You are currently viewing YOU DON’T RUN THIS INTERVIEW, I DO: ‘Wentworth’ star Pamela Rabe on Joan “The Freak” Ferguson

YOU DON’T RUN THIS INTERVIEW, I DO: ‘Wentworth’ star Pamela Rabe on Joan “The Freak” Ferguson

by McKenzie Morrell

Every story needs a villain and man, we’ve hit the jackpot! Joan “The Freak” Ferguson is one of those anomalous creatures you hate the love and love to hate. The character, who is played by the incomparable Pamela Rabe, was introduced in season two of Foxtel’s reimagining of the prison drama and let’s just say that Wentworth will never be the same again.

Categorized as one of the meanest women on TV, Rabe sets the bar (extremely) high when it comes to all things freaky. Sporting her black leather gloves and ice cold stare, she might represent the law, but whether or not she upholds it (in a humane and ethical manner) is constantly up for interpretation. Ferguson, who is arguably the best psychopath we’ve seen on our screens in a long time, really brings the thunder with strategic planning, and her twisted sights set on complete and total revenge. Between her manipulative ways (RIP Jodie’s eye), or her struggle for power (all hail Queen Bea), this woman ain’t going down without a fight– and a fight you shall have.

Rabe’s demeanor while we chatted was the complete opposite of her character; She was charming, hilarious and downright adorable. In addition to me boasting about how amazing she and the rest of the cast are, we also spoke at length about some of the actions that lead Joan to her ultimate demise. Throughout this whole interviewing process, I remain overly impressed by the high caliber of talent that Wentworth turns out. Oh, but did I mention she told us how she really feels about all you FreakyTits (Vera and Joan) shippers? Yep. Definitely worth reading…

So without further delay, I bring all the Rabes Babes the interview you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy!

MCKENZIE MORRELL: So for starters, Joan Ferguson, the character that you play on Wentworth, is a rather complex woman. She has so many layers. Which of her qualities, if any, do you admire?

PAMELA RABE: Which of her qualities do I admire? I admire her, actually, a lot of her qualities. She’s a strong woman. She’s single minded, she knows what she wants. [laughs] She’s tall. I think the kind of single focus that she’s got and the methodical way she goes about trying to achieve her goals and objectives is quite admirable. I wish I had that much focus. What she’s going after is not always so admirable, but sometimes how she goes about it, I find quite interesting.

MM: Yeah, she definitely thinks she’s doing the right thing in her mind. Now, you’re technically the villain of Wentworth, yet so many viewers want your character to succeed. In your opinion, why are people still rooting for her?

PR: [laughs] I have no idea. But, gosh, we’ve always found that fiction evil characters are a lot of fun. I don’t know whether that’s because we can kind of pin all our own bad bits onto somebody else and just send them off running into the sunset and it makes us all feel better. I also think, of course, I think she’s adorable [laughs]. Why shouldn’t people root for her?

MM: They should! Now, Ferguson is known as “the Freak” for a reason. She toes the line, a lot. Now, did you ever think you yourself, “man, that’s totally twisted” after reading some of the things that your character was going to do throughout Season 2 and 3?

PR: Well, I think when [laughs] they offered me the role, I pretty well knew she was going to be up to not a lot of good. In fact, I do remember on my very first day saying to my fellow actresses that I apologize for anything my character may do to you in the course of this series— it’s nothing personal. I have to say I am constantly entertained with the twists they take all the characters through, not just Joan. I was quite keen that she’s not just a kind of two dimensional, or even one dimensional mustache-twirling baddie as I’ve called it. You know, that she had facets to her personality and there is interest both in me playing it, but also audiences in seeing how amoral people, or even people with borderline psychopathic issues, how they go about their business. How they reconcile their feelings or their ethics when trying to achieve things. And that is interesting and it’s complex, and I was really interested in exploring that, so I think they’ve done a great job of all that.

MM: Oh, definitely. Playing this character, and doing all these bad things to the other characters on the show, do your fellow cast mates look at you differently? Or do they interact differently with you when you guys aren’t rolling?

PR: Different than when they’re reacting to Joan, you mean?

MM: Yeah. Are they like, “Hmm, you’re still kind of scaring me” because you’re still this outfit and all that stuff?

