A role in Ten’s new tele­movie on Wik­ileaks founder Ju­lian As­sange is the kind of act­ing chal­lenge Rachel Grif­fiths has craved, writes Colin Vick­ery

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Cover Story -

IT IS time for Rachel Grif­fiths to spread her wings. The award­win­ning ac­tor has spent the past decade star­ring in two highly ac­claimed TV shows — Six Feet Un­der and Broth­ers and Sis­ters.

Those two shows have brought Grif­fiths wide­spread ac­claim and a healthy pay cheque, but they have also re­stricted her act­ing op­tions.

Play­ing the same char­ac­ters — Brenda Chenowith and Sarah Walker — for five years at a time has its down­side.

Now Grif­fiths is start­ing afresh. Last Oc­to­ber, she made her Broad­way de­but in the stage play Other Desert Cities.

And on Sun­day, she stars as mum Chris­tine As­sange in Un­der­ground: The Ju­lian As­sange Story.

Un­der­ground is the first of what Grif­fiths hopes will be a string of one-off film and TV roles that will re­vi­talise her act­ing.

Grif­fiths and hus­band An­drew Tay­lor had just re­turned to Aus­tralia when the Un­der­ground pro­duc­ers came knock­ing.

The cou­ple have three chil­dren — Banjo, 8, Ade­laide, 7, and three-year-old Clemen­tine.

Grif­fiths had planned to have time off, and Tay­lor is keen to re­sume his ca­reer as an artist.

‘‘ It ( the Un­der­ground of­fer) came out of the blue,’’ Grif­fiths says.

‘‘ I was re­ally just com­ing back to Aus­tralia to chill out for a while. I didn’t ex­pect to work.

‘‘ I’ve been re­ally lucky to do two big five-year shows but now I’m re­ally lov­ing do­ing these smaller projects.’’

Chan­nel 10 is bank­ing on Un­der­ground to turn around its 2012 rat­ings for­tunes.

The Aussie tele­movie heads up Ten’s ‘‘ Take a Fresh Look’’ cam­paign, which also in­cludes a swag of fast­tracked US shows.

Ten is un­leash­ing US sit­coms The New Nor­mal and Ben & Kate, as well as dra­mas Ve­gas and Emily Owens M.D. plus the sec­ond se­ries of Emmy-win­ning Home­land.

It comes af­ter the net­work’s hor­ror stretch with rat­ings duds.

Un­der­ground is the jewel in Ten’s crown. It has an out­stand­ing pedi­gree.

Writer/di­rec­tor Robert Con­nolly’s cred­its in­clude The Slap and Bal­ibo.

Best of all, it stars Aussies­made-good-in-Hol­ly­wood Rachel Grif­fiths and An­thony LaPaglia.

Un­der­ground charts the early years of Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange.

New­comer Alex Wil­liams plays the teenage com­puter hacker, Grif­fiths is mum Chris­tine, and LaPaglia is de­tec­tive Ken Roberts.

Sign­ing Grif­fiths was a coup for the mak­ers of Un­der­ground.

Un­der­ground shows that Chris­tine As­sange is as in­ter­est­ing a per­son as son Ju­lian.


For­ward thinker: Rachel Grif­fiths is en­joy­ing the prospect of one-off roles.

Chris­tine is con­stantly on the move in fear of be­ing tracked down by a for­mer part­ner who has links to a cult. She is also a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, but one whose meth­ods seem way too old­school for her hi-tech son.

‘‘ Chris­tine has that ac­tivism; she’s an artist, she was un­con­ven­tional,’’ Grif­fiths says.

‘‘ She was also very much a tiger mum when it came to de­fend­ing Ju­lian and pro­tect­ing him from the dark pow­ers in their lives.’’

Grif­fiths ad­mits she knew lit­tle of As­sange’s teenage years be­fore she read the script to Un­der­ground.

Chris­tine protests by wav­ing ban­ners and build­ing pup­pets. Ju­lian can see that hack­ing top-se­cret US gov­ern­ment web­sites is a far more ef­fec­tive way to cause havoc.

‘‘ I think a lot of peo­ple are in­trigued about what made Ju­lian (the way he is),’’ Grif­fiths says.

‘‘ When I first be­came aware of Ju­lian I thought, ‘ That guy did not grow up with a fa­ther’.

‘‘ He had no le­git­i­mate source of author­ity in his life.

‘‘ This ( Un­der­ground) is the mo­ment where he be­came Ju­lian As­sange with a cap­i­tal J and a cap­i­tal A.’’

A week ago it was an­nounced that Grif­fiths had signed to new Dis­ney movie Sav­ing Mr Banks, star­ring Tom Hanks and Emma Thomp­son.

Grif­fiths will play Mary Pop­pins au­thor P.L. Travers’ aunt.

‘‘ I’ve had an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in Hol­ly­wood and I’ve worked with some in­cred­i­ble peo­ple,’’ Grif­fiths says.

‘‘ I’ve never been told I’m not pretty enough and I’ve never been told I’m too fat — de­spite putting on 60 pounds (22kg) with my sec­ond child.

‘‘ I’ve only ever been em­pow­ered and cel­e­brated and re­warded.’’ Un­der­ground: The Ju­lian As­sange Story, Chan­nel 10, Sun­day, 8.30pm

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