Marta Dusseldorp on the Australian Crime Drama Janet King and the Changing Landscape of Television

If you’ve linked to this page from the story at the Huffington Post, click here to find where the Q&A left off.

 

Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.
Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.

 

After I did my last interview with Marta Dusseldorp, star of A Place to Call Home, the people at Acorn TV sent me the DVDs of one of Marta’s other shows, Janet King. For a while, I set the DVDs aside. After all, if you’ve read the intro to my Pam on the Map books, you know I’m a woman of integrity: I won’t be bribed or bought! And furthermore, I’m not really a reviewer. I’m not good at capturing the nuances of a show that might or might not delight audiences, and I don’t watch enough shows to make apt comparisons. I know that my opinion of a show has little to do with whether someone else will or won’t like it. It’s all so subjective.

However, one night I was looking for something to watch, and my eyes lit on the Janet King DVDs. Why not? I thought, and next thing you know I was three hours into the eight-hour season. The storyline of Janet King (a crime drama; eight episodes in season 1) is compelling, and the show is well-written. The acting is excellent, the cinematography is intriguing (which is, I’m sure, a challenge, as most of the show takes place in an office or court room). There are red herrings and suspense and twists and turns. I stayed up too late watching it two nights in a row. I loved it.

What’s more, I love Marta. You wouldn’t know in talking to her that she’s one of Australia’s busiest actors. In speaking with her, you get the feeling she has all the time in the world for you. She’s present and with you in every moment; there’s nothing else she needs to be doing, nowhere else she needs to be. Whether that’s the truth, or she has mastered the art of mindfulness, I don’t know. But after watching a few episodes of Janet King, I was hooked. I emailed Marta to see if she’d do another Q&A with me, and of course, being the fabulous person she is, she said yes.

From the Acorn publicity materials: “The 8-part Australian series focuses on the life of Janet King, a senior crown prosecutor. Determined to prove she still has her edge, Janet returns from maternity leave to find her workplace even more demanding than when she left. She quickly becomes involved in a high-profile and controversial case, making several enemies throughout her search for the truth – enemies that will threaten her career, family, and ultimately her life.”

All episodes of Janet King are now available online at Acorn TV, which is good, because this show is eminently binge-worthy!

Here’s our Q&A, edited some for time and because my audio recording of our conversation turned out to be not so great. Any errors in fact or transcription are mine, not Marta’s, with my apologies. If anyone has a recommendation for a quality, inexpensive way to record outgoing international calls, let me know!

As always, my deep gratitude to Marta for her time!

 

Hamish Michael as Richard, Marta Dusseldorp as Janet, and Vince Colosimo as Jack in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.
Hamish Michael as Richard, Marta Dusseldorp as Janet, and Vince Colosimo as Jack in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Ben Timony.

 

Pam Stucky: I’ve watched all of seasons 1 through 3 of A Place to Call Home, and season 1 of Janet King. I’ve noticed, there are some pretty intense storylines involved in both of them. Does that ever weigh you down? There’s the pedophilia and the murder and the Holocaust, just to name a few. How do you keep from bringing that home, and how do you keep that from infiltrating your personal life and your mind?

Marta Dusseldorp: Well, season 3 of A Place Called Home I did with my real-life husband [Ben Winspear], who played Rene, my husband on the show. So I found that quite easy, and then when he died on the show, it was quite difficult. We would talk a lot about that at home–well not too much, but enough that it was a very comfortable place for both of us and something that I found really special. And then when he died [on the show], I had a moment that I thought, oh, this is a bit too hard. And then you do another take, and you get through it, and it was fine. And then Janet King season 1, I think the hardest part about that was it was a spin-off from another show and I wasn’t sure it was going to work. I had never been that kind of a lead character, and I was very nervous that I didn’t have what it took. So that took a lot of my emotional energy at the beginning, and then slowly I started getting into it, and I had a ball being able to do almost everything and work with everyone on the set.

PS: Did it start airing while you were still filming?

MD: No, it was a whole year, for some reason, before they put it to air on ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation], so I had a long time between shooting it and it going to air. By the time it went to air I had kind of moved away from it, so it was really joyful watching it, because I couldn’t feel it in my body anymore. It was a real pleasure, actually. And people just loved it here, so that allayed my fears that it hadn’t worked. But emotionally, I have to say that I’m like everyone. Some days, I’m at my wit’s end and I just want to curl up in a ball, and I have other days where I’m really proud and very excited, and it’s usually to do with the people around me. I don’t believe you ever do anything, really, in my job, in isolation. So if everyone around me is prepared–and they usually are unbelievably prepared and open and generous–and then I have a great time. We have pretty great crews in this country, I have to say. I think they’re the hardest working–not that I’ve worked with many overseas, but they’re just fabulous people [here] and that really helps, too, because everyone comes, actually, with a smile on their face, they really do the best that they can, so that really helps.

