JUST AN ACT
AT 46, SUSIE PORTER IS LANDING SOME OF THE MOST CHALLENGING WORK OF HER CAREER – AND STILL RECKONS SHE’S JUST GETTING STARTED
She may play tough characters onscreen, but Susie Porter says she’s a softie in real life.
Across two decades of work in the cinema, on television and theatre stages in the nation’s cities, Susie Porter has become the poster girl for charming, disarming straight talkers. Now she’s ready to let her audience in on a secret: she isn’t nearly as ballsy as the characters she became famous for playing.
So if you encounter her in the everyday, don’t be intimidated. In real life, she loves playing peacemaker. “Being an actor, no one is ever horrible to you,” the 46-year-old tells Stellar. “People are always very kind.
“But I was in Woolworths yesterday and the boss said to the guy who was packing the shelves, ‘Pick that lettuce up off the floor!’” She practically marvels at the nerve. “I couldn’t do that! I would be like, ‘Would you mind picking up the lettuce? Because we have had some problems recently where a woman slipped on a grape and we got sued…’”
Which is why, she admits, “I find it exhilarating [when in character] to say it like it is.”
Porter looks every bit the seasoned celebrity as she walks in to an eastern Sydney cafe. She is sporting a tan fedora and clear-framed Wayfarer sunglasses, as well as a date: her elderly rescue dog, Grace, a terrier mix, is with her on a leash. Porter lives nearby, having moved to the area after time spent in London. “I always say I will have to be surgically removed from this postcode, because I just really like the sense of community,” she jokes. Indeed, during her talk with Stellar, Porter is sidetracked by a continual stream of fellow breakfasters and passers-by, including Craig Mclachlan and his partner, conductor Vanessa Scammell.
When Porter arrived in the neighbourhood, she was in a period of transition. It was around that time that she made Caterpillar Wish, the low-budget 2006 coming-of-age drama that earned her an AFI Award on the same night she won for her role in television’s RAN: Remote Area Nurse. Before that, Porter had been better recognised for a string of roles in acclaimed but sexually candid films – particularly the turn-of-the-21stcentury hat-trick Feeling Sexy, Better Than Sex and Monkey’s Mask – that left her feeling more than just physically naked. “Having gotten my clothes off in all these films,” Porter explains, “I wanted to shut down a little bit.
I think I became more self-conscious. I felt too vulnerable.”
So when Porter was asked to undress again for the Showtime television series Satisfaction, which was set in a highclass brothel, she baulked. “I got through the first round of auditions and then they said to me, ‘Look, can you come back and strip down to your underwear?’
“And I thought, ‘No. I am just not going to do it.’ I mean, I had no other jobs planned, I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I just wasn’t comfortable doing that. I never got my kit off after that,” she says. These days, Porter’s contracts usually contain a “no nipple” clause. “Although,” she laughs, “at my age I am not asked that much to get naked!”
As Pam Knight, a free-spirited mum-of-two on Network Ten’s beloved series adaptation of Puberty Blues, Porter bent that rule to streak on the beach in a scene with Dan Wyllie. (The actor, who played her onscreen husband, Roger, once described Porter as a “beautiful open wound”. For her part, she says, “It’s funny – I kind of view him the same way. And I take that as a massive compliment.”)
“It was so nice to have a relationship on TV that was actually a successful one,” says Porter, looking back on the show which ran from 2012 to 2014. “Obviously there is a lot of drama to be had with relationship breakdowns. I was always saying to the writers, ‘Can we throw in a few more problems?’ But that marriage worked. It was so much fun.”
Much the same can be said for her own. In 2010, Porter married British drug and alcohol addiction specialist Chris Mordue. Their love story is full of fateful meet-ups and happy accidents – they met in 1998 working at the same cafe in Sydney, ran into each other on a London street a few years later, lost contact again and, the year before their wedding, took a chance on a road trip to Byron Bay.
Today, by all accounts, the two remain loved-up and happy. The couple has no children, but then Porter once said her “burning desire is probably more towards animals and animal welfare”. She reveals she has become such a softie that she had to give up fishing, once a favourite pastime: “I just couldn’t kill them anymore.”
She still tries to get near the sea as much as possible. So does Mordue, who has just learnt how to surf. Has she joined him on the waves? “Not with my skin!” says Porter. “I am sure he wants me to be more of a beach girl than I am. Early morning, late afternoon… I have to be near the water. But not sunbaking.”
With things steady at home, Porter is juggling a surge of new projects. Over the past 12 months, she has signed on to three different ABC TV series: Seven Types Of Ambiguity (just aired), Janet King (returning Thursday) and Pulse (coming later this year). They represent some of the most challenging and fulfilling roles of her career.
The sports agent she portrays on Janet King, for instance, “isn’t overly likeable. She’s willing to do anything to make money and avoid prosecution.” In Pulse, which is set in the transplant unit of a busy suburban teaching hospital, Porter is again something of a hard-arse. “She is a woman who is succeeding in a male-dominated arena and is very tough on the people who are coming up.”
These days, Porter relishes the chance to work through “the sorts of things I have trouble exploring in real life”, and wonders if she is entering her House Of Cards phase. A fan of that show as well as Breaking Bad, she applauds their creators’ courage in backing deliciously amoral leads. “Kevin Spacey plays a character who literally pisses on his character’s [father’s] grave, but you love him.”
Far from being repelled, the warm and accommodating actor finds herself inspired as she continues seeking out the right work. “I worry less [now],” admits Porter. “I always felt like I wasn’t attractive enough to play [certain] roles. But the older I get, the less pressure I feel. There’s a kind of freedom.”
“I like roles where I can work through the sorts of things I have trouble exploring in real life”
STAR BILLING (clockwise from right) Susie Porter in ABC TV’S Janet King; with her husband Chris Mordue; in her role as a barrister in the TV drama Seven Types Of Ambiguity.