Peter Wilmouth has written a fantastic piece on Nadine for The Weekly Review.
The Weekly Review
May 27, 2013
Nadine Garner is talking about the typecasting actors can battle against. Not that she has a problem with that because, after nearly 30 years as an actor, her range of roles has been vast. But it’s true that some roles have hung around in the public consciousness longer than they might have.
“Oh god, yeah,” she says. “The Henderson Kids, the first show I ever did, had some kind of bizarre grip on people. It was made with such integrity at a time when there wasn’t a lot of children’s TV around.
“It’s probably the same as all those American shows that I loved, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart. They’re kind of iconic for me, and I’m sure if I saw Barbara Feldon I’d say, ‘You’re 99!’
“Some actors crucify themselves in a role by being too good. Like Don Adams. What else can he do? He is Maxwell Smart; poor bastard. The paradox is that if you are really good in something people say, ‘You’re that! We can’t possibly cast you in anything else’.”
Now 42, Garner has played a huge variety of characters. “Yes. I just played a Northcote lesbian and I had to kiss Kate Ritchie in the dunny for about 45 minutes. I said, ‘Are we done already?’ I like Kate a lot, but how many takes are we going to do of this?”
It was for a new show for the ABC called It’s a Date, a 10-episode series about couples dating. “I was the token lesbian. Kate Ritchie was my blind date. Often I get cast as the psychopath or the bad person.”
Most recently Garner appeared, also on the ABC, in Blake (The Doctor Blake Mysteries, which has been renewed), with Craig McLachlan, who had typecasting issues of his own.
“I’m thrilled for him to have cracked that role and be seen as a serious dramatic actor, which he’s totally capable of,” Garner says. “He’s one of those freaks, the triple threat ? singer, dancer, beautiful musician, beautiful singer and guitarist, great actor, great guy.”
It seems Nadine Garner has always been somewhere in our lives, whether it’s on stage doing Shakespeare, Chekhov or Ibsen, in film (Mull, Metal Skin) or on television (Blue Water High, City Homicide).
“I could never see myself having the kind of focus-blinkered vision required to break through in Hollywood.”
She enjoyed the consistency of five years working on the latter. “For me doing regular work on a TV show gives you a really great grounding in the craft. You can walk away from that going, ‘Well, it was a cop show, maybe it didn’t change anyone’s life’, but for me as a practitioner, I take an immense sense of confidence away with me that can’t be taken away now.
“I don’t feel I have to struggle for work as much. I’ve done so much work there’s not that feeling of the chase in me any more. I’ve sated something in myself through the mere practice of doing it over and over, day in day out, the hard graft of it.
“When you’re unemployed and wanting to be employed, acting’s this elusive thing that you have to have in order to be OK. Now I don’t have that terrible crawling hunger to do it, which is a place that most actors come from … And the chase is a really unpleasant state to be in.”
It’s that classic fear of rejection for roles that would be hard not to take personally. “Of course,” she says. “It’s always personal. Someone doesn’t want you in your emotional life or professional life. If you’re rejected it’s painful, so I’ve decided to minimise rejection – and try to want less. Wanting less is a better place to be, and letting the work float toward me rather than me running the race the whole time.”
She harbours no regrets about not trying out in Hollywood. “When I came through in the ’80s there wasn’t the infrastructure for Australian actors to break through there. It was very much a new thing. These days it’s par for the course; you go through NIDA and you go over and do the [TV] pilot season. That’s what you do, and you’re crazy if you don’t.
“Nicole Kidman was trailblazing ahead of me doing that, but she was one out of many. I never had the funds or family or friends based there to go and sleep on a floor for 10 years.”
And Garner is fine about that.
“I don’t really have the staying power to focus exclusively on trying to get work as an actor,” she says. “I’m too interested in other stuff. I’m interested in the world, in studying. I’d like to go back and do some postgrad work in the area of philosophy, I’m interested in the art scene. I could never see myself having the kind of focus-blinkered vision required to break through in Hollywood.