 

Damian Walshe-Howling as Owen Mitchell and Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Simon Cardwell.
Damian Walshe-Howling as Owen Mitchell and Marta Dusseldorp as Janet King in Janet King. Photo courtesy Acorn TV. Photo by Simon Cardwell.

 

PS: That does help. You mentioned another show which Janet King spun off from, which I know was Crownies. For people that have not seen Crownies, can you give us a brief history of the show, and of your role in the show? Is there anything a person would need to know to get caught up on that before starting in on Janet King?

MD: Not really. I thought they did a really great job making that transfer. Crownieswas about the younger assistants to the Crown Prosecutors, the ones who do all the grunt work, and the Crown Prosecutors are sort of the front people. That’s what that show was angled toward, and I think it was an attempt at bringing in a younger demographic to ABC. It went to 22 episodes [as opposed to Janet King‘s eight]; it was much sexier, in the sense of people falling in love, and having sex on desks in the office. It had serious stories, you know, but it was also geared toward the quirkier, funnier side of the office. And Janet [the character] was kind of this stalwart who stood in the middle and said, “Stop laughing, stop smiling, and get on the job!” That was kind of her role in regards to the 22-episode arc.

And at the same time she has this relationship with a woman, Ash, her partner, and she underwent IVF [in vitro fertilization]. And she got more and more and more pregnant through the series, through the 22 episodes. So what happened was there was this funny sort of banging out between her seriousness, and her lack of sense of humor, and her becoming like a beached whale, and trying to be taken seriously as she became more and more pregnant with twins. That was that show. And then I think at the end of it, ABC, I think I read somewhere that they heard the audience felt like they identified more with the Janet character. So they decided to try a spin-off that goes up to the senior Crown Prosecutor level. A lot more serious and dangerous and more of the thriller genre. And then they shortened it, of course, to the eight-parter. Yeah, the audience numbers show that ABC made a good decision at that point, at that stage. And television has changed so fast, people’s appetites, what they want to see, how long they want to sit and watch, and when they want to watch it. I find all networks are now negotiating that.

PS: Yes, like, I don’t know if you’ve ever watched The X-Files …

MD: Yes, that’s right.

PS: They came back for six episodes, and now they’re saying they might do more seasons if they could just have a short season. But those actors don’t want to do the full 22-episode seasons anymore. 

MD: I think audiences don’t want to watch 22 episodes anymore, either. I think it has to have hiatus, like The Walking Dead, and then watch the next 12 episodes in six month’s time. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because Jack Irish, which was always telemovies–we did three telemovies, based on the Australian books by Peter Temple, straight out of the books, actually, with a little bit of change. And then the ABC said, we would like to make it into a six-parter. Would Guy [Pearce] be interested? Would you be interested? And they said yes. So they took the fourth book and morphed it into more fiction on top of fiction. So that’s how that came about.

PS: Were you involved in all three of those telemovies as well as the series?

MD: Yeah. My character was introduced at the beginning of the first telemovie, and then they kept her in there throughout, which I think is great, because, it’s portraying a character completely different from the other two [Sarah Adams on A Place to Call Home and Janet King on Janet King]. And I got to work with Guy, which taught me a lot, as well. His breadth of experience and generosity as an actor taught me a lot.

PS: What kinds of things did you learn from him?

MD: He’s got an incredible stamina. I’m going back now to the first telemovie, this is before I was on Janet King or A Place to Call Home. He’s so focused on set, and he’s totally dedicated to detail and nuance. It made me realize that my sort of spectrum was okay, but that really focusing on the little things you could make it better and better, rather than dealing with the sweeping things, which I think you can deal with quite quickly. And then you get into the nitty gritty, and that’s where the audience are more interested, which is in the quick changes inside of the character. The emotional journey. He’s really great at that, if you watch him. And then, after the take’s over, he’s super relaxed and charming and fun to be with, and that’s my favorite type of co-worker. Someone who works really hard when you have to, and when you’re not, is relaxed in real life, and serious but not too serious.

If you’re joining this post linked from the Huffington Post article, start here!

(Sorry about that! I hate breaking up posts but it was too long for HP.)

PS: Janet King season 1 told a story over the course of the eight episodes (as opposed to standalone episodes), subtitled The Enemy Within. There are some major twists and turns and red herrings in the season! Do you, as actors, have a chance to read the full season’s scripts before you start?

