Marta Dusseldorp is the well-known and talented Australian actress notorious for TV dramas such as the legal series, Janet King, the detective series Jack Irish (co-starring with Guy Pearce), and the period drama, A Place to Call Home. She’s been nominated for and won various acting awards including Best Actress from the Australian Film Institute for Janet King and Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play at the 2009 Helpmann Awards for her performance as Queen Margaret in The War of the Roses.
A member of the Sydney Theatre Company for a few years, she recently returned to the stage in Benedict Andrews’ play, Gloria. On top of TV and Theater, you can also find Marta in various films including The Railway Man and Paradise Road.
A couple weeks ago, Marta graciously took the time in the midst of her busy schedule to talk with me over the phone. I found her to be absolutely lovely and thoughtful. She joined me to discuss the upcoming U.S. season 4 premiere of A Place to Call Home, what originally drew her to the part of the fantastic female character Sarah Adams, and even about the possibility of a season 5.
If you haven’t seen this period drama, I can’t recommend it enough. The drama, the characters, the mystery, the romance, the acting, the writing, everything is wonderful. Thankfully, you can catch up on all three seasons before the premiere on November 24. The entire series is available on Acorn TV.
(A few sections of the Q & A have minor edits because the audio recording didn’t capture a few words and phrases. Any errors are mine.)
Amber Topping: First of all, as an actress, what is it about the character Sarah in A Place to Call Home that drew you to the part?
Marta Dusseldorp: Her mystery. And her strength. Her resilience and the fact that she wasn’t really interested in talking very much. So, I found that really challenging. How do you sustain someone who lets things out very, very, very slowly? And including warmth. So, I really enjoyed walking that fine line with her. And I think from the feedback on season 1, the audience liked that too because it’s a bit of a puzzle.
AT: Yeah, I know when I was watching it, she’s a very mysterious character. What is her past? What is her history? And it really kept you engaged as you watched the series and it made you want to keep watching each episode to find out more about Sarah and her past.
MD: And I think too in this day and age we’re very quick to judge people from first impressions. So, the show sort of tried to recalibrate people to just stick with it and find a level of acceptance that comes to a gentle understanding of someone instead of labeling which is what the whole show is about.
AT: Yeah, definitely.
MD: And I think it’s something we need more of in the world.
AT: I completely agree 100%… So, season 4 is coming up for the U.S. audience on November 24. What can viewers expect to see this season?
MD: Season 4 is more film noir than it’s ever been, I think. There’s a mystery at the center of it. A murder mystery, really.
AT: Oh, interesting!
MD: Sarah investigates that but like Bevan Lee, the creator, always does, he finishes it up quite quickly and then throughout the season other things come into play that wrap around that. So, it’s not just one thing… And you have so many glorious characters, such a great ensemble that each character has their individual climax… And certainly, for Sarah it’s the fact that she’s carrying George’s child – is really her journey.
AT: With Sarah as a character, as you mentioned, she’s a really nuanced, layered female character. So, what new sides to her as a character do you think we’ll see in season 4 that we haven’t seen before?
MD: I think you start to see the protective mother to be which is obviously very important to women in the world because most of us experience that. As well in those days there was an ownership issue because when you have a bastard child, of course, this is a whole layer of a problem. And it’s a very, very real problem in the 1950’s.
MD: And it’s something that weighs quite heavily on her. And the fact that she’s lost René means that she’s alone in this ‘cause they were going to fudge it a bit and pretend it was his. So, yeah, there’s a lot of problem solving and relationship negotiating with George. And at the same time, Roy really is the father figure of her life. And that relationship really deepens and I just love that so much. I love working with Frankie J. Holden who plays Roy.
And then at the same time, of course, there’s this Regina problem which is constant…
AT: [Laughs] Yeah.
MD: And so, what Bevan does, I think really cleverly, is he has two scenes with Regina. One in Ep 1 and one in Ep 12. And yet, the whole series is about how they walk around each other. So, there’s a lovely geometry to their problem. And hopefully, the climax for that relationship pays off the whole season. Because I know the audience, by that stage [beg] for blood. I know Sarah certainly is, so I hope that plays out. They haven’t reached that in Australia yet. They haven’t got Ep 12 yet. I’m looking forward to seeing their reaction!
AT: Yeah. With the relationship with George, is there any new developments? They have a child coming but what about romantically? Are there any developments between Sarah and George that the audience can expect to see?
MD: Do you mean physically? Or—
AT: In any way. Physically, emotionally, just as a relationship developing…She’s lost René but are the writers bringing Sarah and George closer together? Farther apart? How are they developing their relationship?
MD: Well it’s neither one nor the other. As you get older in your relationships you realize they’re never just one thing. So, for me, it’s really beautifully handled. It’s incredibly complicated. And there are negotiations that need to be made. There’s no black and white. And that’s to do with the 1950’s but I still feel that today – that we are always negotiating our place in a relationship…
But it does bring her back into the Bligh’s sphere because she had sort of released herself from that. And by the end of season 3 was ready to go to Paris with René and leave it all behind. It’s really complicated but it’s much deeper, their love now. I mean, they’ve always loved each other…So it’s unrequited love but it’s not young love. It’s mature, aged love and so it just gets deeper and deeper and deeper.
And there are some beautiful scenes that are quite difficult and not as you expect it. It’s another thing that Bevan does. He never writes it quite as you as you imagine it’ll go. And I appreciated that. Because it’s a very adult conversation. And until the child is born they have to keep talking, don’t they? It’s quite…it’s very sweet actually.
