Mak­ing over Mandy

Even Mandy McEl­hin­ney was shocked by her dras­tic trans­for­ma­tion to play Gina Rine­hart, writes Anna Brain

Herald Sun - Switched On - - COVER STORY -

In two short years, Mandy McEl­hin­ney has gone from play­ing a home­less ex­tra in A Moody Christ­mas to star­ring as Australia’s rich­est woman.

“That’s the joy of act­ing, you get to live the ex­tremes of life,” she says.

But for some­one who has un­der­gone nu­mer­ous screen makeovers, McEl­hin­ney says play­ing min­ing gi­ant Gina Rine­hart is her most dras­tic trans­for­ma­tion yet.

House of Han­cock recre­ates the mother of all real-life feuds be­tween Rine­hart, her mag­nate fa­ther Lang Han­cock (Sam Neill, be­low) and his sec­ond wife, the flam­boy­ant and lav­ish Rose (Peta Sergeant).

Pe­tite McEl­hin­ney is an un­likely can­di­date to play the larger-than-life Rine­hart, whose weight is some­thing of an in-joke in the two-part minis­eries. McEl­hin­ney says her phys­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion was achieved through a com­bi­na­tion of weight gain, pros­thet­ics, pad­ding and “util­is­ing or dis­guis­ing chins”.

“It was sur­pris­ingly easy (to gain weight),” she says. “Also I had the help of pad­ding and at­tach­ments to my body.”

McEl­hin­ney’s fa­cial fea­tures were also trans­formed with the help of pros­thet­ics.

“They cre­ated a whole mask that was made out of sev­eral pieces that com­pletely changed the shape of my eyes, my mouth, ev­ery­thing,” she says.

“I would look in the mir­ror and I couldn’t see my­self at all, it was sur­real. Then I walked out on set and peo­ple were scared. It was an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful mo­ment be­cause ev­ery­one thought that Gina had walked into the room.”

To mas­ter Rine­hart’s dis­tinc­tive man­ner­isms and voice, McEl­hin­ney used footage of a young Gina talk­ing about her fa­ther and the Pil­bara.

“I kept that in my head, that lit­tle girl. She has a very par­tic­u­lar ac­cent and way of talk­ing that was a chal­lenge. There’s some­thing very con­trolled about the way she speaks. It’s a great con­tra­dic­tion of a per­son who is in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful but also has an in­cred­i­bly light and del­i­cate bear­ing and way of speak­ing.”

House of Han­cock, orig­i­nally ti­tled Gina, was pro­duced for the Nine Net­work by Michael Cordell, Clau­dia Kar­van and Paul Bennett.

Kar­van cham­pi­oned the project from day one.

“She’s been with the project for so long be­cause she’s re­ally fas­ci­nated with the char­ac­ter of Gina,” McEl­hin­ney says.

And what Rine­hart will think of the se­ries McEl­hin­ney has no idea.

“I wouldn’t be in her shoes,” she says. “I have a great sense of re­spect for peo­ple who’ve had their lives played out (in public) … it is com­pletely up to her how she reacts to it.

“Af­ter play­ing Nene King (in Pa­per Gi­ants), and talk­ing to her, I know what an ex­tremely strange and con­fronting thing it is to see a ver­sion of your life played out, with peo­ple walk­ing around pre­tend­ing to be you..”

Grow­ing up in WA, McEl­hin­ney has al­ways been aware of the scan­dalous Han­cock story.

“I grew up in Lehman, it’s a lit­tle coastal fish­ing vil­lage. Very dif­fer­ent to Gina’s world. I re­mem­ber the Rose Han­cock pe­riod. I re­mem­ber it as be­ing like an episode of Dal­las.”

Hav­ing played such a com­pli­cated char­ac­ter, McEl­hin­ney says she has a bet­ter per­spec­tive of Rine­hart.

“None of us are ma­chines,” she says. “I think there’s much more of a hu­man be­ing now than I used to see when I looked at her be­fore.”

HOUSE OF HAN­COCK, SUN­DAY, 8.45PM ON CHAN­NEL 9

/ PETER BREW BE­VAN

Mandy McEl­hin­ney feels she now un­der­stands Gina Rine­hart

bet­ter.

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