Fairfax (The Age/SMH) has a great interview with Nadine Garner.
Photo: Melanie Faith Dove
Lunch with Nadine Garner
Published: February 9, 2013 – 3:00AM
THE word ”veteran” attached to the name of an actor is often a back-handed compliment – a wink-word for someone whose best work is long behind them yet still deserves respect, often of a patronising variety.
At 42, Nadine Garner’s best years are arguably still ahead of her, yet it’s jarring to hear her refer to her ”26 years in the business”.
Garner was a 13-year-old gamine when she first appeared in the prime-time children’s drama The Henderson Kids, an auspicious debut of which she is constantly reminded. Which happens the moment the casually dressed Garner arrives at the new Southbank restaurant and bar Sake and The Age’s photographer recognises little Tamara Henderson.
One suspects that all these years and numerous roles later, Garner is still identified as the pesky, blue-eyed Tamara. She is gracious when the past is dragged up, though clearly relieved when the conversation moves on.
In person, Garner is voluble, intense and vivacious. She exchanges quips with the photographer, shares insights with the waiter into the protocols of pouring sake (always fill your guests’ glasses before your own) and offers war stories about the trials of raising ”off-the-Richter-scale spirited” boys aged almost seven and four.
”Don’t talk to me about girl children,” she says animatedly, ”when people sit there with their three girls who are colouring in and your children are up on the third shelf behind the bar pouring themselves a drink.”
Sake is the southern offshoot of Shaun Presland’s contemporary Japanese restaurant, across two levels on the river’s edge in the refurbished Hamer Hall.
After an appetiser of edamame – lightly salted and steamed soy beans – we move on to a plate of just-seared salmon in a fresh and chilled jalapeno sauce, and salt-and-pepper tofu, whose crunchy coating blends perfectly with the jelly-like tofu. The waiter recommends the house-branded cold sake, Sakura, whose summer fruitiness is a welcome corrective to fire-water examples of Japan’s national drink.
Having grown up in the public eye, Garner has a critical view on what she once called ”the spat-out kids”, young actors whose careers end early in a business obsessed with youthful body images.
”It’s very strange to have people sort of carrying around these notions of your childhood,” she told The Age in 1994. ”Trying to grow up and constantly being bombarded with images of your own puberty, basically, was tough.”
Though Garner has never stopped working – in the past two or so years she has finished a five-year run on Seven’s cop-shop procedural City Homicide, written and directed a short film and played opposite Craig McLachlan in the new ABC period drama The Doctor Blake Mysteries – these days her career fits in around parenthood.
”I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says. ”I’m not interested in working interstate or abroad. Parenthood is front and centre for me at the moment.
”It’s nice to feel that way, because I don’t meet many actors who have that. Most are chasing something or feeling like someone else is having their career. I really, really don’t feel that way at all.”
Garner’s character in the 1950s-set murder-mystery series is widow Jean Beazley, loyal and devoted housekeeper and receptionist to a deceased country doctor and, now, his unorthodox and eccentric son Lucien (McLachlan).
Jean is deeply conservative and the subject of small-town gossip as a result of cohabiting with a handsome bachelor (it is the 1950s, after all). But she has street smarts and a great sense of morality.
Having lost her husband in the war, Jean finds a sense of purpose in her service to Lucien, whose roguish, firebrand ways are the opposite of her staid conservatism. Their differences draw them together – spiritually if not romantically – and lead them to deciphering the puzzles of human nature that underscore the suspicious deaths he investigates.
”Jean is a character that I think a lot of modern women wrestle with, because they see [her role] as somehow sexist,” Garner says. ”But I think a woman like Jean doesn’t see it as a feminist or non-feminist issue. She just sees it as a human issue. Her job has become to serve.”
Garner made her short film, Afterglow, after working on City Homicide for five years, ”desperate to do something beautiful and period”. The film’s screenplay won her an AACTA nomination.
Making Afterglow, she realised that what fulfilled her was the crafting of the film rather than any aspiration to become a jobbing director. ”I’m more of a hobbyist. I like to craft things over … time.”
The 10-minute melodrama, which can be viewed on Vimeo, focuses on the ”Sliding Doors moment” when a married country judge who has fallen in love with his housekeeper realises she won’t end their pregnancy, as he wants, but will flee to Spain and raise the child.
Garner says Afterglow is about the human dilemma of living your life well. ”Is it staying with the wife or going off with the free spirit; following your heart or being dutiful? I like those questions. I think that’s what makes storytelling interesting. They’re dilemmas we all deal with, silently, on the inside, all the time.”
Serendipity plays a large role in her career and choices these days – ”If it comes it comes, and if it doesn’t it wasn’t for me,” she says – a legacy of juggling work and children and the era of her ascendancy in the film and TV business.
”I came through at a time when people weren’t rushing to LA … I came through in the ’80s. We were barely a blip on the Hollywood map. Nicole [Kidman] was trailblazing but that wasn’t what you did.
”I don’t regret it. I don’t think that’s me, anyway. I’m so not LA fodder. I’m too interested in the world to sit around in LA waiting for the phone to ring. I’d rather be at university,” she says, adding later that studies are on her radar.
As she tells it, Garner fell into acting by accident. ”I never really wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a singer. I ended up in a general audition and that led to a specific audition for The Henderson Kids. I didn’t have parents in the business, or pushy parents, it just happened that way.”
■ The Doctor Blake Mysteries screens on Fridays at 8.30pm on ABC1.