Natalie Dormer couldn’t resist the chance to join a fresh take on the classic novel Picnicat Hanging Rock,
AFTER five seasons of Game
of Thrones and a previous role playing Anne Boleyn in The
Tudors, Natalie Dormer makes it clear she “had no intention of putting a corset back on any time soon.”
It was Christmas 2016 and the English actor had shed the last vestiges of Margaery Tyrell in
GoT and just finished her own film In Darkness, which she cowrote with her director partner Anthony Byrne.
In full “holiday mode” with her family, it was then that a love letter of sorts arrived, among a bundle of scripts sent to pass her leisure time. The “exquisite letter” from
Picnic at Hanging Rock’s director Larysa Kondracki wooed the 36-year- old star to play the lead – the mysterious and brutal widow Hester Appleyard.
“I started reading these scripts and Larysa’s letter and I realised there was this ambition to create something extraordinarily important and incredibly special,” Dormer tells TV Guide.
“When I got on Skype with Larysa, sort of anticipating not to be hooked … well, we ended up talking for two hours.”
Falling almost instantly, she says: “I was on a plane to Australia come February, so you hooked me good and proper.”
With no knowledge of Joan Lindsay’s acclaimed book, nor having seen the Peter Weir film, Dormer came to read screenwriter Beatrix Christian’s first three episodes “cold.”
“I think that gave me an advantage in so far as I wasn’t battling in my head with a confused version of what the story was,” Dormer says.
She would come to understand its cultural impact and was honoured to be part of its revival, calling it “a national treasure, a jewel and rightly so.”
The six-part Foxtel and Fremantle Media co-production takes an experimental approach to that story, known so well to generations many believe the disappearance of three schoolgirls and a governess, all under the care of Mrs Appleyard, is based in fact.
Breathing new life into the original text, and with a bold take on its visual styling, Dormer hopes it will appeal to younger and, more especially, international audiences.
Filmed in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges and around Melbourne, Dormer was also sold on an Aussie adventure.
“The landscape is so much of a character,” she says. “I knew that I would be submerging myself into the majesty and epicness and the power … it seemed the perfect introduction to your country.”
Despite extreme weather (“It was incredibly hot during the day, then when the sun starts to drop, and it drops bloody quickly, it was incredibly cold,” Dormer recalls), the location seduced her by its beauty.
“The place has a certain energy, a kind of magic and it’s an energy that Joan Lindsay talks about a lot in the book and it translates,” she says.
“That’s the beauty of Bea’s writing … that mysticism, that magic, that earthy magic. You really feel, without giving anything away, by the end of episode five and six, you really do feel the power of the place, pushing through the screen.”
Her character won’t make her terribly likable to many, but Dormer says she felt sorry for her in the end.
“Yes, she’s a tyrant and yes, she is a bully, but it all comes from this profound place of fear and her own demons, of insecurity and grief,” she says.
“It’s all this baggage that we beautifully, slowly reveal, in this long, linear storytelling, over the course of six hours.
“It’s a morality tale: if you don’t handle your pain properly, the darkness takes you over and the monster you can become.”
International critics have already been wowed by the drama, which debuted at the Berlin Film Festival; then was invited to be part of New York’s TriBeCa film festival last month.
Dormer got her first glimpse of the finished series between performances on the West End late last year – seeing it on a big screen, to cinematic effect.
“It was an absolute joy to see it blown up,” she says. “It really does hold on the big screen … it has such a cinema feel. A couple of my team popped their heads in and they turned to me and said, ‘Oh my God, this is what you were doing for three-and-a-half months, now we understand’.”
It’s just the start of global acclaim, she predicts, and a turning point for the local TV industry in delivering prestige drama to the rest of the world.
“To me, it felt so frontieresque,” she says.
“To be part of that journey, to be one of the few foreigners that was offered a part in that epic mission, I was just so curious and I think this is going to have done that for you guys. Hopefully it kicks off a shitload of production with this quality television. I know you had Top of the Lake, a co-prod with New Zealand, but this is really special.”
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK 8.30PM, SUNDAY, FOXTEL’S SHOWCASE. FULL SERIES STREAMING ON FOXTEL NOW AND ON DEMAND