“I was taught to be opin­ion­ated”

Rachael Tay­lor wants to em­power women with her story – on­screen and off – and has a glam­orous new gig bring­ing her home to Aus­tralia this month

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - Styling KELLY HUME

Ahead of her re­turn to Aus­tralia for a glam­orous new track­side role, Jes­sica Jones ac­tor Rachael Tay­lor tells Stel­lar that she’s de­ter­mined to use her voice to make a dif­fer­ence – whether that’s be­ing a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate for vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or us­ing her work to tell women’s sto­ries.

Ideas can come from any­where; and our most pow­er­ful in­flu­ences are not al­ways easy to pre­dict. For a long while, Rachael Tay­lor knocked about Aus­tralia and Hol­ly­wood in a string of films, and an un­lucky streak of TV shows that seemed to go nowhere (re­mem­ber the short-lived Char­lie’s An­gels se­ries?). But the past two years have seen the ac­tor hit her pro­fes­sional stride, cour­tesy of an un­likely source – a su­per­hero se­ries – play­ing ra­dio host Tr­ish Walker on Net­flix’s Marvel Jes­sica Jones and The De­fend­ers.

The role seems to have reignited a spark that has al­ways lain deep within 33-year-old Tay­lor, who tells Stel­lar from the New York City set of an ex­clu­sive spring rac­ing cover shoot that she “was drawn to [it] be­cause I care about how fe­male sto­ries are told. Ob­vi­ously… I’m a woman. The is­sues we have touched on so far are near and dear to my heart.”

Like many in the in­dus­try, Tay­lor pays trib­ute to Big Lit­tle Lies, which dom­i­nated the cul­tural con­ver­sa­tion over the past year. “It’s tremen­dous sto­ry­telling, about women with rich, com­pli­cated lives,” she says. “And I think Jes­sica Jones does that, too – even more im­pres­sively. We’re a comic-book drama, tak­ing place within a tra­di­tion­ally more mas­cu­line world in some re­spects. We’re tak­ing on the fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence in a re­ally bad-arse way.”

Grow­ing up in Launce­s­ton, Tas­ma­nia, “I was al­ways kind of a se­ri­ous child,” Tay­lor says. “I’m prob­a­bly too se­ri­ous as an adult, as well. I was not a sporty kid… which is ex­tremely un-aus­tralian, I know.” The only child of car­pen­ter fa­ther Nigel and stay-at-home mum Chris­tine, lit­tle Rachael Tay­lor tried her hand at school plays, dab­bled in mod­el­ling and even took out the Miss Teen Tas­ma­nia gong in 1998, though she has since said that “I would take that back if I could”.

If there were fu­ture fem­i­nist cre­den­tials to be earned, or a fiery hell­raiser bub­bling be­neath the sur­face, Tay­lor was not quite aware of it at the time – she was just 14, af­ter all. But one un­likely per­son in her life was light­ing the way for­ward, whether they re­alised it or not. Tay­lor says she “was raised to have an opinion”, and of all those who pushed her to ex­press it loud­est, it was her grand­fa­ther Des­mond who stands out.

“He was a re­ally in­flu­en­tial fig­ure for me,” she says. “He was a union man, the tex­tiles union rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Tas­ma­nia. I was taught to be, for bet­ter or worse, opin­ion­ated about pol­i­tics and to have an ar­gu­men­ta­tive na­ture. And my grand­fa­ther was very, very vo­cal – so I think I get it from him.

“I think my grand­fa­ther was a fem­i­nist in every sense of the word. He split all do­mes­tic chores equally with my grand­mother. He al­ways en­cour­aged me, and dis­missed that idea that women should be seen and not heard. I was never led to be­lieve I should be any­thing but for­ward and forth­com­ing with my opin­ions, and I credit that to him.”

YET THERE WAS a pe­riod – one of nearly four years – dur­ing which Tay­lor opted to stay quiet about the in­ci­dent that, like it or not, would come to dom­i­nate cover­age of her in the press, and tends to even now. In Septem­ber 2010, re­ports emerged she had taken out an AVO against her then-fi­ancé, Un­der­belly star Matthew New­ton, al­leg­ing “two un­pro­voked vi­o­lent as­saults” at home in Aus­tralia as well as in Rome.

She even­tu­ally penned a first-per­son es­say about the ex­pe­ri­ence and con­tin­ues to speak out as an ad­vo­cate to change the dis­course around do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, as well as push­ing for broader ju­di­cial re­forms. Ow­ing to the fact the ti­tle char­ac­ter of Jes­sica Jones is a sur­vivor of sex­ual as­sault, Tay­lor knows – and seems at peace with the fact – that she will con­tinue to be asked about the is­sue.

“Ad­vo­cacy is im­por­tant to me,” Tay­lor ex­plains. “And the ad­vo­cacy I have done around do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is some­thing I’m re­ally proud of. I’ll take any op­por­tu­nity I can see for a con­ver­sa­tion to open up around it. It des­tig­ma­tises it; that was al­ways my rea­son be­hind want­ing to talk about it.

“But I feel a lit­tle bit pulled – it’s tough be­ing based in the US as much as I am, as I’d love to do more. As an ac­tor, you end up shoot­ing so much that you kind of dive into the deep end. When you’re com­mit­ted to a TV pro­duc­tion sched­ule, it can be hard to feel ef­fec­tive in an­other space. Part of grow­ing

“I’m Aus­tralian so the whole look-at-me thing? That doesn’t di­gest well for me”

up as some­body in the pub­lic eye means find­ing your voice, while also try­ing to put your per­sonal devel­op­ment first.

