Foxtel Insider would like to congratulate Pamela Rabe on winning the AACTA Award for Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama.
This is a testament to not just her performance but all those dedicated in her awesome transformation of Governor Ferguson aka ‘The Freak’ for Wentworth and is a testament to the writing, producing and acting chops of all those involved.
Foxtel Insider caught up with Pamela Rabe prior to Season 3 to discuss how it feels to play such an iconic character. Check out her response below.
INSIDER: You play the formidable character Ferguson aka “The Freak” a name that had only just been labeled to you by Bea in the Season 2 climax. How did you prepare for such an iconic role and how have you added your own spin to her multifaceted personality?
PAMELA RABE: I don’t know about my own spin but the preparation has got a lot to do with sitting in that make-up chair and back-combing my hair into that very controlled quiff. To carry a bun like that does things to you.
When we first sat down to work out what the look for Ferguson would be, I told them to give me the stuff of nightmares.
It took a while to see how far we could push it or reinvent it, but in the end we realized that there needed to be a certain amount of nod to what Maggie Kirkpatrick had created, but with its own spin.
As that look consolidated or congealed on my head, it had an impact on me, I could feel it flowing through my body.
And as soon as you button up that uniform, polished that badge, stand up tall, and walk those corridors, that’s it.
In the end the spin is in the hands of the writers and producers and what they put on that page I have to respond to and make it live and breathe.
To sit in that world and respond to the actors and actresses and see what happens.
INSIDER: Is there anything that you took on board personally to add to the depth of this character?
PAMELA: First of all, she’s such a great character anyway. Anyone would kill to play this.
I love playing strong women.
I love playing strong women who have a sexual currency, which is ambiguous, someone who uses power. Power is sexy.
She’s somebody who has great complexity and depth and I was very interested in a world where chaos is always threatening, and how somebody can sit and be a calm, still centre within that. That became a performance or physical character in it.
I had lots of conversations with the directors about that continually questioning if it was too still or dynamic enough, but also knowing that when you are telling a story about a character that is under pressure and a lot of Season 2 is about Joan Ferguson under pressure.
It gave a lot of scope and potential to see how she could handle it.
A character like Ferguson will begin to squirm and wriggle around a bit. The unexpected might happen.
INSIDER: Ferguson is quite systematic in how she controls or manipulates the people around her, in some cases going to the extremes. Psychologically that must make her an interesting person to play?
PAMELA: Absolutely. And what’s great, as most leaders believe, she’s doing it all for the greater good. I think that she absolutely believes that.
I always found it quite ironic, and I hope that I’m not giving any spoilers away. I found it ironic that for somebody that wanted to create a functional team, and a kind of unification of a prison environment, where inmates and staff were obedient in following her lead, in that they all had a unified goal, that the greatest unity that she could create was when they all start to gang up against her.
I think she’d be rather proud of that.
She’s a sneaky one. You never know how she’s going to respond.
INSIDER: She’s so good at adapting to the scenarios around her…
PAMELA: Absolutely. I think that has a lot to do with the fencing metaphor; that the art of fencing is all about anticipating your opponent’s next move.
Thinking about what you can do before they do it so that you can turn a defence into an offence.
INSIDER: How then do you think she feels to have the rug pulled under her by Bea in Season 2?
PAMELA: I can’t answer that. (Laughs) Whatever it is I’m sure it’ll be interesting. I don’t think that she will stay back from it for too long and I think that she secretly gets a thrill out of the challenge of all that.
INSIDER: Has Ferguson met her match with Bea?
PAMELA: I would say that Joan Ferguson wouldn’t think that she has a peer. She is a God.
But I think that one of the wonderful things is that she believes that the end justifies the means.
I think that that is one of the themes that runs throughout the series. Power corrupts. You live in a cutthroat world where your status is paramount, whether you are a member of staff or an inmate.
In the end, the same brush colours everyone’s strategies and everyone’s ethic really.
Your everything is called into judgement in an environment like that.
INSIDER: Wentworth is noted for the strong female characters in the series. What does this mean to you? And how does that impact the strength of the series?
PAMELA: Profoundly. I actually think that’s one of the main reasons that the original series, Prisoner was successful.
It was so thrilling to see such a parade of women on the television screen back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
There is a hunger for that and to revisit it again with some nods and a homage to the original series but really it’s about bringing together such a rich complex panorama of human behaviour, predominately female to the viewers again and they love seeing those stories.
It’s a hothouse in a prison environment.
They’re caged so lots of stuff will happen it has to. Sparks are bound to fly.
The fact that they are womens stories and it’s not just one kind of woman. It’s not just dolly-boots and pressures to be beautiful. You get the glory of feminity in all its many forms, all shapes and sizes, it encompases everything,
The thrill as a performer to be involved in that and the family that creates it and to work in such a rich, complex, beautiful, talented and skillful crew of women and men as well, but it’s a great work family.
I feel really privileged to be able to play with them.
INSIDER: Wentworth has succeeded beyond Australian shores with positive reviews hitting in the US. How does that make you feel?
PAMELA: It’s great. It’s quite new to me, because I’ve dealt predominantely in live performance, where the response is instant.
Usually they’ve also seen you from about 15 minutes away and they won’t necessarily recognise you on the street.
And to be involved in something that’s been brought into people’s lounge rooms is something new to me.
There’s something about the structure of the stories that keeps you invested and when you see people on the street who are invested in the series is really quite special and great to see.