Pamela Rabe Interviews from the early 1980’s – today

An ‘Extraordinary Journey’

Pamela Rabe is a star in Australia and now, Jamie Portman reports, the Canadian actress is coming home and bringing Virginia Woolf with her.


When Pamela Rabe left Vancouver for Australia in 1982, she knew she was embarking on “a great adventure.” But she still didn’t know whether she would make it as an actress. Today, she is one of Australia’s most acclaimed performers — with some 50 plays, six films and eight television productions to her credit. She has a devoted national following Down Under: teenage girls adore her and send her letters and wait at the stage door with flowers.

Yet in the land of her birth, she remains an unknown — a situation the Shaw Festival plans to remedy this summer when she reprises one of her greatest Australian successes, a one-woman version of Virginia Woolf’s classic A Room Of One’s Own, at the intimate Court House Theatre. For Rabe, it is as though the wheel has come full circle.

“What has happened is amazing, actually,” she says in an interview. “I count my lucky stars. It’s been an extraordinary journey.”

Rabe was born in Oakville, an hour away from the Shaw Festival, but was raised on the West Coast. She attended the Vancouver Playhouse Acting School and had roles in several productions at the Playhouse itself.

She also fell in love with Australian-born director Roger Hodgman, who was head of the school and later artistic director of the Playhouse. When Hodgman returned to Australia in 1982, she went with him. A year later they married.

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On the boards, up from down under

BRISBANE, Australia — After 18 years in Australia, during which she has established herself as one of the country’s best actors, Pamela Rabe is coming home to Canada to “connect the dots.”

Rabe, who was born near Toronto and raised in Vancouver, came to Australia in 1982 as a 22-year-old just graduated from drama school. She has since worked in almost 50 stage productions, eight TV series and six movies, including ‘The Well‘ for which she won the Australian Film Institute’s best actress award in 1996.

For the next few weeks, Rabe will be in Brisbane in Martin McDonagh’s award-winning play ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane‘. On May 14, the morning after the curtain comes down on Leenane, Rabe, 40, flies back to Canada to spend four months at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, Ont. She will be in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘The Apple Cart‘, directed by her former tutor Christopher Newton, and also in the one-woman play ‘A Room of One’s Own‘, based on the Virginia Woolf novel. Rabe won the Sydney Critics Circle best actress award last year for Room.

Pamela Rabe

She’s excited about returning to Canada for the longest period since she left as a young woman. “It’s going to be an odd cultural connection, but it will really join up all the dots for me.” she told the local newspaper. “I’ve got seven brothers and sisters and a mother waiting there for me. (more…)

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Rabe Reviews: The Age Feb 2000

Pamela Rabe is one of our most celebrated actors, yet worries that the roles will dry up. But, as Robin Usher reports, her final curtain is likely to be a long, hectic way off.

For actors, the worry never stops. National acclaim and universal respect do not bring the job security and settled home life that other professionals take for granted. Pamela Rabe is one of Australia’s most gifted actors who has made her mark in all mediums — film, television and theatre — with work lined up 12 months ahead. But the future is still uncertain.

Her latest concern, now that she is home in Melbourne after a year away, is that work will disappear as she approaches middle age.
“I’m the sort of person who will worry about anything,” she says. “Now I’m waiting for the roles to start drying up. The dry season will start pretty soon — it’s the nature of things. I just hope I’ve got the resources to get through it.
“If you do (survive), there’s no one else left because the attrition rate is huge once people hit their 40s, men included. There’s just not enough work and people decide to go and get a life.”
Judging on appearances alone, her concern is ridiculous. At 40, Rabe’s striking beauty is undiminished, while she is renowned for her razor-sharp intelligence. She is wearing a full-length, white linen dress in the late summer heat, accompanied by sandals and sunglasses.
Two years ago at the Cannes Film Festival, men chased after her in the streets to beg her husband, former Melbourne Theatre Company artistic director Roger Hodgman, to let her go with them. The story is told by Samantha Lang, director of the film The Well, in which Rabe starred.
“Pamela played Hester in the film, a frumpy, dowdy character,” Lang says. This meant that when Pamela appeared in the press tents no one knew who she was because she seemed different — beautiful and commanding.” (more…)

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Rabe Reviews

It’s hard to imagine Pamela Rabe as Goldilocks. Blonde and precious. When you think of the parts she has played over the past few years, those are not the Pamela Rabe | Photo by Julian Kingmacharacteristics that spring to mind. Strong, yes. Passionate, yes. Committed even. But blonde and precious?

But Goldilocks was a seminal role. Her first lead, she says. And if she were a smartarse, she would say it was what turned her on to acting.It was the dress, you see. In Canada in the early ’60s, her sister Jacqueline got “the greatest frock in the world” to wear to their uncle’s wedding. She was going to be the flower girl, but that didn’t stop young Pamela from coveting the dress. When she landed the role of Goldilocks at kindergarten she also wangled the dress to wear. It was her first lead. Before her hair changed color, of course. And long before she came to Australia. (more…)

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Drawing Deep

From Yukon to Melbourne, it’s been a roller-coaster ride for AFI Best Actress Pamela Rabe

Pamela Rabe couldn’t be in Melbourne to claim her Best Actress gong at the Australian Film Institute Awards on Nov. 14. And despite her prerecorded acceptance speech, the star of The Well didn’t even know the award was hers. At the time, the Canadian-born performer was 900km away, treading the boards as Noel Coward’s capricious Amanda in a sparkling production of Private Lives, and discovered she’d won the AFI “about 30 seconds” before taking her bow at the end of the play at the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Theatre.