“So I took my time to speak out about do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, be­cause I wanted to re­ally think about how I could do it in the most ef­fec­tive way.”

Then there is her in­volve­ment with the Aus­tralian Mar­riage Equal­ity cam­paign, dat­ing back sev­eral years. “I was on the ground, in Aus­tralia, at the time. It was some­thing I could put my­self be­hind to­tally, as I care very much about it. Mar­riage equal­ity should have hap­pened a re­ally, re­ally long time ago.

“I guess what I’m say­ing,” Tay­lor con­cludes with a laugh, “is that I don’t do things by halves very well. I’m kind of… think- y. I take things se­ri­ously. I’m all in.”

That’s not to say Tay­lor is un­will­ing to find the time for less weighty en­deav­ours. She seems gen­uinely wor­ried, for in­stance, when it is pointed out that her In­sta­gram feed fea­tures lit­tle more than posts of her on set or in the gym. “Oh, no,” she groans. “I hope I have a more bal­anced life than that – I’m in­ter­ested to hear that my In­sta­gram makes me look like a worka­holic and a work­outa­holic, be­cause I think I have a lot of fun. I think I might just be a bit old. I’m also Aus­tralian – the whole look-at-me thing? That doesn’t di­gest well for me. Some­times I’m not clear I want to share what my lunch looks like with everyone.”

Per­haps Tay­lor re­ally means it when she says “the older I get, the more I lighten up”. For the past four years she’s dated US pho­tog­ra­pher Mike Piscitelli, and tells Stel­lar “he’s a keeper – a per­ma­nent fix­ture”. But she ad­mits be­ing an only child, and hav­ing par­ents who live in Tas­ma­nia, leaves her feel­ing “quite guilty” when she’s in LA (where she lives) or New York (where she now films). “I feel lucky to be able to roam be­tween all three,” she says, “but Aus­tralia will al­ways be where my heart gets nour­ished and where the best bits are: fam­ily, ocean, clos­est girl­friends… ul­ti­mately, I want that lit­tle house in Aus­tralia, and to end up there. It’s al­ways been a pri­or­ity for me.”

It has been nearly two years since Tay­lor last came home, but that changes later this month when she helps the Mel­bourne Rac­ing Club kick off the Spring Rac­ing Car­ni­val as the spe­cial guest at the 2017 BMW Caulfield Cup. Hav­ing just spent hours frock­ing up for Stel­lar – “today was re­ally, re­ally glam­orous” – Tay­lor re­flects on what rac­ing sea­son means to both Mel­bourne and Aus­tralia as a whole.

“I love the vibe that starts bub­bling up in Mel­bourne around rac­ing sea­son,” she says. “It marks the start of this months-long cel­e­bra­tion that ends up stretch­ing out, re­ally, to the end of the Aus­tralian Open.”

Tay­lor laughs when re­minded that de­spite her spe­cial stand­ing this year, she is not, in fact, a true Mel­bur­nian. “I don’t feel like an in­ter­loper, but any­one, at any op­por­tu­nity when I tell them that I’m Tas­ma­nian, will not hes­i­tate to re­mind me I am an in­ter­loper. Still, to this day, I get, ‘Where’s your scar?’ Come on! Haven’t we moved past this?”

Her as­so­ci­a­tion with spring rac­ing is noth­ing new; Tay­lor says she has “fond mem­o­ries” of film­ing scenes from the 2012 film Any Ques­tions For Ben? in­side the Bird­cage at the Mel­bourne Cup. “Watch­ing ev­ery­body get­ting off the trams in their beau­ti­ful fas­ci­na­tors… it all feels so el­e­gant,” she says. “It’s al­most trans­portive in a way. But Aus­tralians also have a real knack for pok­ing a hole through that – and man­ag­ing to have a re­ally good time. And the Caulfield Cup is great for

that. There’s some­thing demo­cratic about it: you can see the track from any part of the course. I’m re­ally ex­cited for it.”

She teases that a heap of new pro­jects – a film and a TV se­ries among them – are in the works; af­ter shoot­ing wraps on the next sea­son of Jes­sica Jones, she will be home for a longer spell to make them. “I’m not mar­ried to want­ing to work in the US,” she in­sists. “I don’t give it pref­er­en­tial treat­ment; if any­thing, it’s the op­po­site. I’m proud of who we are. We need to re­flect our own cul­ture back to our­selves.”

Speak­ing of, Tay­lor’s first lo­cal on­screen ap­pear­ance was in a 2005 episode of Mcleod’s Daugh­ters, which led to her star­ring role in the TV soap Head­land later that year. Asked if she has any stand-out mem­o­ries from her time on Mcleod’s, she re­sponds: “I was so, so ner­vous – like, shak­ing. My first big speak­ing part. I looked up to Rachael Carpani and Anna Torv. It was awe­some. We need an­other good Aus­tralian TV show like that.”

Told that the Nine Net­work is look­ing into op­por­tu­ni­ties for a Mcleod’s re­boot, Tay­lor gasps. “Ooh, I’d do it. You can spend years away, but [Aus­tralia] is in my blood and it’s a part of my soul. I’ll al­ways come home to make Aus­tralian sto­ries. I hope I will – if they’ll have me!”

“I don’t do things by halves very well. I’m kind of…

think- y”

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