“I DO THE BEST I CAN”

At the pin­na­cle of her ca­reer, Australian tele­vi­sion’s golden girl Jessica Marais opens up to Stel­lar about moth­er­hood, missed op­por­tu­ni­ties and why she won’t let men­tal ill­ness de­fine her

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy CAMERON GRAYSON Styling GEMMA KEIL Words ALICE WASLEY

She’s one of the most suc­cess­ful ac­tors on Australian tele­vi­sion, but for Jessica Marais life hasn’t al­ways been rosy. She talks to Stel­lar about the pres­sures of fame, jug­gling co-par­ent­ing, and man­ag­ing her men­tal health.

It is a bit­terly cold win­ter af­ter­noon in Mel­bourne’s Hawthorn, and kids in school blaz­ers are pil­ing off buses and mak­ing their way home. Just over the fence of one of the sub­urb’s fed­er­a­tion houses, Jessica Marais stands on a ve­ran­dah wear­ing black stilet­tos, a red and black bro­cade coat and not much more. De­spite her legs start­ing to turn an un­nat­u­ral shade of blue, Marais is a good sport – laugh­ing as she shiv­ers while pos­ing for Stel­lar’s pho­tog­ra­pher.

Later, rugged up in a puffy jacket and tuck­ing into a plate of roast chicken and veg­eta­bles, Marais opens up about jug­gling one of the busiest sched­ules in Australian tele­vi­sion; one that en­ables her to star in both The Wrong Girl and Love Child.

“This year I took on quite a lot be­tween the two jobs, which has been amaz­ing, but it’s been a bit of a learn­ing curve, in hind­sight, look­ing back and go­ing, ‘OK, I prob­a­bly took on a bit too much there,’” she tells Stel­lar.

Mak­ing time to see her five-year-old daugh­ter Scout, whose father is her ex-fi­ancé and for­mer Packed To The Rafters co-star James Ste­wart, re­mains Marais’s first pri­or­ity. The 32-year-old is cur­rently film­ing the sec­ond sea­son of The Wrong Girl in Mel­bourne and trav­els back to Sydney, where she is usu­ally based, as of­ten as she can. Scout, who will start school next year, reg­u­larly flies down to Mel­bourne, too.

Marais laments “time man­age­ment” as her big­gest chal­lenge as a sin­gle mother, but says she and Ste­wart are mak­ing it work to­gether. “Luck­ily we try to man­age and it’s not me on my own with her all the time,” she ex­plains. “She has her father and his fam­ily, so we just do the best we can.”

In the sec­ond sea­son of The Wrong Girl, which Marais has been film­ing the morn­ing of her Stel­lar shoot, her char­ac­ter Lily has picked up and moved to New Zealand to be with Jack (played by Rob Collins). Does Marais – who had Scout when she was 27 and in the midst of pur­su­ing a ca­reer in Hol­ly­wood as a gang­ster’s moll in the TV se­ries Magic City – ever feel like she missed out on that kind of free­dom by be­com­ing, by to­day’s stan­dards, a young mother?

“I mean, it is not so young,” she coun­ters. “When you hit 30 I think, in­evitably, whether you’ve had chil­dren

or not, I think you re-eval­u­ate your life a lit­tle bit… Look, I don’t want to get hung up on what I’ve missed out on or what I re­gret. Ob­vi­ously there are things I think I have, but I’ve also been won­der­fully blessed and what she has brought to my life has changed me. It hasn’t al­ways been easy, but it’s changed me. And it con­tin­ues to change me or chal­lenge me – and so does work. That’s in­ter­est­ing as well.”

Marais says that she has a lot of re­spect for her ac­tor friends who go to Hol­ly­wood to slog it out, de­scrib­ing her time there from 2011–2012 as en­joy­able, but hard. She re­mains equally on the fence about re­turn­ing one day.

“It was short-lived and very par­tic­u­lar, that ex­pe­ri­ence,” she ex­plains. “It also was one that I fell preg­nant dur­ing and had my daugh­ter closely after, so there’s a whole bunch of… stuff. I would love to go back and give it a go, but I just don’t know. It’s about fit­ting life in, and life with Scout, and we’re a split fam­ily and we have to all think of each other when we make de­ci­sions.”

She is also quick to point out that the de­ci­sion might not just be up to her. “Hol­ly­wood may not want me!” she says with a laugh. “You know what I mean? That’s how it is.”

Lo­cally, there’s no such is­sue. Ear­lier this year, Marais was nom­i­nated for a Gold Lo­gie for both her roles in Love Child and The Wrong Girl. Co-star Ian Mead­ows, who plays her best friend/love in­ter­est Pete in the lat­ter, wasn’t sur­prised. “How she can go from that very sort of up­right, con­tained char­ac­ter in Love Child to sud­denly who she is as [ The Wrong Girl’s] Lily – it was re­ally im­pres­sive for ev­ery­one to see how she jumped into the com­edy and how much fun ev­ery­one has play­ing with her in that sense,” he tells Stel­lar.

Marais was the only woman to be nom­i­nated for the Gold Lo­gie along­side five men, with Sa­muel John­son ul­ti­mately win­ning. Marais says she was pleased to be given the nod, but ad­mits, “I don’t know of an­other year where there’s only been one woman.

“I would love to see more women rep­re­sented, and there are ob­vi­ously a lot of women who have missed out on recog­ni­tion. I think you only have to look at the show we have [ The Wrong Girl] and [the fe­male cast] and they’re all in­cred­i­bly tal­ented ac­tors.”

IT’S AL­MOST A decade since Marais, who was born in South Africa but spent

most of her child­hood in Perth, was plucked from NIDA to star as Rachel Rafter in Packed To The Rafters, which ran for six sea­sons from 2008. An in­stant hit, Marais says she was com­pletely un­pre­pared for the im­pact the show’s suc­cess would have on her life.

