She’s jaw-drop­pingly beau­ti­ful, with the brains and tal­ent to match. But, as her friend and co-star Kerry Arm­strong dis­cov­ers, ac­tress Jes­sica Marais strug­gles with the same in­se­cu­ri­ties and self-doubt as the rest of us

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents - Pho­tographs by Jen­nifer Sten­glein / Styling by Rachel Wayman

She’s one of our most-loved ac­tresses, but there’s a lot more to Jes­sica Marais than meets the eye.

Jes­sica Marais is a woman in de­mand. Tak­ing on two lead roles (en­dear­ing hot mess Lily Wood­ward on The Wrong Girl and the so­phis­ti­cated Dr Joan Mil­lar on Love Child), plus try­ing her hand at pro­duc­ing and writ­ing, has meant the past year has been one of her busiest yet. But set her award­win­ning char­ac­ters aside for a mo­ment and there’s an in­spir­ing woman more com­plex than any scriptwriter could hope to cre­ate. In the in­ter­ests of delv­ing a lit­tle deeper into Marais’ beau­ti­ful mind, we handed the con­ver­sa­tion over to her on-screen mother and off­screen men­tor, fel­low ac­tress Kerry Arm­strong. With the dust not yet set­tled on The Wrong Girl sea­son two wrap party, the pas­sion­ate, strong and successful women sit down to talk about ev­ery­thing from moth­er­hood to myth­i­cal crea­tures. We lis­tened in.

KERRY ARM­STRONG: How are you feel­ing to­day?

JES­SICA MARAIS: Like, right now? I’m feel­ing a lit­tle bit tired but gen­er­ally quite happy.

KA: Have you had a chance to let go of The Wrong Girl, or are you still hold­ing onto Lily?

JM: I feel like I’ve been hold­ing onto her. I watched some of the edit yes­ter­day. I had trou­ble sud­denly just de­tach­ing from it. KA: What do you think about the edit? How does it feel to you?

JM: Some­times I think I’m talk­ing my­self out of a job – I’ll be like, “Why are we paused on that frame? No, get rid of that.”

KA: This is what runs through all our lives. Are we wanted? Are we good enough as women? Are you aware it’s prob­a­bly the pro­ducer in you speak­ing? JM: That’s prob­a­bly right. It’s like the pro­ducer brain is the grown-up side and the ac­tor per­son is the child.

KA: You love to write as well. What’s your writer like? JM: Still learn­ing. I find it dif­fi­cult some­times – my brain and my thoughts and my feel­ings go at such a rapid pace... Some­times I can’t ex­press things as ef­fi­ciently as I want to. Or as elo­quently.

KA: I think at times you’ve got this hur­ri­cane of tal­ents you can’t con­tain in words. The first time in re­hearsal for The Wrong Girl, I was so thrilled by your abil­ity. It’s re­mark­able when you don’t even know the per­son is act­ing be­cause they em­body the char­ac­ter so well.

JM: I’ve said more scripted words in the past year than I’ve had ac­tual con­ver­sa­tions. It can be quite strange try­ing to find your own voice again. KA: Did Lily ever say some­thing you wished you’d said? Or do some­thing you would never do?

JM: I couldn’t say “would never do” be­cause I don’t be­lieve in that. I don’t think peo­ple know what they would and wouldn’t do in any given sit­u­a­tion. Did she say some­thing I wished I’d said? I feel there were a few vic­to­ri­ous mo­ments for Lily. I think it’s usu­ally around her abil­ity to stand up for her­self or some­one else. Like the mo­ment when she told Eric [Al­brect­son, played by Craig Mclach­lan] that the way he touched her at work was in­ap­pro­pri­ate and made her un­com­fort­able. Then had to wear that de­ci­sion. I felt that was an in­ter­est­ing one be­cause I think as ac­tors, and I know I’ve had trou­ble with it, some­one will call you “dar­ling” in a cer­tain en­vi­ron­ment or in a mo­ment where you feel re­ally vul­ner­a­ble and usu­ally you would never even bat an eye­lid. [But] you think, “Don’t call me dar­ling. Don’t be­lit­tle me.” It’s in­ter­est­ing where your bound­aries are.

