Ward’s cross country
Rachel Ward plays a vet with attitude in rural drama Rain Shadow and she loves it, writes Marcus Casey
IT HAS long been a complaint of actors that there are very few meaty roles for ‘‘women of a certain age’’. And Rachel Ward, 50, now considers herself part of that demographic.
But she’s not complaining too much about the character she plays in Rain Shadow, a six-part drama series set in dry farming country.
Ward ( right) stars as Kate McDonald, a widowed vet with a phone book-thick hide and a prickly demeanour that would make a cactus proud. She lives in the tiny South Australian town of Paringa and is an integral part of a drought-affected farming community.
McDonald has a dark secret in her past and the district has one in the present — a transmittable sheep disease McDonald is required to report, but won’t. She’s not the most likable character, but Ward reckons she’s great.
‘‘I did like her,’’ Ward says. ‘‘She’s a strong woman, and the role does not rely on sexuality or the tedious things women have to be — the perennial nurse to the blokes.
‘‘She was strong, uncompromising, direct and confident, which women generally are at our age. She’s no wilting flower and it was fun to play a dynamic character who didn’t suffer fools. She reminded me of Helen Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect in the way she was a professional and absolutely committed to her career, but the private life was fairly incidental.
‘‘I think she’s grown a quite tough exterior— but break away from that and you will find a fairly vulnerable person within.’’
Rain Shadow moves at a rural pace and is largely a character study. There are eight central cast mem- bers, including Shane Withington, who returns to the small screen as a farmer who seems to knows everything about everybody.
The other big character is the drought-parched landscape. The show could be seen as depressing, but Ward argues otherwise.
‘‘I wouldn’t say depressing, would say dramatic,’’ she says.
‘‘The drama in Australia today is not urban drama, it’s rural drama where you are on the front line of
I life-and-death situations for our livestock and the farmers involved.
‘‘There is a large rural suicide rate. There are foreclosures and people gamble with their livelihoods on a daily basis, so you don’t have to invent the drama with someone jumping out of someone else’s bed. It’s drama based on very real day-today experiences.’’ OK, what about bleak? ‘‘I don’t see it as that, either,’’ she says. ‘‘Some of the stories are, but the overall community isn’t. It really is about how people survive those dramas, and they survive because they have an incredibly intense community life — the relationships are very rich and more life-sustaining than they are in the city.’’
Ward’s co-star is Victoria Thaine, who has had roles in Blue Heelers and All Saints. She plays Jill Blake, Ward’s new assistant.
‘‘She’s a terrific new talent,’’ Ward says. ‘‘I was part of the audition process and she was a standout from day one. There was real chemistry there and at the audition I perked up and really listened to her.
‘‘Victoria demands your attention in her beguiling, innocent way and she has an intelligence about her.
‘‘She wasn’t afraid to take me, Rachel Ward, on, as well as the character, and I think that was an interesting dynamic.’’