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

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words by VICKY ROACH

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.

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