KA: What was won­der­ful was that she was able to say that and make it play out so the view­ers could recog­nise them­selves in both those sit­u­a­tions, both a man and a young woman.

JM: Yeah, and I don’t even know if it’s gen­der spe­cific, what’s ap­pro­pri­ate and also that idea of if things are done with good in­ten­tions. He’s not a lech­er­ous char­ac­ter, he means well, but do good in­ten­tions or a lack of aware­ness of your be­hav­iour ex­cuse it, and to what point?

KA: I think the rea­son Lily res­onates with so many peo­ple is that she’s the same Lily but with each per­son she seems to care about them in a re­ally dif­fer­ent way. Did you have a sense of that?

JM: Par­tic­u­larly with you [Arm­strong plays Lily’s mum Mimi] and Hugo [John­stone-burt, who plays Lily’s brother Vin­cent] – be­cause you were play­ing fam­ily mem­bers, I felt safer and more able to be my­self. KA: Did that hap­pen in your life with your par­ents? With your mum and your sis­ter?

JM: I guess the peo­ple clos­est to you see the best and worst sides of you. Some­times they get the hon­est, happy, the purely joy­ful inner-child you that you feel safe enough to share with them, but then they also cop the brunt of, I guess, is it im­po­lite­ness or frus­tra­tion?

KA: I just think it’s real. Can I ask about Hugo, be­cause you haven’t got a brother and you’ve been given the gift of broth­ers since you came out of NIDA.

JM: My sis­ter and I are very close but I’ve of­ten felt as though it would be nice to have a brother. I think to be given a char­ac­ter who has no propen­sity to be sex­ual, a pro­tec­tive, lov­ing per­son who has her back with no agenda, is a gift. I’ve had won­der­ful male friends in my life but, a lot of the time, they find it very, for what­ever rea­son, dif­fi­cult to stay pla­tonic and it al­ways gets awk­ward, and it’s nice to have a per­son, a male, who’s in­vested in your well­be­ing with no agenda.

KA: You said that be­ing plucked straight out of NIDA, you were naive as to the im­pact Packed To The Rafters would have on your life. You also said it was a crash course in learn­ing how to be in the pub­lic eye. Do you wish you’d been taught more about what celebrity was?

JM: I didn’t re­ally un­der­stand the con­cept or the cult of celebrity. I feel as though if some­one had sat me down and given me a crash course in it, I prob­a­bly still wouldn’t have... I don’t know, I think if you give peo­ple a cer­tain amount of suc­cess at a cer­tain age, the fame game is a re­ally hard one.

KA: What would you like peo­ple to know about you? A girl sit­ting in a room who wants to be an ac­tress – what would you want her to know?

JM: I would want her to know her­self. I would want her to be happy, to play all these roles and wear all the dif­fer­ent hats you want to wear, but to know your­self and be able to come back to your­self. KA: Do you feel you know your­self more now? JM: I’ve grown into my­self, but ev­ery now and then you ques­tion and things change... some­times I think I know my­self, then I think I don’t know my­self at all. KA: You’re in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous. You pay at­ten­tion to peo­ple and ask lots of ques­tions. When peo­ple ask ques­tions about your life, do you like that feel­ing? be JM: asked That’s the tricky. ques­tionsI don’t I’m re­ally com­fort­able­like it. Well, talk­ingI like about!to I to don’t an­swer like be­causeto be askedI feel ques­tions in­com­pe­tent that and I don’t em­bar­rassed.know how

whatKA: YouI see mustin you nev­eras a mother,ever, ever, and ever, I’ve been ever… blessed be­cause to meet your gor­geous daugh­ter Scout, it seems to me you en­cour­age her to ask ques­tions, is that right?

JM: I do, but then it shoots me in the foot a bit! I want her to ask ques­tions. That’s one of my re­cent things, say­ing there are no stupid ques­tions.

KA: Some­times when you meet lit­tle girls or boys, they can be shy, but when I met Scout, I felt she was in­cred­i­bly present and lov­ing. You said this beau­ti­ful thing about telling her that you give peo­ple love through your eyes. Do you re­mem­ber say­ing that?