PR: [laughs] I think they’re pretty used to me now and they know I’m pretty stupid [laughs]. And we also, as always when you’re working on very heavy material— I do a lot of theatre as well — I find the more emotionally draining or dark the material is that you’re working on, usually the more silly buggers you play [laughs] when you’ve got a chance to let off steam. We have a great time together. We all know each other very well and it’s a very happy work family. Having said that, I think it’s probably more people who come in to do some of the guest roles or things, who don’t know you at all and only meet the bun and the uniform who I’m sure maybe sweat a few bullets. But that’s good. It’s probably best for the work that we have to do. And then I let them know I’m actually very nice.

MM: Do you think Ferguson secretly admires or envies any of the qualities in any of the other characters on the show?

PR: Admires? Yes. She’s somebody who appreciates a good opponent. Weakness is despicable in herself or in others. So, people who stand up to her with intelligence and strategy, there’s something to be admired there. She does like a good fight.

MM: Oh, yes. Now the fans really love the dynamic between your character and Vera, and they’ve been expressing a lot on Twitter that they wanted something romantic to happen between the two. Do you think that your character felt anything more than friendship toward Vera while they were working together?

PR: Gosh, I’m sure there’s all sorts of things lurking around deep in Joan Ferguson [laughs]. And she’s not even aware of, or certainly is not willing to acknowledge. That to me, I think, is a whole other delicious aspect of her. I think there’s no doubt that that relationship is a deep and meaningful one between Joan and Vera. I think Joan saw it as a necessary alliance and a strategic one, but clearly I think it goes deeper. Of course it does. I’m shipping them, too, on some deep level. I have to say it’s all mingled up with the fact that Kate Atkinson— who’s the wonderful actress who plays Vera— is an actress who’ve I’ve admired for a very long time and developed into a very good friend, and we enjoy working with each other a great deal. And that can’t help but roll off in the collegiality of that relationship between those two women. We have great fun.

MM: Oh, yeah. I’ve spoken to many of your Wentworth cast mates and they just have wonderful things to say about you and your presence as an actor. That’s got to be a great feeling working with a cast that admires your work so much.

PR: I think it is a mutual appreciation society. One of the joys about doing a series that is going from strength to strength and gaining in popularity around the world is that there’s a great joy for everyone in seeing a strong show about strong women played by strong actresses. It’s kind of palpable the excitement of having such a great team of people to work with. The fact that it’s a prison show, which means we’re all entrapped in this play prison and it becomes a really great work hub. The show’s not focused around one single character, it’s actually very generously spread over several really interesting characters, most of which are female. As I said, it’s palpable the excitement that we have, and that rubs off too in the fact that we’re also given some of the finest performers in the country— and that’s exciting.

MM: Right? I know. Between your hilarious red carpet photo-bombings and the stories that your cast mates have shared, it seems you’re quite the jokester. Do you have any funny behind-the-scenes moments that you can share with us? Do you pull any pranks on people?

PR: [laughs] Not really. We work too hard. It is really bun up, so we try to keep things— we’re sensitive to each other, we’ll try to keep things as light as we can because we know how hard that we’re working and the places that we’re going to go to tell these stories. We have a lot of fun though with the crew, and I must say that the line “does my bun look big in this” has been said more than once, but I can’t think of any one particular prank, no.

MM: [laughs] Now we really know nothing about Joan’s mother or her family, really. Would you be up for an exploration into your character’s backstory a little more?

PR: Absolutely. I think audiences will see during Season 3 a little bit more of that character explored with Joan Ferguson. But certainly I think there’s more. I’d love to know more!

MM: Right? We hope there’s more! Now, in an alternate fictional reality in which Ferguson wasn’t a prison governor, what line of work could you see her in?

PR: [laughs]

MM: [laughs] Is she a florist? Is she a veterinarian? What do you see?

PR: [laughs] Umm…

MM: A dominatrix with the leather gloves? We’ll just throw that in there.

PR: Yeah, I think she was mis-transformed a little. I always felt some of the kind of curiosity would be useful in other areas too, probably stationery. She could go through stationary.

MM: [laughs] Now, do people recognize you on the streets? Are they intimidated or pleasantly surprised that you’re not as scary as the character you play?

PR: People have been great, actually, really wonderful. I fully expected that I’d have to kind of duck for cover, but I think people are pretty smart. They know how to draw a line between an evil character and someone who’s playing it. And I think there’s something so outrageously delicious about Joan Ferguson’s villainy that people are quite entertained about it and they’re incredibly generous and they share their delight with that with me in the most thoughtful way. It’s great, actually. They’re often a little surprised to see me smile and laugh.

MM: They’re like, “Oh, she can smile!”

PR: [laughs] Then they’re really freaked out.

