Danielle Cor­mack re­veals her off-screen loves

Her suc­cess­ful ca­reer has taken her to Aus­tralia, but the Went­worth ac­tress is still staunchly Kiwi. Danielle Cor­mack talks to Ni­cola Rus­sell about her off-screen pas­sions, the chang­ing face of fam­ily and why she sup­ports lesser-known char­i­ties.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

When award-win­ning ac­tress Danielle Cor­mack en­ters a room, the tempo steps up a notch. She does things with an en­er­gised flurry – eyes, hair and laugh wild with ac­tiv­ity. Her out­fit matches the bus­tle – the pro­tec­tive layer of cloth­ing worn for rid­ing her Har­ley shed to re­veal mo­tor­cy­cle leg­gings, colour­ful striped socks pulled to her knees, chunky boots – a tougher, cooler Pippi Long­stock­ing. Her en­thu­si­asm and warmth im­me­di­ately sep­a­rate her from Bea Smith, her in­car­cer­ated char­ac­ter fight­ing for sur­vival in Went­worth, sea­son four of which is cur­rently air­ing on New Zealand tele­vi­sion and in more than 80 other coun­tries around the world.

We are in Aus­tralia to shoot the Lo­gie-win­ning ac­tress, on the crag­gyedged, golden beaches of Syd­ney, where the Kiwi per­former made her home four years ago. The move came off the back of land­ing the meaty role of bar­ris­ter Scar­lett in quick-wit­ted drama Rake. She was eight and a half months preg­nant when she au­di­tioned, and her son Ahi less than two weeks old when she started film­ing. “I im­me­di­ately fell in love with the pro­ject – I thought it was the most ex­traor­di­nary thing I had read in a long time. I didn’t think I would land the role be­cause I was so preg­nant, and when I did I had a brief mo­ment of, ‘Uh-oh, what am I go­ing to do now?’” she says with a laugh.

She moved to Syd­ney, where her mother joined her ini­tially to give Danielle support, and then the ac­tress em­ployed part-time help. “I can’t re­mem­ber if it was re­ally stress­ful or not,” she says. “I just got on and did it. To any work­ing par­ents or care­givers, hats off! For me, it’s about know­ing what your thresh­old is – some peo­ple re­ally need that time off and they should take it. I was com­fort­able with work­ing straight after – it suited who I was. I went back to fin­ish shoot­ing Topless Women Talk about their Lives a week after I had my first son Ethan, so I was al­ready fa­mil­iar with the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

It’s fair to say Danielle’s thresh­old is pretty high. She’s barely stopped for breath since hit­ting Syd­ney, and in­deed well before that (see key roles, page 32). The role of iconic crim­i­nal Kate Leigh in Un­der­belly Ra­zor came soon after Rake and led onto Went­worth. Both Rake and Went­worth are now in their fourth sea­sons. She’s just wrapped film­ing for minis­eries Deep Water and, in a nod to her the­atre roots, has re­cently com­pleted a co-op the­atre show at a 70-seater venue in Kings Cross.

But ev­ery­one has lim­its. Film­ing Went­worth in an old in­dus­trial com­plex in Mel­bourne was a gru­elling task, re­quir­ing 12 to 14-hour days on set, and it didn’t take Danielle long to re­alise the toll the high-in­ten­sity show was tak­ing on her health.

“Bea Smith has been the most chal­leng­ing role for me in terms of ab­sorb­ing the daily grind and then hav­ing to go home and be a mum. I wasn’t cog­ni­tive of it un­til the end of sea­son two – I won­dered why I wasn’t sleep­ing very well and was feel­ing quite anx­ious.

“I saw an amaz­ing woman who gave me some med­i­ta­tion tech­niques that are based around hyp­nother­apy. I’d give my­self five min­utes in bed at night just to de­con­struct the day and be in my own body again – and to let go of the day’s film­ing. My body didn’t know it wasn’t hav­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of Bea be­ing phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally per­se­cuted. My log­i­cal side knew it wasn’t real but my body didn’t, be­cause I was re­spond­ing to it on a vis­ceral level.”

As well as med­i­ta­tion, Danielle sought out an ac­tiv­ity that had noth­ing to do with work. “I am a very tac­tile per­son; I love build­ing things and tak­ing things apart, so I be­come part of a mo­tor­cy­cle com­mu­nity called The Kus­tom Kom­mune. You take your bike there and work on it.”

At­tend­ing the group in­ten­si­fied her ex­ist­ing pas­sion for rid­ing. “The thing about rid­ing a mo­tor­bike is it is a soli­tary prac­tice. Even if you are rid­ing with peo­ple you are still alone on that bike; there is no one else you can talk to. You have to be con­stantly en­gaged with the road. It took me away from any­thing else I had in my world – so it was my med­i­ta­tion. It al­lowed me to start at one point and end up in an­other, ge­o­graph­i­cally as well as in my mind.”

