Making over Mandy
Even Mandy McElhinney was shocked by her drastic transformation to play Gina Rinehart, writes Anna Brain
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
Mandy McElhinney feels she now understands Gina Rinehart