MM: Right? [laughs] And they’re like, “This is weird. What’d she do.” So now, congratulations is in order on your Helpmann Award. Being submerged in theatre culture, what’s your all time favorite play and would you consider coming to America and performing on Broadway in New York City?

PR: My all time favorite play? I’ve done so many, I’ve sort of lost count. I think I’ve done about 75 to 80 plays, and many incredibly happy experiences. It’s like trying to pick the favorite child, I couldn’t. Gosh, I’ve been blessed. In terms of coming to America to do things. As always, I love to do good work anywhere.

MM: Yeah, we’re waiting for you. So whenever you’re ready, come on over. [laughs]

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PR: [laughs] OK!

MM: So now, what do you do to unwind after a long day of shooting as Joan Ferguson? You take the leather gloves off, watch some Orange is the New Black, drink some wine, what do you do?

PR: [laughs] Probably a cold beer and, yeah. We usually just fall over at the end of these long days because they’re pretty intense. Unlike American television, I have to say, that even though this series is competing with… you know, television series that are being made around the world are much much bigger budget. This stuff has turned up so fast, it’s such a testament to the skill and excellence of the producers and the camera crews here and the directors and the editors that they can make this look like there’s been a much greater budget. But that requires people to really be worked very, very hard. To unwind, I prefer the wine on the weekends and things like that. I love good food and good wine, and spending time walking and talking with my husband. He works so hard as well. Being able to come together and have a little fun on mini holiday

MM: Right? I know you have to do that once in awhile, for sure. Now, would you consider doing one of those meet and greet events, whether it be in the UK or the US? I know there’s a lot of fans that would love to meet you.

PR: I would love to meet the fans of Wentworth, you know? They’re who we do it for and it’s actually their investment and commitment to this series which makes it possible for it to keep going. Their delight in the kind of detail in the work that we do also is really fulfilling for us as performers. So to be able to meet and greet up close, yeah, absolutely! Bring it on.

MM: That would be great. Now, this interview was extremely difficult to prepare for because the fans sent in like 150 questions on Twitter, and it was just so hard to choose what to ask you. One thing the fans were extremely adamant about was that I let you know that your eyebrows have a Twitter account. Apparently, they enjoy your eyebrows. [laughs]

PR: [laughs] That’s hysterical!

MM: Right? [laughs] They were like, “Tell her that we love her eyebrows.”

PR: And rightfully so. The amount of work that goes into those eyebrows…

MM: [laughs] They were like, “Tell us your secret.” It was great. It was really funny to get those messages. Now lastly, what’s your take on social media or communicating with the fans? Have you received any letters? Are there any plans to hop on Twitter and see what the crazy kids are saying?

PR: I love hearing from the fans. I love getting letters and I do my best to reply to them. If they do arrive, I love getting them, I love reading them and I do love replying. Twitter and other forms of social media, it’s great. I rely on Twitter for all sorts of things. I’ve said this before, I do tend to stay away when the show’s on air just because I find that those conversations are best conducted without me sticking my nose in. I also think that there’s got to be some mystery left in the world [laughs]. So I kind of stay out of it. I don’t really want to know what’s going on, probably because I’m playing such a character who gets up to some pretty extraordinary things, and I let that conversation happen without me. Having said that, once things calm down, I love to go back on Twitter again because I find it’s a very valuable resource. At some point I may set up an official page or something, on Facebook or elsewhere, just to give people a chance to ask those questions, if the fans feel that would be good. But I feel I’d need to kind of control it a little bit. I have to say, I think they’ll eventually get to me because I think Danielle Cormack and Nicole da Silva and other cast members who do are so good at staying engaged on Twitter and stuff like that. I’m full of admiration for them. I just don’t know that I’ve got the fortitude for that, but they do pass things on. I do hear stuff and that’s great. I’m grateful for that.

MM: I think that’s all the questions I had. I was trying to work in the line, “You don’t run this interview, I do” but I failed at that, so I’m just putting it out there. I was like where can I sneak this in and it just didn’t work.

PR: [laughs] You got it in!

MM: I did get it in, but I wanted to work it in the actual conversation but we had such a good conversation going I was like, I’m not going to ruin this by just sticking this random line in. But I wanted to let you know about it because I thought it was hilarious in my head.

PR: [laughs] That’s great. That can be your headline.

MM: Oh, yes, that’s actually is a great idea! But yeah, I just wanted to thank you again. I know that you guys are super busy over there and it’s just wonderful talking to all of you and getting insight, us Americans over here.

PR: My pleasure, McKenzie. Let’s chat again.


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