Marta Dusseldorp is a Helpmann Award-winning actor and was part of Sydney Theatre Company’s famed Actors Company. She appeared in the 2011 ABC drama series Crownies and is also known for the telemovie series BlackJack. At present she has the lead role in the Channel Seven series A Place to Call Home, playing Sarah Adams. I caught up with Dusseldorp to talk about the transition from theatre to television, how she prepares for a role and how she never goes home in character.
You have such a strong theatre background – what made you make the transition into TV?
I had dabbled in TV; I did BlackJack with Colin Friels, so I had a taste of what that felt like to go across six episodes. That really interested me because you can expand a character in a way that you can’t in the theatre, because you have one story, one hour. So to follow the scope of the character for up to 22 episodes, I just thought, ”Wow”. And I have to say, theatre is relentless; it’s eight shows a week, six days a week. You can’t put your kids to bed because you are on stage and I had two children, and I started missing that night-time ritual. With television there is a flexibility … I just felt like [it was] something I really wanted to explore and see if that fitted the family a little bit better, and I was lucky enough that I got a job.
What is the biggest difference between the two, performance-wise?
No rehearsal! In TV you have a moment – half an hour on a scene if you are lucky. It is a very fast medium. I don’t think people realise just how fast we go sometimes. There are some days I think, ”Did we get anything?”
Do you ever worry that you didn’t get everything in a take?
Yes, constantly, but that is the other skill in television, that you have to let go. You have to trust the director that they will let you know. In theatre you rehearse – sometimes up to three months – and it just gets into your blood and into your bones and I think that is how you handle standing in front of 900 people and exposing yourself. But I think television benefits from that spontaneity.
What has been your career highlight?
I have to say, this is a bit of a highlight right now. I feel in my centre, because in acting you can often feel at the mercy of people to give you a job, and I no longer worry about that, which gives me great peace … And I’m very proud of this role [in A Place to Call Home].
Have there been moments you are not proud of?
Yes, I’ve been on stage a few times and had that horrible feeling!
What do you do in those moments?
Vodka! No, you just concentrate on what you have to do. At the end of the day it’s a job and your responsibility is to the audience and not to yourself.
How do you prepare for a role?
Big-picture stuff. I soak myself in the situation … I try and find people who I can observe – that is what I’m good at, that is my strength. I can notice what people are doing and really thinking a lot of the time, which can be hell at a dinner party. Then, for me, the first basic thing is the lines, so I put them down, which is no easy task as you get older. But I find the bath helps. I think it helps me to relax. So a lot of my scripts end up [soaked]. I have to dry them off with a hair dryer. From there, I try not to have a plan and I really trust the director. And they have been chosen for a reason and I respect them completely and I use them a lot.
When you’re on set for hours on end, do you ever go home in that character?
No, never – I’ve learnt to leave it behind. I used not to when I didn’t have a family. I would go home and drink a bottle of wine and I’d be that character for ages, it must have been so annoying [laughs] but with kids you can’t afford to, they get too confused. It’s really important that when I take off my costume and make-up, I leave that there.
What do you do in your spare time?
I try to read a good book … I just picked up Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and wow! I love a classic and I thought, ”Oh, it’s probably dated but I’ll give it a go,” and now I can’t stop.
What is next in the pipeline?
I’m just about to start Jack Irish in Melbourne and then hopefully A Place to Call Home goes again, but it’s been my life that I never really know [what’s next]. And there is adrenalin to that that I really love.
WE WENT TO Le Pain Quotidien, Double Bay
WE ATE eggs, salmon, avocado and toast.
WE DRANK coffee and sparkling water.
MARTA WORE Kate Sylvester dress, Toni Maticevski coat.
Photography: Marco Del Grande