PROFILE Frances O’Connor
How did the Perth-raised actor research the role of Harry Selfridge’s wife Rose? She went shopping, of course, writes Debbie Schipp.
FRANCES O’Connor plays the part of the cuckolded wife to perfection in Mr Selfridge, but in real life, she’d show a philandering man the door.
‘‘Ha! He’d drive me crazy,’’ the English-born, Perth-raised actor laughs, when asked whether she would turn a blind eye to the unfaithful ways of Harry (Jeremy Piven) as her character Rose Selfridge does in the period drama about Harry Gordon Selfridge and his London department store, Selfridges & Co.
‘‘I think he’d be out the door. It was harder for women then. They weren’t independently wealthy. They couldn’t just say, ‘Enough, that’s it, I want my own life’.
‘‘Marriage was viewed differently then, too. Now it’s all about falling in love and finding the right person, back then it was a very established way of doing things.’’
Being married to Harry is anything but a bed of roses for O’Connor’s Rose, who has to deal with her exuberant husband getting up close and personal with women as he aims to make Selfridges the most talked about shop in the world.
For O’Connor, 46, spending time in London to film the drama was a bit like returning home.
She worked in the UK for about 10 years doing theatre, film and TV, before she moved to Los Angeles with her actor partner Gerald Lepkowski and son Luka in 2008.
‘‘During shooting I was completely comfortable. I have a place in London, and I have friends in London,’’ she says.
‘‘But when I initially went to England my experience was exactly like Rose’s – I was the new girl.’’
O’Connor researched her role by shopping.
‘‘Over the years I’ve done plenty of that. I am a Selfridges girl and have been for a long time,’’ she laughs.
She warns Rose has layers beyond the initial impression of dutiful wife.
‘‘You only get a taste of her in the first episode, an imprint of who she is. As it develops you get a lot of different information,’’ she says.
‘‘She’s not downtrodden. She knows what she’s getting into with him. She’s used to him having a wandering eye, but I think he is just so out of control in London that their relationship does kind of do her head in, because she can’t ignore it.
‘‘Initially she feels very isolated in London because she’s an American and she doesn’t really know the rules of the society. And British society at that time had a very specific and rigid set of rules.’’
O’Connor appreciates there will be comparisons to Downton Abbey, which paved the way for renewed interest in period dramas.
She believes the resurgence has a lot to do with things being a lot more black and white back then.
‘‘I hear people say that it’s nice to look back into an era where things were just what they were,’’ she says. ‘‘Life was slower and men and women had clearly defined roles.
‘‘Now there’s so much uncertainty in this world, but technology means there’s no real mystery to the workings of things. So I understand why people look back. It’s comforting, it’s nostalgic.’’