WILL THE REAL JESSICA MARAIS PLEASE STAND UP?
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
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. Makeup: Noni Smith at The Artist Group, L’oréal Paris makeup director