“I understand and appreciate the dedication but I don’t have that application. It’s about knowing myself and knowing, ‘You’re really not that creature, so don’t worry, just have a rich and varied life in a great city like Melbourne; that’s going to be enough for you’. And saying that that’s enough is a really OK thing as a human.
“The system wants you constantly to be looking for the next thing. Well, what about that is actually satisfactory? Life has really been satisfactory for me. I’ve been able to have two children in a wonderful city, in a great country; I’ve worked in London; I’ve lived in Sydney and I’ve had a really rich life. And I don’t really think I’ve missed anything, and it’s still evolving.”
Garner has two sons, aged seven and four. I ask how having children has changed her. “I’m more compassionate,” she says. “I have quicker access to my heartfelt feelings. I have deeper empathy for all humanity now. It gives me a deep sense of love for humanity without wanting to sound corny. For me motherhood has been a profound insight into a love that I didn’t know before.
“I have to work with letting go of that on a daily basis. I have to realise that my children are going to grow and move away. And that every day you have to let them go. Every day, incrementally, they are becoming something outside of you and your remit. So as a mother I am constantly having to work with letting go of that. Not letting go of that love, but letting it not wound me because I love them so much. That’s a deeply spiritual thing for me, to feel that love, to let it course through me, but not let it wreck me.”
How has being a parent informed her work?
“I’ve always been an emotional actor, but now I’m terribly emotional,” she says.
“I can access the emotional body of material really, really fast, which is helpful. And I cry at commercials; I’m hopeless. I’m a walking series of emotions, which I love, and which I find really challenging.”
Garner has been acting constantly since she was 15. In an often uncertain industry that’s a good effort.
“I can’t do anything else. I don’t know that I’ve been particularly savvy with my career. I’ve always been instinctive and heartfelt the way I’ve lived my life. I probably should have been cleverer with the things that I did. Maybe turning down things I should have taken.”
In 2011 she made a short film, Afterglow, which inspired her directorial ambitions.
“Loved it. It was holistically rewarding, whereas as an actor it’s piecemeal satisfaction.”
She would like to do more directing. “I’m interested in facilitating a story, not just as the instrument but as someone with a broader view of it.”
Garner has several projects on the go but she says time is the thing. “You have to be completely one-eyed about getting something made and convince a lot of people that you’re the person for the job,” she says. “There are a lot of talented people out there who work tirelessly to get a project up. I’m maybe not in that ballpark, as a mother with young children.
“The long-term passionate goal thing? I’m kind of living day-to-day. There are projects that I‘d love to get up, bubbling away, in various levels of development, but I don’t know if I’m applying myself to ever get those done because I’m still trying to work out what to cook for dinner.”
Garner’s school years in Ferntree Gully weren’t brilliant, she says. “My school was experimental back in the day. What was good for me was that it was an unconventional school so, because I was working so much, I slipped in and out without it being too difficult.”
She did Year 12 at Swinburne tech (now Swinburne University of Technology), then an arts degree there as well, majoring in literature and philosophy. But she says her real education came later in life, expanding her knowledge and outlook by reading late into the night.
“My high school years were pretty crap. It’s hard to stay educating myself in the midst of being a domestic person. I force myself to stay awake now and I’m under-slept because I’m reading ’til midnight, but I’m forcing myself. I’m tired all the time because I want that extra bit for me at the end of the day.”
I met Garner 20 years ago and there was a lot of talk about Bob Dylan. Today she says she’s never lost her love of Dylan, indeed it’s got stronger.
“I am more obsessed with Bob Dylan now than ever before. As I get older I find his poetry more and more profound and I find myself going back to his immense canon, the Dylan canon, which I think is comparable to Shakespeare. To me it’s a serious body of work and worthy of deep analysis. Some people say he’s such a pop cultural icon; I don’t say that.”
Garner replenishes her soul through art – not doing it but reading about it. “I really love art. I love reading about artists and how they live their life, how they came to paint what they painted. The thing about being a painter is you don’t have to wait for someone to tell you you can paint a picture. That’s what I’ve always been jealous of; you can’t really do [acting] on your own.
“I wish I could paint. If I could I would be a painter not an actor, but I have no talent in that area.”
Luckily, she has great talents in other areas.