what’s it going to mean for their survival rate?
Insider: Now that she’s fully aware of what she’s capable of?
Pamela: Yes, we leave her having recovered her memories and accepting who everybody has been telling her that she is, and the question now is: who else is going to know about that?
WENTWORTH Season 1-8 (Part 1) available On Demand
Words Cameron Bayley