Tracksuits and tears:
Actress Celia Ireland has been with Wentworth since it began. She tells Sarah Nealon how her upbringing influenced her acting and how she feels about the sacrifices she has made for her career.
Wentworth star Celia
Ireland talks acting and sacrifices.
There are some television shows parents don’t let their children watch – and for good reason.
Prisoner was one of those shows. Set in an Australian women’s prison, it was a gritty drama with scary characters who swore and did bad things to each another.
I wasn’t allowed to watch it after school, but when Mum wasn’t in the room, I tuned in.
Celia Ireland, who plays alcoholic inmate Liz Birdsworth in the Prisoner remake Wentworth, recounts a similar story from her own childhood.
“We’d open up the crack of the sliding door in the lounge room,” she says.
“And the couch for some reason was in front of the doorway and the telly was beyond. If Mum had turned around she would have seen three sets of eyes looking through the crack.
“The only thing I remember was Bea Smith when she used to burn people’s body parts. We weren’t allowed to watch it but I remember Mum watched it. It was very big at the time.”
Ireland, 52, who has been with Wentworth since it began, grew up in Newcastle, New South Wales with four sisters and two brothers and remembers being obsessed with television.
“I loved watching all the BBC dramas like The Onedin Line and The Duchess Of Duke Street,” she says.
“We’d watch Disneyland at six o’clock and then Mum would turn on something like I, Claudius and I loved it.
“I had a rich fantasy life and I was a very good mimic. I’d do accents and make people laugh.
“I was a bit of a class clown and I think performance was a great outlet and it felt easy to me. It felt like a language that I understood.”
In her teens, Ireland did amateur theatre but despite her passion for acting, she opted to train as a primary school teacher.
Upon qualifying she only ever did relief teaching. This allowed her to accept any theatre work that came her way.
Eventually, acting took over from teaching and led to TV work on shows such as All Saints alongside 800 Words actor Erik Thomson.
But aside from a six-week course she did at age 30 in the United States, Ireland hasn’t had any formal acting training.
“I never intended to be a professional actor,” she says. “It just sort of happened.”
Before scoring her Wentworth role, Ireland was branching out from acting and had just completed a diploma with Relationships Australia, intending to work in the realm of family therapy.
“I hadn’t done any major (acting) stuff for a while before this came along so I was incredibly grateful,” she says. Wentworth is now in its sixth season and Ireland, whose character was jailed for manslaughter and dangerous driving, relishes spending her on-set days wearing a comfortable teal tracksuit and not worrying about make-up. “I don’t have any hair and make-up really unless I’ve got bruising or puffiness from crying or in the early series – when she had been drinking – broken capillaries,” Ireland says. “I basically pull my hair back in a ponytail and I just use my own glamorous, glorious 52-year-old skin. It looks real and true and I love that about the show. “Some of the characters have a bit of make-up on and stuff, but there are a few of us, like Katrina Milosevic, who plays Boomer, and myself who are ‘au naturel’.” When she is not working, Ireland loves spending time with her husband Tim and daughters Maeve, 17, and Maggie, 13. “I’ve got a lovely family,” she says. “I feel really grateful and blessed that I’ve got that as a grounding force. But it’s not easy. It’s been bloody hard. We live in Sydney and I’m filming in Melbourne. I fly home fortnightly. The girls are used to it. “It takes its toll. It’s very tiring. “You go home for
“I never intended to be a professional actor. It just sort of happened.”
– Celia Ireland
the weekend and understandably my husband wants to dump and run a little bit.”
But for Ireland’s acting career, the personal sacrifices have been worth it.
“It’s a wild, fabulous, trying, exciting and very demanding journey (on Wentworth) but it makes for riveting TV. We’ve got so many fans all over the world.”
Ireland cites feedback from an American woman with first-hand experience of life behind bars.
“The only criticism she had was she thought there needed to be more storylines about how hard it is when you get out,” she says.
“She was saying to me what’s hard is you have to rebuild your personality. She was inside for about 10 years. She said you kind of have to re-invent yourself because you
have become institutionalised and everything’s been done for you. She says it’s not just those perfunctory things or the day-to-day tasks. Your personality has to be rebuilt. You’ve got to lose your paranoia, you’ve got to lose your hyper-vigilance.
“In prison you’re always hyper-aware of what everyone’s doing, where everyone is and looking after your things, so that was a really interesting insight
into rebuilding yourself once you are outside which I hadn’t thought about.
“I think what’s wonderful about shows like this is you don’t really understand the impact it is having on people until you sit with them or read the fan letters or read their responses on Facebook or Instagram which I try to do because I think it’s important to have a bit of a social conscience around being an actor.”
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