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TV WEEK Interview (July 2018)

Wentworth’s Pamela Rabe on fans and playing Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson

Freak in a box | Pamela Rabe takes us through THAT scene

In last year’s season five finale, Joan Ferguson was buried alive in a coffin in the bush by Will Jackson, played by Robbie Magasiva.

What was going through The Freak’s mind in her final moments?

“There was an extreme anger with herself for not seeing this coming,” Pamela says.

“Joan is proud of being the smartest person in the room. She’s the one who can see all eventualities and be prepared for them.

“She would think she’d trapped herself – that she hadn’t anticipated something and now was going to suffer the consequences.

“Filming that scene was intense. There’s the imagined box you put yourself in, knowing it would be the ultimate nightmare for people, particularly Joan.

“And there’s the real box, which has an open side and is surrounded by 30 members of the crew. It’s a mad kind of chaotic war zone.”

‘I was excited they would consider me!’

People can’t get enough of Pamela Rabe. And not just here, but around the world.

You can put that down to the fascination – and in some cases, obsession – with her Wentworth character, Joan “The Freak” Ferguson.

But not everyone loves The Freak. Canadian-born Pamela, who won the 2018 TV WEEK Logie Award For Most Outstanding Actress, says one of her siblings has stopped watching the show.

“One of my sisters found it too distressing seeing a family member do terrible things,” Pamela, 59, says.

Pamela was born into a large family near Toronto and was raised in Vancouver, The actress trained in her homeland before moving to Australia in her early 20s. What would motivate a young woman to move to the other side of the world?

“Love,” Pamela says. “I met an Australian (theatre director Roger Hodgman) in Canada. He was offered a job back in Australia and asked if I wanted to come, I said, ‘Sure.’

“That was the beginning of this adventure. We have since married, we’re still married.”

Moving to Australia wasn’t a tough decision, she says. It was the 80s, and in the US and Canada there was a fascination for all things Aussie.

“Australian movies were popular,” she says. “And Men At Work were on top of the charts.”

From Canada to Oz – and now to the UK. The rabid love for Pamela’s character Joan will this year take her to a Wentworth fan event in the UK.

“They’re incredibly loyal and protective of Joan there,” Pamela explains. “I couldn’t be spending my time with a nicer group of people.”

Such is the level of fandom in the UK that some excited Wentworth fans yell “Joan!” at Pamela from across the street.

In general, however, she calls the fans “really respectful” – although, she adds, “that may be a version of fear”.

“Sometimes fans tremble a little when they meet me,” she says. “They get a bit scared. I think they’re shocked, because they say I’m so nice – which, of course, I am.” [Laughs]

Pamela is astounded by the letters she gets from Wentworth fans in the armed forces in the US, from viewers in Moscow, Sweden and South Africa. They let her know what the world of Wentworth means to them.

“It’s got catnip in it, that show,” Pamela says of the acclaimed prison drama. “People get absolutely obsessed, they tell their friends about it, and the audience for the show just keeps growing.”

Pamela vividly recalls the moment she was offered the role of The Freak, who entered the series as the new governor of Wentworth prison in season two.

Because she tends to be more of what she calls a “theatre animal”, Pamela doesn’t do a lot of television.

The timetables by which theatre and television are made are “completely incompatible”, she says. On this occasion, Pamela had a conflicting theatre role, but was able to get out of it.

“It felt like the stars had aligned,” she says of being asked to join Wentworth. “I was excited they would consider me a good fit for that show.

“I naively went in, but little did I know all the places I would go.”

By Stephen Downie


Photos by / Tina Smigielski | Article photo by Teresa Janzek


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  1. M

    Gread read, great site! Thank you!

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