“I knew for sure by the look on [actress] Kirrily White’s face when she came out to join us for the curtain call,” Rabe says merrily. “Just this beaming big red smile!” But it wasn’t until STC director Wayne Harrison stepped onstage to make a congratulatory speech that the news was official. “I’d also found out that day that I’d just won the Best Actress award at the Stockholm Film Festival,” an ecstatic Rabe continues, “so I was already a little bit happy.”

Pamela Rabe | Photo by Philip Le Masurier (1997)

No wonder. But even before the awards, 38-year-old Rabe’s haunting star turn as The Well‘s Hester and her stunning supporting performance in 1996’s Cosi had put her on a cinematic roll. A striking, softly spoken, supremely urbane woman with long, gleaming dark hair and a thoughtfully edgy manner, she bears not the slightest physical resemblance to the spinsterish Hester, into whose fraught soul she so compellingly delved in the dark, suspenseful drama. (more…)

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Pamela Rabe & Roger Hodgman – The Two of Us (1997)

Pamela Rabe, 38, is one of Australia’s top theatre, film and television actors. Roger Hodgman, 53, is director of the Melbourne Theatre Company. They met in 1979 in Rabe’s home town of Vancouver, married five years later and now live in Melbourne. Hodgman is currently directing Private Lives at the Sydney Theatre Company and Rabe is playing the lead role.

Pamela: Roger was the first love of my life. Still is. I was a student and he was a teacher. I was quite bowled over by him and his skills; I still think he’s the most extraordinary teacher I’ve ever had. It always takes me a long time to realise someone’s coming on strong to me. So I was drinking in every word of praise and didn’t realise this was just the pick-up line.

Then we were worried what people would think. And, with backstage gossip always about how the director gets to sleep with the actresses, for a while you’re just a cliché. People snicker.

It is difficult being a director’s wife. It is still always, absolutely, the first thing that comes to my mind whenever I’m offered a role at the MTC. Whatever people say, I can’t help myself feeling I have some sort of unfair advantage. And, with every year, I’m much more aware of my inadequacies and vulnerability, so that doubt gets worse. But it’s part of the package; I don’t know any confident actors. (more…)

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Ruth Cracknell: an actor’s friend and inspiration

Accent: Super models

Ruth Cracknell: an actor’s friend and inspiration

Actor Pamela Rabe continues a series of reflections by prominent women on the “super models” who inspired them.

About the second day I was in Australia, my husband — well, he wasn’t my husband then — took me for a walk around Sydney and to Crows Nest. It was very hot and I was very jet-lagged, and he took me to a gallery.

As we were thumbing our way through some etchings, he nudged me and there was this very elegant patrician presence in the corner of the room with white-blonde hair. He said “that’s Ruth Cracknell, she’s a very famous actress”.

He had told me about her in Canada in the late ’70s. She had played the lead in an Edward Bond play that I was very fond of called The Sea. This obviously sowed a seed of great awe in me, and there she was,and I was actually in her presence.

I was aware of Ruth from then and I think I had seen her on stage a number of times, and on film. You can’t collide with Ruth’s presence without being affected in some way.

I have always collected tall women in my life. I don’t think I’m particularly obsessed with my height — I was brought up with my father’s advice: be proud, walk tall.

When you are tall, people assume that you should be majestic. It is funny because so many tall women feel different, I think, especially when they are defining their sexual attractiveness — when you are in your teens you just want to look like everybody else.

Pamela Rabe | Photo by

There are so many pressures to be smaller, bend down, try to blend in with the crowd, be feminine (whatever that means) — to actually keep your head up through that is hard. (more…)

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The Reluctant Celebrity

Pamela Rabe used to be self-conscious about her Canadian accent. But she took Australian citizenship because she wanted commitment.

Pamela Rabe probably won’t thank me for this, but she is probably about to become a household name. She is in two movies and two television series, all in the same year.

She won’t thank me because Pamela Rabe is not one of those knocking on the celebrity door. She is thrilled that her work as an actor might be recognised, but any “fame” that might come with it is an uncomfortable notion.

The two movies, already well-received, are Cosi‘, and Vacant Possession‘. The television series, both for the ABC, are Mercury‘, and The Bite. Pamela Rabe is a baddie in both the television series.

She’s not when you meet her. She is soft and smooth and tall and very striking. She is also reticent, which is why I trod the careful path first, through early days.

There was a certain effort to keep us occupied,” she said. I had asked her about her childhood in Canada, where she was the seventh of eight children. “We were sent off to things like music.

With so many children, they were able to form an orchestra of sorts. There was a trombone, a French horn, a saxophone, a flute, classical guitar, even bagpipes.

Pamela was on the French horn and must have been good, because she went on to play in a junior symphony orchestra in Vancouver. “That experience of being a group and creating something had a big impact.

What Pamela means is that her family was not particularly artistic, and so it might have been the music that put her in the right direction. All her brothers and sisters ended up as scientists or paramedics.

It sounds like a successful family,” I said.

Nobody’s a drug addict, nobody’s in jail, nobody’s dead.(more…)

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