JM: Be­cause we Face­time when I’m away, we have this thing where we just look at each other and it’s say­ing I love you with your eyes and I say, “When we look at each other like that, you can feel it in your heart.” It’s a nice lit­tle thing we do to­gether to feel con­nected be­cause I can feel dis­con­nected with her through work and fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion and things like that. KA: Does she like the char­ac­ter of Lily? JM: I haven’t re­ally shown her much of Lily. I tried show­ing her a bit the other day but she wasn’t very in­ter­ested, but she is fas­ci­nated by how it all hap­pens. She can’t fathom that peo­ple can be on a DVD cover and then you put [the DVD] in and they’ve gone into the TV, but then they’re ac­tu­ally walk­ing around in the world. To her, it’s magic. That’s what’s dif­fi­cult as well. As a par­ent you’re like, how much do I let them be­lieve in magic and how much do we de­con­struct ev­ery­thing? Be­cause part of me just wants her to be­lieve in uni­corns and joy and hap­pily ever af­ters.

KA: I’m pretty sure, once we get it right, there will be uni­corns... I want to talk about the strength of char­ac­ter you need as a lead­ing ac­tor – I equate it to a marathon run­ner. For Love Child and The Wrong

Girl, you showed up ev­ery day, got up ev­ery morn­ing at 4.30 or 5.30, made sure your hair was clean, made sure you ar­rived on set and knew ev­ery line of ev­ery scene, then got home, said “Hi” to your daugh­ter, cooked, ate and then started again. Did you know be­ing the lead in a se­ries comes with this kind of in­cred­i­ble phys­i­cal and men­tal duress?

JM: I think we knew it more at drama school be­cause for the­atre, you’ve got to be like an ath­lete – you’ve got that de­mand on your body and on your voice and things that you don’t have as much on film or TV. This year, it was a lot be­cause I was do­ing some very emo­tional stuff at work, then you come home and you can’t just switch that stuff off, and then you’ve got your per­sonal life and ev­ery­thing else go­ing on. Some­times it’s like you’re in a marathon and peo­ple give you wa­ter and you’ve got your cheer squad and all that. But no-one can run the race for you.

KA: How do you move be­tween Lily and Joan?

JM: Joan’s got a Bri­tish clipped ac­cent and there’s the [1970s] pe­riod hair and makeup and she’s a doc­tor in a very pro­fes­sional hospi­tal, she’s kind of a prod­uct of her time, so I have a lot of help in cre­at­ing that char­ac­ter from other peo­ple who are in­volved. With Lily, I tried to re­lax. I didn’t want her to be self-con­scious at all, which in some ways is con­fronting as an ac­tress be­cause I wanted her to lie there and not be think­ing, “Do I have a dou­ble chin while I’m kiss­ing from this an­gle?” Be­cause I no­tice peo­ple be­ing self-con­scious on cam­era and I don’t judge it be­cause, how could you not be? But then it’s con­fronting for me to see that back and go, “I look aw­ful.” KA: Is re­gret an emo­tion you place much stock in? JM: I have chang­ing opin­ions. Some­times I think, “Life of no re­grets, just move for­ward.” But I’ve got 20/20 hind­sight, and of course there are things we re­gret. If I didn’t, I would have no con­science. So, I have re­grets but I don’t like to stay in them for too long.

KA: The way that you and I eat, you must re­gret some ex­tra serves of food. I’ve never seen any­one eat that much!

JM: I’m re­gret­ting it be­cause I had to do a fit­ting yes­ter­day and I barely fit­ted [into] any of the clothes! I do re­gret that, but then I go, “Okay, do I live in that re­gret or do I just move on and get health­ier again?” KA: Is there part of you that looks to­wards the fu­ture? JM: I wish I knew what was com­ing. I want some­one to tell me ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be fine, not just for me, but for the world. I see stuff hap­pen­ing and some­times you feel so pow­er­less and in­signif­i­cant.

KA: I’m so thrilled that we got to play Lily and Mimi to­gether. I hope mums and daugh­ters could find bits of them­selves in them.

JM: You seemed to un­der­stand her vul­ner­a­bil­ity as a mother... Mimi’s not per­fect but she has done the best she can. KA: Would you be de­scrib­ing your­self a lit­tle bit?

