Rafters of talent
It’s been a rapid rise for Jessica Marais, who doesn’t intend to be typecast, writes Colin Vickery
JESSICA Marais most likely. Not since Cate Blanchett, who cut her career teeth in TV series Heartland and Bordertown, have there been such high expectations of a small-screen star.
Marais, 24, has already won two Logie Awards for her riveting portrayal of Rachel Rafter in Packed to the Rafters— that’s less than two years after graduating from the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art.
It’s a rapid rise that leaves Marais (right) in something of a quandary. At what point should she leave Rafters if she’s to pursue an international career?
Marais is thrilled to have won a great part on a smash hit TV drama, but as many actors have found, meteoric TV success can prove a hindrance.
The industry is littered with talented actors who struggled for opportunity in the long term because they were typecast for playing a popular TV character.
‘‘Right now ( Rafters) is wonderful for me because I’m still getting on my feet and still learning so much about the industry, but I absolutely want to explore other avenues,’’ Marais says.
‘‘It’s difficult for any actor who signs on to a TV series because it’s such a hugely popular medium.
‘‘Because you are in people’s living rooms on a weekly basis, they really believe you are that character.’’
An ambitious Marais has signed with the prestige United Talent Agency, which has big names on its books including Harrison Ford and Johnny Depp. A move to the US is likely down the track.
‘‘I can’t see myself doing the show (Rafters) for eight years — absolutely not. I had a nomadic upbringing and so it’s not in my nature to stick with anything for long. They (Seven) will be lucky to get me for half that time. That’s not reflective of them — it’s more reflective of myself.’’
The thing is, Marais
is so convincing as the troubled Rachel. She totally inhabits the girl-nextdoor character who has been unlucky in love.
Marais and the Rafters writers have constructed a complex and often contradictory individual who resonates with viewers.
‘‘The fact Rachel has been hurt so many times and manages to bounce back and still give love a go after it has kicked her in the guts is really admirable,’’ Marais says.
‘‘A lot of people who go through adverse relationship circumstances can shut themselves off.
‘‘Rachel has certainly gone through periods of that, but essen- tially she’s willing to give everything a go.
‘‘She can be prickly, though. There’s a little bit of scarring and there’s certainly barriers people need to break through.’’
Marais says Rebecca Gibney, who plays Rachel’s mother Julie, has been ‘‘personally and profes- sionally an inspiration’’. In her daunting first year on the show, Marais, who was plagued by illhealth, relied heavily on Gibney for support. She was working 14-hour days when glandular fever took hold.
‘‘I had a few health problems that drained my energy levels quite severely,’’ Marais says. ‘‘I was really unwell for half the season and it was tough.
‘‘It (success) has not come without a lot of hard work, and working in this industry has had its sacrifices for me personally. I’m trying to find a lot more balance (in my life) this year.
‘‘Rebecca really does have that balance between her professional life and her personal life. She has wonderful warmth and everyone so beautifully.’’
At NIDA, Marais tackled everything from the heavy drama of Chekhov and Shakespeare to the musical Sweet Charity. Given her talent, what roles would she like to tackle beyond Rafters?
‘‘There are so many great roles in theatre and film and I’d really like to explore as many of them as I can. I love Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. To be in one of their plays on Broadway would be incredible,’’ she says.
‘‘I’d love to play a glamorous screen siren. I love comedy too.’’
treats Packed to the Rafters, M Channel 7, Tuesday, 8.30pm Hit domestic drama Duration: 2-hour season return