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Marta Dusseldorp

Date with Kate

Date with Kate: Marta Dusseldorp

10th July, 2017

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


PHOTOGRAPHY Christopher Pearce

Date with Kate


19th May, 2013
Breakfast with Marta Dusseldorp.

Breakfast with Marta Dusseldorp.

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.

Marta Dusseldorp

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