Ward’s cross coun­try

Rachel Ward plays a vet with at­ti­tude in ru­ral drama Rain Shadow and she loves it, writes Mar­cus Casey

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Tv Guide -

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.’’

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