Things have come full circle for Sigrid Thornton. Appearing in Wentworth, a contemporary take on life behind bars, takes her back some 35 years to her work on Prisoner. It was her longest stint on a television series and she learnt much from older actors such as Sheila Florance.
Just as Prisoner developed a serious cult following, audiences today are obsessed with the show’s more recent incarnation. It is screened in more than 140 territories with productions in Dutch, German and Flemish.
‘‘The fanbase of Wentworth has become part of its personal identity in some ways,’’ says Thornton. ’’The fact that it has a cult following has informed the way people are on set. We are very aware of playing to an international audience.’’
The cast is a who’s who of Australian female talent. ‘‘It’s very unusual to see an all-women ensemble, in the same way that it was groundbreaking back in the day, under the Prisoner mantle.’’
As wonderful as it is, Thornton points out ‘‘it’s a little bit unfortunate that we’re still saying it’s groundbreaking. Nevertheless we have it and aren’t we lucky to be able to explore such a thing’’.
Having an all-female cast provides opportunities for many actors who wouldn’t necessarily find themselves playing leading characters to ‘‘really strut their stuff’’. The production cleverly reverses typecasts, with those best known for caring roles, for example, or as reserved, playing powerful or menacing characters.
‘‘It is very boldly cast. When a project like this takes off and gains its stripes, that gives the creatives licence to keep stretching. Not only that, but as the show goes on you’ve got to find new challenges and keep the stakes high. That’s one of the markers of Wentworth, it’s very high stakes. It’s a credit to the creators that they’ve managed to keep the stakes so high.’’
She can’t give away too much about what happens to her character as there are major confidentiality clauses around storylines. Such things are particularly important for shows like Wentworth. ‘‘It’s such a juggernaut and it’s got an extremely dedicated and seriously voracious fanbase internationally, who can pick out a sniff on the wind if you like, so the confidentiality needs to be quite strict.’’
Raised in Brisbane, Thornton proclaimed she wanted to be an actor at the age of 6. Although she first hit TV screens as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in The Getting of Wisdom, it was through All the Rivers Run and The Man from Snowy River that Thornton rose to prominence. She counts herself lucky to have won roles as feisty, independent women early in her career.
‘‘I played a good number of very strong female characters of this time, women who were in some ways ahead of their time, who were boldly treading where women hadn’t trod before,’’ she says.
That said, those roles weren’t
The star of some much-loved Aussie classics is still driven by the urge to keep telling our trans-Tasman neighbour’s own stories, writes
without drawbacks. They firmly etched her on the public psyche but cast her firmly in the oldeworlde genre.
‘‘I was associated with crinolines for a very long time because most of the work was period stuff. And then we just decided it was completely sick- making to do period drama. Noone would touch period with a 50-foot pole.
‘‘That new wave that was coming up at that time when mainstream was not where you wanted to be. Being someone who was recognised in the street was anathema. That did have its
Sigrid Thornton as she appeared 35 years ago in The Man From Snowy River.
Sigrid Thornton is part of the allfemale ensemble in Wentworth.