Deborah Mailman is an Australian television and film actress. She was the first Aboriginal actress to win the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Well known for working alongside some of Australia’s best actresses, Claudia Kavan and Asher Keddie, and Smashing celebrity images out of the ball park, Debroah is living proof that you don’t need to be stick thin to be loved by all Australians. Deborah’s Currently curating the short film festival, Flix in the Stix.
Where did you grow up, and what are you memories of childhood?
I was born and raised in Mt Isa, North West Queensland. My father comes from Augathella, Bidjara country, in South Central Queensland and my mother is Ngati Porou from the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. We lived at the rodeo grounds in Mt Isa, as my father was a retired champion rodeo rider who became the caretaker of the grounds, so the rodeo for me is my childhood – cowboys, dust and country music.
When did your acting career first begin, and what do you recall of your earlier roles? Back in the day, did being in front of the camera give you a thrill?
I trained as an actor at QUT Academy of Arts, beginning in 1990. My earlier roles were on the stage, having worked with Queensland Theatre Company and La Boîte Theatre in Brisbane and touring across the state in theatre-in-education programmes.
I made the move to Sydney and worked for many years, again in theatre, for the STC, Belvoir Theatre and Bell Shakespeare before moving into television and film. Radiance was my first feature film, directed by my long-time friend and collaborator, Rachel Perkins. It was a thrill to take that next step in my career and to understand the craft required for film and television. Filming Radiance was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had.
What is your home life like? Where are you currently living, and who makes up your home? Is managing a young family and an acting career hectic? How do you juggle it all?
I live on the South Coast of NSW, with my husband and two sons and a menagerie of animals. The country is stunning, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s home, and we are fortunate to have beautiful beaches and an incredible escarpment that runs parallel to the sea. I’m finding it harder to leave if I’m working, because all I care to do is be with my boys and sit and enjoy my home. Being a country girl, I’m far more at peace away from the city.
My husband manages the fort when I’m away. After all these years of juggling all our different schedules, we have somehow made it work. It’s not without its headaches, but we’re a good team.
I remember watching The Secret Life of Us and remember it as being the first television show to really showcase a city in its finest form … What was being a part of such an iconic series like?
Secret Life was a wonderful, crazy four years hanging out with the most incredible people. Working with Claudia Karvan was a real gift. She is simply brilliant. The show definitely reflected my life at the time. The success of the show was phenomenal and one I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for. Claudia was the exception, but the rest of us were all unknowns, and that changed in a heartbeat when the show went to air. It was very surreal and quite absurd sometimes, but aside from the madness I got the chance to work solidly with a great ensemble of actors, writers, directors and crew over that time. I’m very fond of the show, and it was wonderful for all involved that it did so well.
You’ve shared your career with some pretty inspirational women, like Claudia Karvan and Asher Keddie. What is is like to work with some of Australia’s finest actresses?
What I appreciate is that the list continues to grow with every job I do. It’s a reason why I love it, working with like-minded people. I’m always learning, and it’s fantastic for me to watch my colleagues offering up ideas and being present. I think it’s a job that requires a difference of mind, and emotionally we are telling many stories and part of that is revealing, even in disguise, a part of ourselves – so it’s nice to have comrades in arms who understand what is required.
You are considered a great role model (especially for teenage girls); you are living proof that you don’t need to be stick thin to be loved by all… Is this something that you’re proud of?
My relationship to my body is personal. I find the conversation around body image often hypocritical, so I tend to switch the dialogue or turn the page, because there are more interesting conversations to have. I hope young girls in particular do not get lost in the noise of what some consider to be beautiful, because it’s deafening.
You’re latest project is curating Flix in the Stix at Botanic Gardens. What does this mean to you, how did you go about picking the content, and how did you get involved?
I’m currently curating the short film festival, which I’ve never done before, so for me the joy is about watching films and seeing what resonates for me. I hope to give over a well-rounded, entertaining programme so that audiences will enjoy it and have a good night out.
What are you currently filming, and what’s on the agenda for 2015?
I will have a few projects that will be released on the big and small screen in the new year. First up is the feature film Paper Planes, coming to the big screen in January. It’s a film for the whole family about a young boy who dreams of competing in the World Junior Paper Planes Championship. It’s great fun with a lot of heart, and I’m looking forward to taking my kids to see it.
Blinky Bill the movie will be released sometime next year, which follows the adventure of our much loved koala, Blinky, and his friends.
And the critically acclaimed Redfern Now will return to ABC as a telemovie next year.