MD: Yes, in the sense that I sit down with the head story person, Greg Haddrick; he and a woman, Jane Allen, were on season 1. And so I would sit down with them and they would take me through my arc, so I knew exactly where it was going. The scripts aren’t written before you start. That’s something I would love, but it’s sometimes not possible for that to happen. So I had a fair idea [of what was going to happen]. For season 2, which is on air now in Australia, I was in the writer’s room from the very beginning this time, because I felt I needed to catch up with things in season 1, and that took a lot of energy, so I asked to be in from the very beginning of season 2, before—while they were talking. So I was completely embedded in the story and the twists and turns, so I didn’t have to do as much work when I was shooting, to keep up with where the story was going and changing, if you know what I mean. And that had a profound effect on me, because in season 2, it was so inside me that I had to barely think about it. And all the things that make up the spectacle of Janet, that was completely effortless for me, because I’d been there from the very beginning. It was like seeing a baby born and just being so connected to that child. It became much easier to work. I feel very lucky on Janet that if we were to do it again that would be the process, and so I’d be as close to the material, and it would mean as much to me. Because there’s nothing like being in the room when an idea hits the table and everyone realizes: that’s it, that should be part of the series. And actually, everyone gasps, in the room. That does happen! They all go, “(gasp)! That’s it!” And then when we’re shooting the scene, in season 2, I’m thinking, “It worked!” It added a whole level. In season 1, a lot of times I was going, “So, who’s that? Right. And I’m? … okay. So, do I find out … ?”

PS: So that’s my question. You have characters who are not always who they seem to be … I don’t want to give anything away. Does it help to know in advance if someone is going to turn out to be someone other than they seem? Or does that hinder you?

MD: It’s fine. I think it’s important to know. You have to have the ability to go against it. In season 1, when I found out who [the villain] was, then I was able to play it up, get incredibly close to that person in the scene, so that the audience goes, “Oh no!” So you can actually manipulate it, so that it’s better. You focus on the friendship more, you put your confidence in them, or share something you shouldn’t, or … yeah, I like playing with that, actually.

PS: As far as Janet King, the character, what do you love most about playing Janet?

MD: I like the directness, and I like that she doesn’t always say and do the right things. I love that she can be misinterpreted, and the audience can hate her for a minute, and then realize she’s doing it for the greater good…. I love that she’s in a same-sex relationship with a woman that she loves dearly, and they’re in a functioning marriage that’s kind of, you know, a little bit boring and a little bit strained, and a little bit unsexy, which, after nine years and the nine-month-old twins, that’s what we all are. I wanted that to be really based in the reality that everyone experiences. But I also love that she doesn’t define herself in relation to men. I think she’s not a man-hater; she just wants everyone to treat everyone as they should be treated. And when she doesn’t get that respect, then she’ll arc up, man or woman, it doesn’t matter to her. I love that there’s a lead woman on screen …. It’s unusual [in Australia] and I like that, I like being part of that push. Although that’s changing, the more I think about it, there’s lots of great women in the country are leading in beautiful ways. That’s changed since I started with Janet.

PS: Is there a season 3 planned?

MD: I hope so. Season 2 is going really well; it’s been overwhelming, actually, how much people have loved it. As I said, it’s a changing landscape. But I hope so; I’d love to do another one. I guess we’ll find out soon!

PS: Okay, random question: Have you ever done any comedy? Your shows are all so intense that I can’t help but wonder!

MD: Not really. I’m not very funny, Pam. I mean, I’d be happy to try. Occasionally I do try to throw in funny bits into my scenes, and they usually fall flat, which means they’re laughing at me, which I guess is okay, too; that seems to be what clowns do. Yeah, I’d love to!

PS: I think you should have a goal for one funny scene per episode. Don’t overwhelm yourself.

MD: Exactly!

PS: Occasionally when we’re talking—you say you’re not funny, but occasionally, something funny will pop out, and I’ll think, “Oh, that was funny!” So I think we should investigate this.

MD: The Reluctant Comedian.

PS: And there would have to be a Jack. You could have you, and three characters named Jack. [Because every show Marta is in has a Jack!] I can write it for you!

MD: Yes!

PS: Last time we talked you said you were working on doing more of your own projects. What are you working on these days; has anything moved forward? I know you’ve been busy.

MD: Yeah, I’m still talking to people about various projects. In the break that I had we went on family holiday, and then I made it to LA. I found my visit to LA really invigorating. I talked to some extraordinary people, and I just felt really excited about the possibilities of coming there. So I’ve added that to the list of things I want to prioritize and aim toward once these shows are finished. So I’m balancing that out. But I’m still talking to people, trying to come up with ideas. One of the projects I think I was talking about with you before, we’re still developing, still pushing forward, and we’ve brought on a producer to that. And I’m still working on my own story, but that’s in the background. I’ve got management now in America, and I think there is a possibility to come over there and do something there as well. There’s a lot to think about. I think they are great ideas, and very different, and important stories. There’s a lot going on right now, but I’m excited about changing the landscape. Maybe end of next year.

PS: So you’re currently working on season 4 for A Place to Call Home, how long does that go, and then what’s next?

MD: It goes until August, and then I’m doing a play.

PS: Oh? What play?

MD: I’m doing an Australian play written by Benedict Andrews. I worked with him at the Sydney Theatre Company. He’s written a fabulous play called Gloria, and that will be late this year.

PS: Fantastic! Well, is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Janet King, or Jack Irish, or anything else?

MD: I think we’ve about covered it!

PS: Thank you so much, Marta! Please keep in touch about all your projects!

MD: Thank you, Pam! Take care!

You can find Marta on Twitter.

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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