Marta Dusseldorp is an award-winning stage and screen actor best known for her television roles as prosecutor Janet King in Crownies and Janet King and Sarah Adams in A Place to Call Home. The Sydneysider, 44, talks to me about how playing Janet King pushes her to the limit, why she hopes to one day write a novel, and her advice to aspiring actors.
What is it like to play Janet King?
It was a bit of a game-changer in a way because although the role was extraordinary, it is an ensemble piece, beautiful, strong – as is Janet, but I had to carry the name and I didn’t really know what that meant, and I was unsure that it would work because of me…
In what way?
I just didn’t know I had what it took and it was wonderful that the ABC gave me that vote of confidence, so I took that and then I just absolutely loved it. I felt really challenged every day in the first season and I became really inventive and tried to take some risks … She pushes me to my absolute limit, physically.
In what way does she push you to your limits?
Seventy-hour weeks. Physically, emotionally and intellectually, because the amount of lines you have to learn. So I do a lot of work on the weekends and it’s just made me – I’ve been so lucky because you know when you get to come at something again and again and again, you just build up your confidence, you build up your risk factor.
What do you love most about the your character Janet?
I think her fearlessness … her ability to walk into a room and cut through the shit. And I sometimes do that and I sometimes don’t, but she always does it and so it’s great because it’s a weakness in her as well … On season two I came in as associate producer, so … that became for me a steep learning curve in the creative process of how you build a show from scratch.
What was the biggest learning experience you’ve had from being on the other side of the camera?
That it’s actually quite effortless because your imagination is your only limit … So I’m in this new apprenticeship, which is: how do you become the leader of an idea? And that it’s OK, that you don’t doubt yourself and think, “No, no, someone would have done this already, this is a silly idea, I’ve got nothing to offer.” Instead, you join the culture of conversation absolutely, without any kind of complex.
Do you intend to do more work behind the camera?
I think you have to eventually, not as any director or anything like that, but as a producer, definitely, and as a creator, supporting strong women stories, because we need to keep doing it.
If you could tell any one story, whose would it be?
That’s the beauty of my work: I don’t know … And so for me the hunt [is] what keeps me hungry. I would prefer to be surprised, which I have been my whole life. I’ve never had a plan and never wanted to be anything, I just loved telling stories. So I can’t wait to find out.
What is your best advice you can give young and upcoming actors?
Stay! Stay in Australia … stay and do theatre and do film and television, but don’t imagine that you can step out there. Some do – one in a million, one in a thousand, I don’t know what the odds are – but we need young voices that can help to tell our stories. And I would love to work overseas and will someday maybe because there are great things going on there, but if you can work here, especially at the beginning, I think it’s important to find your voice, from your past and your future and your family.
If you could play any character what would it be?
I think of the theatre and I think of Hedda Gabler and I would love to tackle some of the great classics now. I went back to the theatre last year, I carved out this time, against everyone’s wishes, and I just said, “I have to do a play”, because it had been five years…
You play two very popular characters – Sarah Adams and Janet King. You must get recognised everywhere you go now. What is that like?
Yes, sometimes it’s lovely and sometimes you do want to be able to tell your kids to “put that down!” and you turn around, someone is taking a photo and you go “Ha ha … aren’t [the kids] sweet and we are so in love” [laughs]… I think it actually makes you a better citizen, as daggy as that sounds.
If you had never gone down the path of acting, what would you have done?
I don’t know. I used to say I wanted to be a social worker and I realise I wouldn’t have lasted in that for four seconds. It’s so emotional, I wouldn’t have helped anyone. So who was I kidding? Probably a novelist. I’m so intensely obsessed with novels and writers, especially in this day and age … One day I would love to write a novel, but I don’t know.
Do you plan to write a novel?
I would love to, quietly, when I’m older. That’s the thing, when I’m old and no one wants me and I want to change that… I want older people to become visible.
Who do you look up to and admire?
So many along the way, so many great thinkers leading the charge. Cate [Blanchett], obviously… Margaret Cunneen. I mean, it’s sort of endless…. and my dad, I love him so much.
You have such a successful career with two beautiful children and a husband. How do you juggle it all?
I don’t do any juggling – it’s just falling around me, right? … And just live in the moment. And I use Filofax because I can’t work my phone … I lost it on set and I said, “I’ve lost my Filofax”, and everyone around was like, “Your what?” They were so young, they didn’t know what it was.
What’s next in the pipeline for you?
I’m going to have a break after Place, hopefully, and then I’m going to do a play with my husband [Ben Winspear].
Tell me about that.
We’re going to do Scenes from a Marriage, which is Ingmar Bergman’s – it was actually a television series the Americans made into the most fantastic film with Liv Ullmann and Joanna Murray-Smith … A very dear friend of ours asked us to do it in Queensland, so we said yes.
What is it like working with your husband?
Amazing, and that’s why we chose to do it, because he was the associate director on [a previous play]… and he would go, “Marta, don’t do that”, and it was fantastic and fun so I said, “Let’s do this again, but let’s act together”. And then scenes turned up and it’s a married couple over 12 years and it’s so complicated and funny and sad and tragic and brutal, I could only do it with him. I wouldn’t know how to begin to meet someone for the first time and then create this marriage.
Janet King’s season finale airs on Thursday, July 13, at 8.30 on ABC.
WE WENT TO Cubby’s Kitchen, Crown St, Surry Hills.
WE ATE warm olives roasted rosemary, chilli, garlic; hummus chilli edamame, chilli oil; fatoush; ladies fingers with Flinders island lamb, pine nuts, onion, toma-toum; wagyu beef mince pita tajima wagyu, lebanese spices, zartar.
WE DRANK sparkling water and cinnamon tea
MARTA WORE Max Mara
PHOTOGRAPHY Christopher Pearce