“I was re­ally naïve to it,” she says. “I look back at that time re­ally fondly be­cause it was such an ex­cit­ing, fun, con­fi­dence-build­ing time, but I al­most feel as though it hap­pened at this re­ally par­tic­u­lar time in the in­dus­try that was right be­fore the on­slaught of so­cial me­dia and the pre-pack­aged celebrity cult that we have now. I feel we were al­most like lit­tle test prod­ucts of celebrity, some of the kids from that time.”

But burst­ing into the pub­lic eye in such spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion has brought some chal­lenges. “It hasn’t come with­out its personal costs, be­cause it’s been very much a crash course of learn­ing [how to nav­i­gate fame],” she says. “Whereas I think now peo­ple can come out with their pro­duced form of celebrity so much more eas­ily. They’re not try­ing to find their iden­tity within it.”

Along the way, Marais has sought ad­vice from men­tors such as her on­screen mums and in­dus­try veter­ans, Rebecca Gib­ney ( Rafters) and Kerry Arm­strong ( The Wrong Girl).

“Try­ing to be an au­then­tic woman in the in­dus­try is some­thing that I’ve talked a lot about with Kerry and other women who have been men­tor­ing me… try­ing to be an au­then­tic per­son within the in­dus­try, and not be shot down for it, is quite dif­fi­cult,” she says.

“We are less for­giv­ing of fe­male mis­takes in gen­eral,” she con­tin­ues. “I think we’re held to a higher stan­dard be­cause we’re meant to be moth­ers, and I think the Madonna-whore com­plex still ex­ists quite a lot. We’re ex­pected to be per­fect, and the sec­ond we’re not ev­ery­one can’t wait to… you know? I just think with boys they get away with be­ing lads and cow­boys and it’s an age-old myth that’s ex­isted for a very long time. And I don’t re­ally know how we fight it or change it.”

Striv­ing for au­then­tic­ity in the pub­lic eye can also be a dou­ble-edged sword, as Marais has per­son­ally dis­cov­ered. A few years ago she re­vealed in an in­ter­view she has bipo­lar dis­or­der and has been suf­fer­ing from episodes since she was 12.

“I didn’t feel ready for the amount of at­ten­tion that I felt I re­ceived around it, be­cause it’s a com­mon condition that a lot of peo­ple are liv­ing with, and peo­ple fight their day-to-day bat­tles and it’s the same thing,” she tells Stel­lar. “I’d like to be able to be in­spi­ra­tional to peo­ple in terms of be­ing able to say you’re not alone, there are other peo­ple like this, but it’s not some­thing that I feel en­tirely de­fines me and it’s not some­thing that I want to be a how-to [or] go-to guru on.”

One of the pub­lic dis­cus­sions that sparked at the time was how Marais was man­ag­ing her ill­ness, after she re­vealed she wasn’t tak­ing med­i­ca­tion.

“Now I am ac­tu­ally [on med­i­ca­tion], but I wasn’t then,” she clar­i­fies. “And then peo­ple say it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble or… it’s a can of worms talk­ing about any of your personal strug­gles. Luck­ily I get to deal with some of those through the char­ac­ters that I play, which I think is in some way rep­re­sent­ing those is­sues, by show­ing women who are strug­gling, who aren’t cop­ing with all of the things. They might be a con­trol freak in one area of their lives and a com­plete mess in an­other. I think that is em­pow­er­ing women by al­low­ing those is­sues to come to light.”

Marais main­tains that be­ing true to her­self doesn’t mean she has to share every sin­gle de­tail of her life – es­pe­cially when it comes to dis­cussing new re­la­tion­ships.

“Oh, ev­ery­one al­ways wants to know,” she says with a throaty chuckle. “I know it sounds clichéd, but I think I’ve learnt a big lesson in keep­ing my ro­man­tic life as pri­vate as pos­si­ble.”

Nev­er­the­less, work­ing on two shows where she plays a woman in a man’s world at work – Love Child’s Joan works in a hos­pi­tal in the early ’70s and Lily works as a pro­ducer in break­fast tele­vi­sion – has made Marais ques­tion the role of men in her life. “They are both women try­ing to ex­ist in a pa­tri­ar­chal world, and it’s in­ter­est­ing that they’re decades apart in time but fac­ing sim­i­lar prob­lems, which is again, an age-old is­sue,” she says.

“It’s def­i­nitely made me look at my life and whether as a woman I feel I need a man and male ap­proval to com­plete me. And I don’t think that women who do want that are wrong, but it’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion that is there.”

As for what’s next, Marais says she wants to keep work­ing cre­atively (she’s been writ­ing a side project that she hopes to de­velop) and that she sim­ply loves be­ing a mum to Scout, who she de­scribes as “tricky and amaz­ing”.

“I just think peo­ple in the cre­ative in­dus­tries… crave nor­malcy and sta­bil­ity and the mun­dane, and then I also crave pro­duc­ing, writ­ing, de­vel­op­ing and work­ing on both sides of the cam­era.

“My dreams re­ally are just to live a ful­filled life,” she says with a shrug. “Have bal­ance and, it sounds ridicu­lous, but to leave the world with some­thing better than what I came into it with.” The Wrong Girl Sea­son 2 is com­ing soon to Net­work Ten.

JESSICA WEARS Al­tuzarra coat, david­jones.com.au HAIR & MAKE-UP Ju­lia Green

GOLDEN GIRL (from top) Jessica Marais and co-star Rob Collins in The Wrong Girl; at the 2011 Lo­gies with her Packed To The Rafters “mum” Rebecca Gib­ney; with Ste­wart and their daugh­ter Scout; on the 2014 Lo­gies red car­pet.

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