And with a knack for mak­ing even med­i­ta­tion sound ex­haust­ing, it’s not sur­pris­ing mo­tor­cy­cling is not her only hobby. The Auck­land born and raised ac­tor is also heav­ily into craft. “Crafty Cor­mack they call me,” she says. “I love sewing and I build – even in my tiny apart­ment I man­aged to build an out­door table for my deck. My grand­mother (who passed away peace­fully at the age of 93 last year) taught me to knit and be a handyper­son. I spent a lot of time with her when I was grow­ing up and my childhood had a con­stant sound­track of nee­dles click­ing and the ZB races – gam­bling and knit­ting! She was very in­dus­tri­ous, so it is in my DNA.”

She fills her in­ner-city pad with plants to feed her gar­den­ing habit. “I am aim­ing for the Win­ter­gar­dens,” she says with a glint in her eye, re­fer­ring to Auck­land Do­main’s nat­u­ral won­der­land. In the breaks be­tween roles, she has formed a pro­duc­tion com­pany, ‘4 One One’, with Went­worth star Ni­cole da Silva, and is also in a creative team with fel­low Kiwi Claire Chitham – their goal to cre­ate more strong fe­male roles. Danielle says cre­at­ing roles for women that show them as flawed and in a state of flux is a step forward for the in­dus­try – and for fem­i­nism.

“For an age we have seen male char­ac­ters hav­ing their crises, their hero’s jour­ney, but very sel­dom have

I am very tac­tile. I love build­ing things and tak­ing things apart.”

There is noth­ing more bor­ing than see­ing a per­fect hu­man.”

we seen a fe­male do the same with­out be­ing at­tached to the male jour­ney. We have so many sto­ries to tell about women: Why is Home­land so pop­u­lar? Why is Orange is the New Black so pop­u­lar? Be­cause they have amaz­ing, com­plex, strong, messed-up, fe­male pro­tag­o­nists. Thank­fully they are hit­ting our screens now, but there’s al­ways room for more!”

Danielle plays no­to­ri­ously gritty roles. While Rake’s Scar­lett is a less in­ten­sive char­ac­ter than Bea Smith, she is still com­plex – quick-wit­ted and strong, but vul­ner­a­ble and un­sure of her place in her own life. Danielle says it’s an im­por­tant fac­tor in her choice of roles that the char­ac­ters are real, flawed and hu­man.

“Ev­ery­one has parts of them that aren’t fully formed, or that have been shat­tered, no mat­ter where they come from, so let that in­spire char­ac­ters,” Danielle says. “It is good sto­ry­telling – it’s more in­ter­est­ing, as the char­ac­ter is al­ways striving for some­thing. There is noth­ing more bor­ing than see­ing a per­fect hu­man – it doesn’t ex­ist.”

She ad­mits to her own strug­gles in life – one be­ing mod­er­a­tion. She goes through pe­ri­ods of ab­sti­nence from al­co­hol to reg­u­late her­self. “It is an on­go­ing chal­lenge to try and reg­u­late my­self in any ca­pac­ity. I guess I am an all or noth­ing kind of per­son and it’s a con­tin­ual work in progress to find that mod­er­a­tion – in any­thing.

“I’m sure peo­ple would be able to re­late to that; I’m pretty sure I don’t stand alone. I think the key is to not be so hard on your­self.”

It’s a brave topic to speak about but Danielle brushes off this no­tion.

“Life isn’t all plain sail­ing, we all know it’s not! I think there is this mis­nomer that be­cause a per­son is in the lime­light or in a po­si­tion of some kind of power, their world runs smoothly and is per­fect. I don’t want to be a bull­shit artist.”

It’s this un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man con­di­tion that has led her to work with nu­mer­ous char­i­ties. She has just vis­ited Cam­bo­dia as am­bas­sador for ChildFund and has been in New Zealand to work with at-risk youth in a men­tor­ing role and as Pa­tron to the Bridge the Gap Pro­ject. She also lends her time and pro­file to Shine for Kids, a char­ity sup­port­ing chil­dren of pris­on­ers. The lat­ter is not a feel-good char­ity; in fact, she has re­ceived her fair share of crit­i­cism for her work with the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“There is a mis­con­cep­tion that Shine for Kids is about help­ing peo­ple who have been in­car­cer­ated. It is, but it’s pri­mar­ily about help­ing their chil­dren. They are the in­vis­i­ble vic­tims, they can be marginalised and os­tracised by their peers at school –

I strive for my CV to be con­tin­u­ally un­fold­ing. I hope it never stops.”

we all know how cruel it can be on the play­ground. The rate of re­cidi­vism in chil­dren with par­ents who have been in­car­cer­ated is ex­tremely high, so it’s about try­ing to break these cy­cles.

