Pamela Rabe Q&A Interview for Stellar Mag July 09th 2023
After making Tasmania her sanctuary and creative playground for the past three years, the former Wentworth star is now treading the boards in Europe. Speaking to Stellar from Athens, where she is currently starring in a play, and as her latest TV venture (set in the Apple Isle, of course) hits our screens, the actor reveals the long and the short of playing villains
Interview: SIOBHAN DUCK
The theatre is your first love. Does it feel good to be not only back onstage but also travelling abroad after Covid?
I’m trying to think if these are the first stages I’ve trod since Covid. The past three years have become a strange wrinkle in time; I’ll be talking about something I did last year, only to realise it was pre-Covid. I’ve mostly been working onscreen. There were some stage productions that fell during Covid or closed early or never happened. But I was lucky enough, given that screen work could happen in a controlled environment, that I was able to do three or four television shows in that time, one of which was Bay Of Fires.
Even better, the new ABC series was filmed in Tasmania, which is where you’re based…
Absolutely. My husband [stage and television director Roger Hodgman] and I had been Melbourne-based for some 35 years but he was born in Tasmania. So, we had lots of excuses to go down there over the decades. It wasn’t until the mid-2010s that we ended up buying a small place down there. But then Covid [hit]… So we finally sold our Melbourne place. And I thought [Tasmania] might be where we just go and curl up and sleep [during the pandemic lockdowns] but luckily there have been all sorts of projects there. I did [ABC comedy series] Rosehaven as well as [the Amazon Prime Video comedy mystery series] Deadloch and Bay Of Fires. And my husband and I have a production company.
Your Bay Of Fires co-star Marta Dusseldorp [who also created the series with Andrew Knight and Max Dann] says your character was written with you in mind. Given that you play a rather unusual woman with a pet pig, what do you think that says about you?
[Laughs] That makes me shudder. I have no idea, other than the fact I always look like I’m carrying a secret and, with the pig, that obviously makes it all the more nuanced and complex.
You’re 182cm, or 6ft, tall. US actor Sigourney Weaver, who is roughly the same height, has said that her stature crippled her confidence early on. Did your height ever hold you back in any way?
I remember people telling me early on that it would. But – maybe, because I come from a family of very tall people, and I was a fair way down the ladder -I was never aware particularly of my height. I remember lots of experiences when I was very young and performing and I’d swear I was the same height as everyone else and then someone would show me a picture of the curtain call. There were all these people who were 5ft 6″ and me, as the beanpole beside them. I had no idea I was that tall. My career path has in no way mirrored Sigourney Weaver’s as I’ve mostly worked onstage, so the visual impact you have physically [isn’t as obvious]. All you have to do is raise the doorknobs on the stage doors. And as long as you’re working with someone like Hugo Weaving [who is 188cm tall] you’re fine. I was never aware of it [as] a hobbling factor -if anything it was a bonus.
Like when you played Joan “The Freak” Ferguson, Wentworth’s most foreboding villain, in the hit prison drama from 2014 to 2021. The role was made famous by Maggie Kirkpatrick on [the 1980s series] Prisoner, but you made it your own and won the praise of critics and fans. Was there any trepidation about doing it?
No. I’d known Maggie for a very long time, so I spoke to [her] before I jumped into that pond, just to check she was good with it. When I got the phone call, even before that, I was incredibly excited… I literally squealed because I knew there was something perfect about it. I had no idea it was going to be quite the mountain it became. [It] was just an extraordinarily successful drama series. I don’t know of any other Australian-made series – other than Neighbours or Home And Away or serials like that – that have had that sort of longevity. As I travel around Europe, there are all sorts of Wentworth fans who keep following this stage play because of their commitment and interest.
Wentworth fans are a very devoted lot.
They certainly are. When I was a kid and fangirling over someone, you wanted an autograph. No-one wants an autograph anymore, they want a selfie. And you have to be very careful about the context in which the selfie happens. Once somebody bailed me up in the fruit section of Woolies. So I picked up a pear, just because I felt like I needed a prop, and this lovely person took a photograph. And from then on, I started receiving endless pear gifts.
Perhaps stand next to an expensive car next time…
[Laughs] Yes, a Lamborghini? No. I’m trying to be responsible. It’s one of the many reasons I stay off social media. I want to be careful of how I carry that level of fan devotion. And why I’ll be careful not to stand beside a Lamborghini if someone wants a selfie.
Bay Of Fires premieres on July 16 at 8.30pm on ABC TV and iview.
Source: Stellar Mag