The road to suc­cess

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TV - LYNN CAMERON

SHE has be­come a national trea­sure by play­ing Rhonda in the AAMI car in­sur­ance ads, but Mandy McEl­hin­ney is tak­ing her eyes off the road and mov­ing her ca­reer up a gear with a new ABC1 pro­duc­tion. McEl­hin­ney stars in Pa­per Gi­ants: Mag­a­zine Wars, the two- part se­ries that fol­lows the bit­ter feud be­tween two of Aus­tralia’s most pow­er­ful mag­a­zine edi­tors, Nene King ( McEl­hin­ney) and Dul­cie Bol­ing ( Os­car- nom­i­nated Rachel Grif­fiths), which started dur­ing the late 1980s and lasted well into the next decade.

With a suc­cess­ful stage ca­reer and sev­eral guest TV ap­pear­ances – not to men­tion the AAMI ads – to her credit, McEl­hin­ney is no stranger to the lime­light. But she ad­mit­ted to some trep­i­da­tion be­fore tak­ing on what is es­sen­tially her first ma­jor lead role.

“I was re­ally ner­vous. I felt I had a huge job ahead of me,” McEl­hin­ney said. “I was absolutely aware of the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­ing the group. But it was funny, in do­ing it, I re­alised it ac­tu­ally helps if you’re there ev­ery day, from be­gin­ning to end – you get on a roll.”

Be­ing cast op­po­site Grif­fiths, one of Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful ac­tors, could also have eas­ily stretched McEl­hin­ney’s nerves. But, she said, it wasn’t that tough.

“It was just fan­tas­tic. She is such an in­cred­i­ble tal­ent and has so much ex­pe­ri­ence,” McEl­hin­ney said of her co- star.

“It’s a fairly new sit­u­a­tion for me to be in and it was just won­der­ful to have some­one around who has seen it all be­fore and just brought a level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and in­tegrity to it.

“When you’re work­ing with some­one that good, all you have to do is just be there and re­act to what they’re do­ing.

“[ Rachel] was just so for­mi­da­ble as Dul­cie. She’s a very friendly, un­pre­ten­tious per­son, but when she had the wig on she was en­joy­ing be­ing in­tim­i­dat­ing. It was re­ally fun.”

Start­ing with Nene’s ac­ri­mo­nious de­par­ture from the Dul­cie Bol­ing- led New Idea in 1987 and fol­low­ing her ca­reer as she be­came one of the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful edi­tors, Mag­a­zine Wars is very much Nene’s story, from fac­ing up to Kerry Packer at Woman’s Day mag­a­zine, to cop­ing with an al­co­holic part­ner, to her trou­bled re­la­tion­ship with her mother.

The lat­ter in par­tic­u­lar, McEl­hin­ney said, was one of the ma­jor mo­ti­va­tors in Nene’s striv­ing for suc­cess.

“That’s the key to her drive … that she’d been told her whole life she wasn’t quite up to it, that she wasn’t quite good enough, that she was too fat, too loud, too scat­ter- brained,” McEl­hin­ney said.

“I guess the rea­son Dul­cie seemed to push her but­tons as much as she did was that it was very sim­i­lar to the mes­sages that she got from her mother.

“It was a huge mo­ti­va­tor for Nene to prove those women wrong and to prove to her­self that she was of value.”

One per­son Nene never had to prove her­self to was her part­ner, Pa­trick Bowring, who trag­i­cally dis­ap­peared while wreck- div­ing in 1996.

The ying to her yang, Pa­trick was laid- back, calm and had a pas­sion for gar­den­ing – the per­fect bal­ance to Nene’s fren­zied, bounc­ing ball of en­ergy.

Even his in­creas­ing de­pen­dency on al­co­hol couldn’t threaten their unity.

“That was the re­ally ap­peal­ing truth of their re­la­tion­ship, they ac­cepted each other so com­pletely for who they were,” McEl­hin­ney said.

“There was no de­sire to change. Even though they were quite dif­fer­ent – they had quite dif­fer­ent pas­sions, they pur­sued their own de­sire – but at the cen­tre of it they were ab­so­lute soul­mates.

“I found it in­cred­i­bly mov­ing. He was as much her sup­port as she was his. The fact she lost that man, she would never be the same again.”

Of course, there was an­other man who had a defin­ing im­pact on Nene’s life dur­ing this time – me­dia ty­coon Kerry Packer ( Rob Carl­ton).

Just as in 2011 mini- se­ries Pa­per Gi­ants: The Birth of Cleo, which doc­u­mented Ita But­trose’s re­la­tion­ship with Packer, Nene’s story also shows a softer side to the pub­lish­ing mag­nate, in­clud­ing a time she made him wait while she did her hair and make- up.

“You can’t help but be charmed by the bravado of some­one like that [ Nene] be­cause he was such an in­tim­i­dat­ing man,” McEl­hin­ney said.

“There’s a warmth and an open­ness and an hon­esty to her that he just re­sponded to. But he could also see how hun­gry she was and that she was go­ing to make him a lot of money.

“And I think she made him laugh.”

PA­PER GI­ANTS: MAG­A­ZINE WARS,

ABC1, tonight, 8.30pm

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