JM: A lot prob­a­bly. Some­times your best isn’t good enough. But you keep try­ing. I think it’s in an episode of Mod­ern Fam­ily, they say, just keep show­ing up. And I think that’s quite a big les­son that you don’t re­ally un­der­stand un­til you have a child. You kind of go, “Oh no, this is for­ever,” and then, “No, this is re­ally for­ever. Oh, we just crossed that hur­dle, now I thought I’d be done with that, no there’s an­other one, oh no for­ever!”

KA: You’re one of the best mums. You’re not gloss­ing over things, you’re not pre­tend­ing that as moth­ers we’re per­fect. What you’re do­ing ev­ery day, what we’re all do­ing, is lov­ing these chil­dren as much as we can and hop­ing ev­ery­one will for­give us when we blun­der. What ad­vice have you been given that you hold dear?

JM: I think the best piece of ad­vice is to trust your­self. Be­cause there’ll come a time when no-one can make de­ci­sions for you. And to have the courage of your con­vic­tions to trust that you’ll make the best choice. KA: Do you like be­ing alone? JM: If Scout’s at school and I’m alone at home? I love it! KA: What do you do? JM: Clean, tidy, read, you know, all the usual. KA: What do you read? JM: At the start of the year I was read­ing a bit too much. I was read­ing Rise Sis­ter Rise, I was do­ing all the self­help and Eck­hart Tolle, I was re-do­ing all those ones.

KA: And what do you clean? JM: I like re-or­der­ing my cup­boards, try­ing to re­store or­der. A makeup artist once said to me, “No-one no­tices a tidy house, peo­ple only no­tice a dirty house.” She works and she has a child and the house will be filthy some­times, and she had to go, “Well, that’s my choice.” And if some­one judges her for it, she’s okay with that. I thought that was a good metaphor for life. KA: I think women need to stop be­ing of­fended by each other. I love the drive to school in jam­mies...

JM: Yeah! The other thing is learn­ing to pri­ori­tise. I used to worry about hav­ing to get Scout to school and look­ing per­fect, then I re­alised if I’m wast­ing time do­ing that, she’s go­ing to have stress around ar­riv­ing late. You have to learn – self­less­ness is not some­thing you’re born with. It’s a big deal when you go, “No, it’s more im­por­tant that she gets there. I don’t care how I look.” That’s quite con­fronting to go through in the pub­lic eye, as some­one who used to make sure she had the blow-dry per­fect and all that.

KA: The last time I saw you, we were at the wrap party and ev­ery­body was dressed up in their finest. And what I loved was that into the mid­dle of the dance floor shot this crea­ture with a T-shirt and over­alls, no makeup, and crump­ing to the mu­sic. You were like this beau­ti­ful child. You were in your el­e­ment.

JM: [It’s] tough for fe­male ac­tresses... We’re meant to be able to play like chil­dren for our job but then be women in our life and [act our] age and not have sen­su­al­ity or im­ma­ture mo­ments. I don’t think it’s re­al­is­tic to ex­pect.

KA: It’s a tremen­dous time to be a woman, be­cause [we once] judged each other – we’ve all done it and re­gret it – but now it’s time to cham­pion each other.

JM: Yeah, that’s it. And it’s hard not to [judge oth­ers]. I don’t know if it’s an evo­lu­tion­ary thing, where we’re sort of meant to see each other as threats. But there’s no two of any­body, or there is and it’s in a par­al­lel uni­verse and I have my thoughts about that...

Jumper, $845, Sa­cai, par­lourx.com

Dress, $36,000, Gior­gio Ar­mani, ar­mani.com/au; (from left) bracelet, $2,150, bracelet, $2,800, both Tiffany & Co., tiffany.com; ring, Jes­sica’s own

Top, $595, Zim­mer­mann, zim­mer­man­nwear.com; hat, $895, Nerida Win­ter, ner­i­daw­in­ter.com; neck­lace, $990, Tiffany & Co., tiffany.com

Top, $490, Ro­mance Was Born, ro­mance­was­born.com; sunglasses, $250, Bec & Bridge X Pared, be­can­d­bridge.com.au; neck­lace, $1,500, bracelet, $3,150, bracelet, $1,450, ring, $2,650, all Tiffany & Co., tiffany.com Hair: Daren Borth­wick at The Artist Group....

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