It’s been more than two years since Pamela Rabe’s Wentworth character, Joan “The Freak” Ferguson was buried alive in the season-five finale. That’s a long time to come to terms with The Freak’s death.
And yet even the most cynical Wentworth fan will admit that every time the lights get low and the music drops, they’re half-expecting the character to come back from the dead.
So haunting was Pamela’s portrayal of the governor-turned-prisoner that Wentworth fans remain convinced The Freak is unkillable. Turns out, maybe they’re right.
“Well, is she gone?” Pamela asks with a laugh on the phone to TV WEEK, her voice still carrying hints of the menace that made Joan so unforgettable.
“I have no idea. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to say anything about it or I’d have to kill you.”
Pamela is joking – we hope – but for now, secrets around the future of Wentworth remain tightly guarded. But if the acclaimed show has taught us anything, it’s never say never.
“She was buried alive in the box, and who knows what will become of her? Who knows if she’s really gone?” the 60-year-old teases.
It’s clear, just listening to the actress talk about Wentworth, that the TV WEEK Logie Award-winning show still holds a special place in her heart.
Pamela Rabe in “The Hunting”, Video by sbs.com.au
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime job,” she says. “I know that – I think we all knew that.”
So even if The Freak is no more, she’s still very much alive in Pamela’s head, and the women she left behind remain in her thoughts.
“I have such admiration for the producers, directors and actors,” the actress says. “Particularly the writers for crafting with such care. And delivering narratives that place women front and centre – women of all shapes and sizes and moralities.”
With the season-seven finale having just aired, and another batch of episodes on the way next year, Pamela is tipping some familiar faces might bid farewell.
“People come, people go, people die, people get released – Wentworth is great because there’s a constant refreshing of characters and stories,” she explains.
“But there’s also a threat of constant danger for the few who’ve been there from the beginning.”
Despite having a body of work that stretches back to the early 1980s – fans of A Country Practice will remember Pamela as one of the evil Rose sisters – the star maintains Wentworth is her most loved job.
“I’d worked with a lot of the actresses from the original Prisoner series, so I knew the hype,” she says. “I remember having to duck down side alleys with Maggie Kirkpatrick [who played The Freak in Prisoner] because she had hordes of people following her.
“But I understand the adulation. There’s something about a women’s prison that’s really interesting to people; they latch onto it.”
The Canadian-born actress also admits that having fans outside of Australia call her “The Freak” still gives her shivers.
“The reality of seeing the response internationally, fans coming up to you all over the world, the letters you get, blows my mind,” she says. “I never thought people would miss The Freak!”
But for those mourning a Pamela Rabe-shaped hole in their TV schedule, there’s welcome news: the star is back on the small screen in new SBS drama The Hunting, alongside fellow TV WEEK Logie Award winners Asher Keddie and David Wenham.
The four-part series centres on a teen sexting scandal, with Pamela playing a school principal whose students are caught up in the aftermath.
“I feel there’s so much to learn about these issues,” she says. “And hearing my young co-stars discuss this and deal with this was eye-opening for me.”
Across four episodes, The Hunting charts the fallout as students realise their explicit photos have been shared online. Tackling themes of misogyny, privacy, sexuality and online exploitation, The Hunting offers a searing snapshot of what it means to be a teenager in the age of social media.
“Being a young person is hard,” Pamela says. “It was difficult in my era too, but the complications are different now. I was a teenager in the 1970s, a terrifying time in terms of terrorism, disasters, abductions, underground activism and race wars. A lot happened and yet I didn’t feel overly anxious.”
Instead, Pamela believes it’s an increasing addiction to devices that causes young people to struggle.
“Every minute of the day, we’re connected,” she says. “It’s turned up a state of constant anxiety in the world – and particularly in our young people.
“So it’s great to have a series that’s brave enough to go in and get the conversation out in the open so that we can’t hide from it.”
A role in The Hunting comes after a return to the stage, which saw Pamela team up with an old acting buddy, Hugo Weaving. The pair last trod the boards together in 2012 for the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and the reunited this year to appear in Tennessee Williams’ classic play, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.
“I love Hugo, but I’m not alone in that – he’s probably the most loved actor in the business, really,” Pamela says with a laugh. “We’ve teamed up together many times over the years, and it was great to be working with him again.”
While it’s clear that the stage reinvigorates the artist inside – “I’m addicted to bouncing between different disciplines” she admits – we’re crossing our fingers that she might yet find her inner The Freak once more.
“Be careful what you wish for!” Pamela offers with a laugh.