Got Wentworth on the brain? I know I sure do! This dark, gritty and often times brutal Australian series is a gripping drama that has taken the states by storm! With its layered characters, and enriched storylines, this raw depiction of life with (or without) parole will not disappoint.
Nicole da Silva, who plays Franky Doyle, (one of Wentworth Correctional Centre’s most notable offenders) nails it as a sophisticatedly vulgar inmate serving time after violently attacking a Reality TV host on a cooking show. Da Silva’s character gets herself into hot water on numerous occasions, wheeling and dealing– oh and charming the pants off of the ladies that reside with her behind bars (not to mention the ladies watching at home). The Australian actress, who won an ASTRA Award for Most Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor for Wentworth, dominates the screen bringing to the forefront undeniable talent.
And have no fear all you stateside citizens, we have good (and some bad) news! Season 1 and 2 are currently available in the U.S. on Netflix (time to get your binge-watch on) with season 3 now airing in Australia (yep, no U.S. air date… yet). With a new global community waiting in the wings for more Wentworth, both da Silva and I agreed that it might be about time for worldwide distribution and synchronicity… we can hope, can’t we?
But really, this vibrant actress was beyond a pleasure to speak with, not only about Franky’s development on the show, but about tattoos, hidden talents, her role at the UN Women Australia and taking on LGBT representation.
In the words of Franky Doyle, “consider yourself ‘bitch slapped.’”
MCKENZIE MORRELL: How would you describe Wentworth. Can you just tell us a little about the character you play?
NICOLE da SILVA: I describe Wentworth as a gritty, prison drama. It’s a reimagining of a 1970s TV show called Prisoner from Australia. I play Franky Doyle, who is one of the inmates in the prison.
MM: Wonderful. I mean, this show is amazing. I totally binged-watched the heck out of it.
MM: [Laughs.] Everyone around the world—especially the U.S.—has taken a liking to it. Did you expect the series to do so well outside of Australia?
NDS: No, not at all. When we first started filming, we had no idea that it would get any kind of international release. Slowly, once it was released in Australia, it slowly gained momentum worldwide. Then the UK picked it up. And then Europe picked it up. And then the icing on the cake has been Netflix picking it up for the U.S.
MM: Yeah, people in the entertainment industry—such as Rosie O’Donnell—are publicaly professing their love for the show. That’s got to be a great feeling for all of you guys, knowing that people are digging it and want more of it.
NDS: Yeah, it’s an awesome feeling! I think audiences are very sophisticated these days, you know? They’re watching TV; they’re watching long-form drama. And they’re becoming really savvy about what makes good television. So to be up there amongst the best is really cool.
MM: It’s amazing. So in what ways, if any, are you similar to your character? Are there any massive differences? I would suspect there might be a few.
NDS: Yeah! Yes! [Laughs.] There are certainly a few. I would hope that I’m less violent than her!
NDS: [Laughs.] But with any character you play, you find commonalities. And I certainly have some of those. It’s just, like, Franky’s personality has been shown between strength and vulnerability. She’s sort of wide. And I try to bring humanity to the things that I’m given.
MM: Did you do anything in particular to get into character? Did you talk to any inmates, or did it just fall into place naturally?
NDS: There was something about Franky when I saw her written on the page that resonated with me. Certainly, I think, there was a level of kinship there immediately. But once I got the role, I was pretty insistent that I visit prison so that I could speak to inmates and ex-inmates. I was lucky enough to do so. And that process was very eye opening. I got to speak to one inmate in particular; she helped guide Franky, and kind of form her into what you see on screen now.
MM: You do a wonderful job.
NDS: Thank you.
MM: You’re welcome. Alright, let’s jump right into the juicy stuff! The fans want to know: is there hope for Bridget and Franky? I mean, the latest episode was so hopeful, yet so disheartening.
NDS: So I take it you’re all watching it illegally online?
MM: Well… I cannot confirm or deny.
NDS: [Laughs.] Yes, good. Is there hope for Bridget and Franky? I’m not going to give anything away. I’m going to keep my cards close to my chest. Season three is such a pivot point for Franky. I think Bridget embodies a certain hope for Franky, and a certain hope in her recovery. But I’m going to keep mum on how that develops—and if it develops.
MM: You sneaky thing. I’m seeing a pattern here. First, Franky and Erica. Now, Franky and Bridget. Do you think that this character that you play is drawn to authority-type figures or does it just happen to be that they’re in those positions?
NDS: I think Franky is such an intelligent woman that, within that environment, she is constantly seeking stimulation. So she naturally gravitates toward those in higher positions, with higher education, who she can riff off, and with who she can have conversation. I think that’s a natural tendency for her.
MM: Going back to the “illegally downloading or watching” the show, what are your feelings on that? I know a lot of people are streaming it live. Do you think it’s a good and a bad thing that people are getting pumped for it, but do you think that hurts the show?
NDS: It’s this funny catch-22, and I really am of two minds about it. Because on the one hand, people watching the show and supporting the show—however they’re watching it—is a thrill. As an artist, without an audience watching or appreciating what you do, you truly have no work and there are no prospects for what you want to create. On the other hand, when it is done like that, money doesn’t go back into the industry and support that’s creating more. So it’s a really tricky thing, and I think it’s interesting to get the debate out there and open up the debate about it. Because certainly, everyone’s doing it. And I appreciate everyone watching.