MD: Yeah, it’s really beautiful. And then it gets ugly.
AT: [Laughs] Of course. You gotta have the drama. The drama and the conflict.
MD: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.
AT: A Place to Call Home is a very socially conscious period drama. So, what social issues will be covered besides the pregnancy this season? And how it will it connect to the overall story arc?
MD: Well, I think he mines further into homophobia, he mines further into this matriarch of Elizabeth –how she’s learning to meet the new world. Certainly, Abby’s character, Abby Earle who plays Anna. She starts to stomp a little bit louder and wants to be a writer. And how does that fit in the world of the late ’50s?
Sara who plays Carolyn…Carolyn is still dealing with her experience with Richard played by Mark Lee. And so, you see the women actually starting to rise up out of out of the ground and their voices get louder and louder and louder.
And Bevan Lee wrote every episode except for two. And the other two are written by Katherine Thomson. So, there’s a very strong consistent voice…We’ve sort of got the effect again where the ribbons go out and it winds out of it, comes out in a different pattern. It winds back down again. And so, it has a lot of joy in it. It all sounds very serious but there’s a play in it and a festival.
There’s a wedding, of course, there has to be a wedding in the season. And there’s a possible birth. So, there’s renewal and opportunity and possibility and then there’s the killing of the- the burning of the old. And that’s quite painful in parts as well. And then you have Regina who just won’t leave anyone alone. And Jenni Baird who plays Regina does a spectacular performance.
AT: Oh, she does, yeah.
MD: Playing someone who you totally relate to and yet want to throttle, so, yeah, it was wonderful watching her work.
AT: That’s what makes a great villain sometimes, though. You have to kind of actually understand the villain for the villain to really take off.
MD: Right? I feel very sorry for Regina. Yeah, when I watch it.
MD: I completely understand her motivation. I get it. I mean, I would never do that! But, it’s all right. Sarah deals with her in the end. [Laughs]
AT: So, it sounds like season 4 is going to be really great. Is there anything else about season 4 that you think the audience should know, be prepared for, or be excited about?
MD: We have a new cinematographer, Henry Pierce. The other cinematographer was also incredible. But it’s now a stiller look. And we’ve got quite a few film directors who’ve come in. So, there’s an epic-ness to it…that it’s always had but, of course, as we get to know it better it’s becoming – there’s a lot more sweet, I think. And crispness. And, yeah, it’s really beautiful to watch. And, of course, we’ve got the same production designer, costume, and makeup. And they’re just going from strength to strength as far as I’m concerned. So, the detail in this season is extraordinary.
AT: Well, I can’t wait to watch it personally. I loved the first three seasons so far, so I’m sure season 4 is going to be just as good.
MD: Great. I don’t think it will let you down.
AT: No, I don’t think so either! I keep trying to spread the word to family and friends and on our magazine. And trying to tell everybody that it’s really a fabulous show. And hopefully, more people will continue to catch on and watch it!
MD: Especially here, being with Acorn TV…they’re right behind it. I mean, I spent the morning with them yesterday. And the enthusiasm…and they’re just embracing it. And they’re excited too because it really is – it’s moving out more and more gathering this momentum. So, we’re all really excited about it because it’s not Downton Abbey. It has a completely different flavor and drive and social awareness. Not that Downton didn’t but I’d just say it’s not a repeat of that which is really great, for everyone is loving that. And it’s sold to 140 countries around the world…
AT: That’s pretty amazing, yeah.
MD: We’re beside ourselves. It’s fantastic ‘cause it’s our story but it’s also—it’s everyone’s story. So, we’re loving that it’s being embraced in that way.
AT: Yeah. Well, A Place to Call Home, I think really represents the type of stories that I love and I think a lot of people are looking for and they just don’t know where to find it. And hopefully, we can help get the word out about it and spread it around. Because yeah, I mean it’s certainly not Downton Abbey but it certainly fits into that great storytelling genre of humanity and people and great characterization and writing. And I think that people are looking for that.
MD: Yeah. Yeah, well, it’s certainly wonderful to be in Washington and actually be on the ground with everyone here and having the conversations because you realize just – yeah, the impact it’s having. ‘Cause, yeah, you know, we’re storytellers. It’s what we do. So…it’s a good feeling. So, thank you for your help with that.
AT: Sure! Always happy to spread the word about something that really works and is a great story. ‘Cause I think that’s what’s important – is great stories from around the world and hopefully, more people will find out about them.
MD: Yeah. Well, thank you. Thanks, Amber. Thanks so much.
AT: Well, thank you so much. That pretty much wraps up my questions. Before I go, is there anything else you want to add? Any other upcoming projects? Or anything else you want to add about A Place to Call Home?
MD: So, upcoming…I’m shooting Janet King on Tuesday when I get back which is the legal show I do for the ABC in Australia.
MD: So, we’re into season 3 of that. And then, hopefully, I hope to do more of A Place to Call Home. Because I don’t think the story’s finished yet.
AT: It would be great if there was a season 5 pickup. So, you haven’t heard any word on that yet or anything?
MD: Uh, not yet. But it looks good.
AT: Well, that’s good to hear!
MD: Yeah. So, fingers crossed.
AT: Fingers crossed!
AT: Well thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I really enjoyed talking to you about the show and the characters and I look forward to season 4!
MD: Thank you, Amber. Great questions. Thanks, a lot.
You can follow Marta Dusseldorp on her Official Twitter to stay up to date on all her future projects. And make sure to tune into the season 4 premiere of A Place to Call Home on Thanksgiving Day, November 24.
Photos: Foxtel/ACORN TV