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