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
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.
A REVEALING PROTEST
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