“Both BTG and Shine for Kids are not well known char­i­ties. I guess I tend to­wards or­gan­i­sa­tions that don’t have much trac­tion yet, but are do­ing amaz­ing work.

“In my work with Shine for Kids I’ve learnt it’s im­por­tant to spare a thought for the in­car­cer­ated and ask, ‘What were they like as chil­dren? What were their en­vi­ron­ments like?’ And have com­pas­sion for that. Al­though we run ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes for the in­car­cer­ated par­ents, it is not my job to try to save that per­son – but we can make sure their chil­dren do not fol­low the same path.”

Danielle’s childhood fam­ily was a colour­ful bunch. She grew up in Auck­land with her par­ents and brother. Her dad was an en­gi­neer and her mother a pro­fes­sional bridge player.

“Our house was burst­ing with so­cial ac­tiv­ity and both my par­ents were in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous, they were al­ways help­ing peo­ple. We often had peo­ple liv­ing at our house. Isn’t that funny? I hadn’t thought about it un­til now,” she says, re­al­is­ing the in­flu­ence her fam­ily has had on her de­sire to lend a hand to those in need.

Her own im­me­di­ate fam­ily is a more com­plex struc­ture. Her six-yearold son Ahi lives with her and her partner of three years, pro­ducer and direc­tor Adam An­thony, in an apart­ment in the hip, cen­tral-eastern sub­urb of Dar­linghurst. Her 20-yearold son Ethan lives in Otago, where he is at uni­ver­sity.

“Fam­i­lies these days are so dif­fer­ent to what they were 50 years ago,” Danielle says. “There are so many dif­fer­ent per­mu­ta­tions. Ethan has grown up with two fam­i­lies be­cause his dad re­mar­ried and has two daugh­ters. I am very close to his other mum, so when we are back in New Zealand we all be­come one big ex­tended mod­ern fam­ily.

“I re­mem­ber my el­dest son’s first day at board­ing school – we were all there and the fam­ily didn’t stop fil­ing in, it was seven, eight, nine,” she reels off. “And we are all dif­fer­ent colours and ages. Not ev­ery fam­ily has a mum, a dad and two kids, and we need to change the lan­guage around that in our schools, our com­mu­nity, our re­port­ing, and even­tu­ally in our sto­ry­telling. I had to work re­ally hard at adopt­ing a thick skin about peo­ple’s judge­ment of how a fam­ily should be.”

Danielle met her partner Adam through a fel­low Went­worth ac­tress, Leeanna Wals­man. “It was one of those mag­i­cal mo­ments,” she says, smil­ing. “It was not ex­pected, it wasn’t set up, we just hap­pened to be at the same place at the same time.

“He is a beau­ti­ful soul and a good hu­man be­ing. It’s been over three years and we are still truck­ing along.

“It’s re­ally won­der­ful to find your­self in love with some­one who shares the same val­ues. We laugh a lot to­gether and of course we fight, but we chal­lenge each other in a re­ally good way. I am happy,” she says.

And while her par­ents’ house was a so­cial af­fair, Danielle prefers hers to be a sanc­tu­ary. “I have gone in the op­po­site di­rec­tion; I am ashamed at how unso­cial I am. I think it’s be­cause I am al­ways busy do­ing other things. And I think that as much as I loved be­ing so­cial for many years, I was a bit of a so­cial-phobe. I ac­tu­ally felt quite anx­ious be­ing around a lot of peo­ple, and I have mo­ments when I still do – I am bet­ter in a small group.

“I have just come to ac­cept it now rather than chas­tise my­self about it, which is why I think a lot of my friend­ships are sin­gu­lar. I don’t have big groups of friends.”

Though home is across the ditch, Danielle’s con­nec­tion to New Zealand re­mains strong. “I am a New Zealan­der – ab­so­lutely and proudly so. There hasn’t been a lot of work for me there and, yes, I live over here, but I care a lot for the in­dus­try at home.”

She hopes her lat­est pro­ject, in devel­op­ment with Claire Chitham, will – if ac­cepted – cre­ate more work for Kiwi ac­tors. “This one is a story that can only be told in New Zealand. It is ab­so­lutely a Kiwi-cen­tric show. I hope the in­dus­try re­mains in the hands of peo­ple who have a view to sustaining it… and I am not talk­ing about re­al­ity TV.”

While act­ing re­mains her num­ber one pas­sion, she is also es­tab­lish­ing her­self on the other side of the cam­era – pro­duc­ing and di­rect­ing.

“I strive for my CV to be con­tin­u­ally un­fold­ing. I hope it never stops,” she says. “I am look­ing at do­ing pot­tery now.”

‘Danielle Cor­mack, pot­ter’ then? “Potty more like it!” she says.


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