Jess Marais and Jonathan LaPaglia at a swinging ‘60s crossroads in Love Child
JESS Marais and Jonathan LaPaglia had plenty of personal experiences to draw on for their characters in Nine’s new drama Love Child.
As mum of daughter Scout, Marais – who plays a midwife fighting the good fight for unmarried mothers being forced to give up their children for adoption – can identify with the anguish at the thought of being separated from a precious child.
And the fact that LaPaglia was once a doctor – who delivered six babies as a medical student – meant playing the head of obstetrics at the fictional Kings Cross Hospital wasn’t too much of a stretch.
“I’ve actually never played a role as a doctor before,” reveals LaPaglia, who walked away from a career in medicine after being unable to squash the acting bug.
“Surprisingly, a lot of the medical terms are still there. Rusty … but still there.
“I think the production crew on Love Child were a bit annoyed by me because they’d write something and I’d be like, ‘Nope, that doesn’t work that way’.
“They’d be rolling their eyes and saying, ‘Let’s just shoot it’. And I’d be saying, ‘No, no, no, it’s all wrong, we can’t’. So now I’ve come to understand why I haven’t been cast as a doctor before. Because I’m actually a liability to a smooth production.”
What is not a liability is the pairing of Marais and LaPaglia’s characters in Love Child – an intriguing mix of attraction and combativeness.
Marais’ Sister Joan Millar is an intelligent, opinionated professional, “but she’s also a woman of her time, and caught between progress and fighting the system and acquiescing to certain social prescriptions that existed then,” says Marais. “She’s just back from working in London, which is a little more progressive, and the rules and regulations with the running of the hospital and the ways things are done prove a little restrictive.”
Which puts her on a collision with LaPaglia’s Dr Patrick McNaughton, who is the “king of his domain” at the hospital.
“A lot of doctors of that period, especially obstetricians – because they were bringing life into the world – had a bit of a God complex,” says LaPaglia.
“That’s a weak spot for him in the end because he does think he’s untouchable.”
Millar and McNaughton share another weak spot: For each other.
“Joan has trouble because she can be attracted to the wrong kind of men,” Marais hints. In this case, she has an undeniable chemistry with a married one.
“His personal story gets a little sticky,” LaPaglia confesses.
“He’s married and he’s having problems with his own personal relationships. Aside from his undeniable attraction to Joan, there’s a storyline that brings them into conflict professionally. It all gets kind of messy.”
Set in 1969, Love Child showcases a society in flux – which on one hand celebrates the sexual revolution but on the other cases is reeling against the change.
It juxtaposes the wild streets of Kings Cross against the confines of Stanton House – a home for unwed pregnant women – at a time where to be single and pregnant was a source of shame. The thinking was adopting those babies out was best for all concerned.
“They called it the private adoption process – which in 1967 became illegal in NSW,” says LaPaglia.
“This story is set in 1969, so what they were doing was I guess, in the eyes of the law, illegal, but the practice still happened.
“I don’t think it came from a malicious standpoint. I think they really felt they were at the frontline, and they knew better than the system in terms of finding the right homes for these babies.
“Unfortunately in some situations there was coercion in the adoption process. And when we look back now that probably wasn’t the right thing to do.
“At the time they thought they were doing what was right for everyone.
“Certainly Patrick does. That’s who he is.”
LOVE CHILD MONDAY, 8.30PM, NINE