Feeling at Home
Marta Dusseldorp is comfortable balancing melodrama with serious social issues on A Place to Call Home. By CLARE RIGDEN
MARTA Dusseldorp is a real actor’s actor. She should, by extension, be more at home playing serious roles such as the title character in Janet King, than suited and booted in ’50s garb, acting out the melodramatic plot lines of A Place to Call Home.
And yet, she’s equally happy in both worlds.
“I was surprised to be cast initially [in A Place to Call Home],” she admits. “Because I’m not really ‘commercial television’ in that I’m not really the commercial television ‘type’. But I’ve been thrilled to have gotten the chance to play such a complicated character.”
The show has been on air for five seasons, thrown a lifeline by Foxtel in 2014 after it was prematurely axed – to great uproar – by Seven.
It’s since gone from strength to strength. And yet, critics have taken much longer to embrace it than the show’s legions of fans both here and overseas (the show screens in 140 countries).
Needless to say, this year’s Logie for Most Outstanding Drama – a peer-voted category – was especially sweet for cast and crew.
“It was nice,” Dusseldorp says. “But for me, the best recognition was in recognising [writer and creator] Bevan Lee.”
Lee, a veteran of the industry, has his handprint on every aspect of the show, and last season wrote all but two episodes.
“I think it’s quite unusual for someone to write an entire season,” Dusseldorp says. “[After the Logies win], I sent Bevan a message saying: ‘ This is yours. This is for what you do. This is for how you light up the Australian television scene – and have done for 30 or 40 years’.”
This season picks up in 1958 – four years from where they last left things. “Sarah has got a four-year-old son, and she has moved onto the property at Ash Park, though she’s not in the house yet,” Dusseldorp says.
“Her and George are not married – she’s still a fairly independent woman, and she’s still working.
“I think she’s in a good place, actually.” Surely, this can’t last long. “Yes, Bevan Lee – he doesn’t let you stay there for too long,” Dusseldorp laughs.
“There is no way he’s going to leave Sarah happy.”
The show is undeniably soapish at times but it has also never shied away from tackling serious social issues.
And this season is no exception. Not only does the gay storyline – involving Henry (Tim Draxl) and James (David Berry) – continue to play out, but this time the subject of mental illness is also addressed, via the show’s resident vixen Regina (Jenni Baird), last seen languishing in a locked ward of an asylum.
“We look at mental illness, with the Regina storyline,” Dusseldorp says. “Which is another taboo subject.
“These things are becoming more talked about but Bevan, he pushes really hard, down into the melodrama, to make it a really gritty social commentary as well.
“I really think he’s a genius when it comes to spinning a tale outside of the normal thrills and spills.”
It’s complicated: Marta Dusseldorp expects her character Sarah won’t stay happy for long on APlacetoCallHome.