Mandy McEl­hin­ney

She’s go­ing from Bali to the big-time but this suc­cess­ful stage ac­tress is tak­ing it all in her stride, writes Lynn Cameron.

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - TV Guide - - NEWS -

PA­PER GI­ANTS: MAG­A­ZINE WARS Sun­day, 8.30pm, ABC1

SHE’S be­come a national trea­sure play­ing Rhonda in the AAMI car in­sur­ance ads but Mandy McEl­hin­ney is now tak­ing her eyes off the road and mov­ing her ca­reer up a gear.

McEl­hin­ney stars in new ABC drama 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 (Rachel Grif­fiths), a feud that started dur­ing the late 1980s and lasted well into the next decade.

With a suc­cess­ful stage ca­reer, plus nu­mer­ous TV ap­pear­ances – not to men­tion those ads – to her credit, McEl­hin­ney is no stranger to the lime­light. But the ac­tor does ad­mit to some trep­i­da­tion be­fore tak­ing on what is es­sen­tially her first ma­jor lead role.

‘‘I was re­ally ner­vous. I felt that I had a huge job ahead of me,’’ she says. ‘‘I was absolutely aware of the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­ing the group.

‘‘But it was funny, in the do­ing of it I re­alised it ac­tu­ally helps if you’re there ev­ery day, from be­gin­ning to end. You get on to a roll.’’

Be­ing cast op­po­site Grif­fiths, one of Aus­tralia’s most suc­cess­ful ac­tors, could also have eas­ily stretched McEl­hin­ney’s nerves; but, she says, the re­al­ity was far dif­fer­ent.

‘‘It was just fan­tas­tic. She is such an in­cred­i­ble tal­ent and has so much ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s a fairly new sit­u­a­tion for me and it was just won­der­ful to have some­one around who’s 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.’’

Be­gin­ning with Nene’s ac­ri­mo­nious de­par­ture from the Dul­cie Bol­ing-led New Idea in 1987 and fol­low­ing her ca­reer as she be­came one of this 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 be­lieves, was one of the ma­jor mo­ti­va­tors in Nene’s striv­ing for suc­cess.

‘‘That’s the key to her drive: her in­ner be­lief that she’d been told her whole life that she wasn’t quite up to it, she wasn’t quite good enough, that she was too fat, too loud, too scat­ter-brained,’’ McEl­hin­ney says.

Just as in 2011 minis­eries 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 – even mak­ing him wait for her at one point 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 says.

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

‘‘And I think she made him laugh.’’

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