22 Jun 2018 | BY Shelley Lee - @ShelleyLee_
“I feel like it’s a very lucky time for me to be 45 and be an actress”
There is a poise to Marta Dusseldorp that makes her hypnotic to watch, in character and in person.
It’s this power to draw you in that has made the actor one of the most in-demand in the country. The AACTA and Helpmann awards-winner leads two hit television series, A Place to Call Home (APTCH) and Janet King , appears in another drama, Jack Irish alongside Guy Pearce and thrives on the adrenaline of live theatrical performance.
Her fair features reflect her Dutch heritage – the actor’s grandfather was engineer Dick Dusseldorp who won the contract to build the podium for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and went on to found Lend Lease Corporation. Her voice is strong and confident, a key piece of the steely characters she often plays. But it’s when this voice waivers with a giggle speaking about her two daughters, chocking back a tears in tribute to the APTCH the cast and crew or with passion talking about the talent in Australian entertainment industry that you feel the full force of the tool of this woman, named by her mother after Dutch spy Mata Hari.
After six years, APTCH is coming to a close at the end of it’s upcoming sixth season. The period drama, in which Marta plays Holocaust survivor Sarah Adams, originally aired on Network Seven in 2013, but after being canned two seasons in was resurrected by Foxtel. The pay TV network’s executive director of television Brian Walsh picked up the discarded show after a pleading call from his sister, one of the thousands of mega-fans who rallied behind a campaign to get it back on the air. A hit overseas as well as at home, the Logie award-winning, AACTA-nominated drama now beams a story about regional Australia in the 1950s to more than 120 countries.
The seasons have revealed the many shades of Sarah; medical professional, widow, wife, mother, lover, friend, fighter and a keeper of secrets. Marta tells The FIERCE as she steps out of character for the final time this month, Sarah will never leave her.”I will imaginatively travel Sarah through her life with me.” she says, meaning there will be moments in Marta’s life when she will stop and think of Sarah – how old she would be now, what she would think of certain situations. It’s something the actor says she does for her late brother Yoris, imaging a life for the sibling that died of leukaemia when she was eight-years-old and he was aged only nine-months.
Currently inundated with work, this household name didn’t always have the benefit of cherry-picking the roles she wanted, describing herself as a “jobbing actor”, taking parts to pay the bills. “When I was younger I didn’t choose, I took whatever came and I never believed I would get Sarah Adams actually. When I auditioned, I thought it’s not possible to have this complicated, complex, secretive woman,” she says, then smiles broadly “And I did! So that taught me anything is possible”.
There’s a warmth to Marta’s voice when she speaks about ageing and her family, her husband fellow actor Ben Winspear and daughters Maggie and Grace. Experience, in life and career has given her confidence she says, and you get the impression the already accomplished actor is just hitting her stride “I fell like it’s a very lucky time for me to be 45 and be an actress. That used to be the sort of death knell, I don’t think that’s the case any more.”
“It’s why it has to be 50:50.There has to be 50 percent women, 50 percent men in any creative conversation in any workplace in anywhere you are. Because it allows for both [genders] to be represented and understood. It’s not to say men don’t know [about women]. It’s just… we live this reality”.
This new era facing women on our screens is why the star admits she does question scripts when she sees them failing the Bechdel Test (explained by Marta in the video below).”I do bring up things like that, and I don’t do it to be controversial or create a problem. I just flag it, we talk about it and we work around it.”
But since a searing spotlight has been shone on gender pay gaps, and the treatment and representation of women in entertainment and other industries, there has been a definite shift in the types of roles landing on her desk “I haven’t seen one script, where a woman is not the protagonist”. Elsewhere in the theatre she’s been offered plays with main characters adapted from male to female. “I think it’s fine to look at classics and spin it on its head, but I think we also have to nurture people to write those stories [about women] now. I think that’s happening.”
Literally days after she leaves the APTCH set for the final time, Marta will step into the rehearsal room. From August 11 she’ll be on the stage again, this time as the Nora Helmer in Melbourne Theatre Company’s Australian premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2. The Broadway hit continues Nora’s story after she walks out Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House.
Even with time locked aside for future stage commitments, the end of APTCH will leave a tantalising gap in Marta’s schedule for 2019. She hasn’t locked in anything yet, she says, but wheels are turning towards a new project for this performer and producer “I’d like to stay open” she smiles again. “I just want to finish this and have no plans. I’m having some amazing creative conversations and everyone is being incredibly embracing of me, so well see.”
A Place to Call Home, Season 6 will air on showcase on FOXTEL, and be available to stream on Foxtel Now, from Sunday August 19