MM: I think that, also, it kind of opens up the forum for the company, not stream it, but to make it available on Hulu or Netflix, as it’s already happening, so that the whole world can watch together.
NDS: At the same time. I know, and you’ve got such a great point there. It really is about the networks catching up with the idea that it’s a global audience now, and it’s a global community. And certainly having it released at the same time would do us wonders.
MM: We’re putting it out there! So hopefully somebody will be listening!
MM: [Laughs.] So Wentworth is often compared to Orange Is the New Black, but the shows are vastly different. Do you take it as a compliment when people make that connection? Are you a fan of the show?
NDS: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve watched most of Orange Is the New Black. I have a friend on the show. And I think it’s a really wonderful show. I love that we get compared to it because it’s a quality comedy-drama with great performances, and amazing writing, and, to be honest, a budget that’s a lot bigger than ours. [Laughs.]
MM: I feel like you can’t really tell. You guys do such a great job portraying everybody. And the scenes and characters are just amazing.
NDS: At the end of the day, they are such different shows. I feel like Orange Is the New Black fits so beautifully in that comedy-drama area, and it’s such character-driven storylines, which I really love. Whereas, on the other hand, you have Wentworth, which is definitely drama-based, and it’s more plot-driven.
MM: If you could be best friends with one of the characters from Orange Is the New Black, who would it be?
NDS: Crazy Eyes!
MM: Yes! That is awesome. I love Crazy Eyes.
NDS: For sure. She equally entertains me and breaks my heart every episode.
MM: That’s such a great thing to have that duality. I’m sure people are always asking you what it feels like to play gay, but I think the more important question is: With the LGBTQ community so scarcely represented in television, do you feel any added pressure to live up to people’s expectations of you as this lesbian icon?
NDS: I think when I first started I didn’t realize that there was any sort of responsibility or any difference to any character I played. And then once it went to air, and Franky gained the support she did, I became really aware of how LGBT characters had been portrayed on screen before, and also the fact that there’s not enough of them on screen. So for me, it did become this—I [was filled] with an eagerness and sense of pride to be able to represent like that. It comes at a really important time in the world where we’re having discussions about marriage equality and transgender rights. And these things are moving the world along. I’m proud to be a part of that.
MM: Totally on the forefront of it, and it’s appreciated.
MM: Let’s talk about tattoos! So how long does it take to put on, and take off, those tattoos your character sports in each episode? And do you have any real ones of your own?
NDS: I don’t have any real ones! I certainly sit in the makeup chair for a couple of hours every day putting them on. It’s made me a little attached to them. I started to really understand the psychology of tattoos and what it is to have those artworks on your body, and to claim your body like that.
MM: Are you ever like, “OK, leave them on today. I’m going to take them home with me”?
NDS: I did do that! When we first started shooting, during the first season, I would often be given the option to take the tattoos off for the weekend. But a lot of the time, I opted not to, because I was starting to enjoy them.
MM: If you could be any other character on the show for an episode, who would it be and why?
NDS: Oh, God, great question! Who would I be? Hmm. Oh, gosh, I would probably have to say Boomer.
MM: Oh, Boomer. Yes!
NDS: Yeah, Katrina Milosevic just continues to bring so much fun to the role, and I would love to do that for an episode, I think.
MM: That would be awesome. Definitely two of my favorite characters—you and Boomer—so I approve. You’re pretty active on social media. Do you ever find it to be overwhelming? I suspect you frequently get overly friendly messages or some strange things from people.
NDS: I do, I do. I pick and choose the moments when I get on social media or I check my social media. It does require a certain headspace. But generally speaking, I found it a really positive forum to talk, not only about the show, but issues going on around the world. And I have a really supportive fan-base.
MM: It’s great for you to be able to connect with the worldwide audience. People are looking you guys up, saying, “Hey, who are these people? I want to get to know them.” So it’s great for you to be on social media, so people can find you and have a conversation.
NDS: Yeah. Absolutely. And that’s where some of the feedback where Rosie O’Donnell came through, Dave Navarro who has tweeted me, but things like that kind of filter through, and it empowers the artist in a way, because you suddenly have your own platform to be able to connect with your own audience.
MM: It’s a totally different world these days.
MM: It’s constantly growing and you can tweak things. Your Twitter bio says you’re a “mischief maker.” Care to elaborate? Are you sneaky or a prankster on set?
NDS: I do love a good prank on set. I do love joking around, and particularly on set and particularly at work. We’re dealing with such heavy, dark content, that you need that drive to spark everyone up again.
MM: What are some shows you’re watching, or perhaps any that you would like to guest star on?
NDS: So I’m actually watching the second half of the second season of Orange Is the New Black at the moment. And I just started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as well!
MM: Yes! How are you liking it?
NDS: I love it! It’s so fun and kooky, and I’m a big fan of Tina Fey.
MM: It’s one of those you can kind of just sit down, not think, and just laugh for hours. It’s really great.
NDS: Yes, absolutely.
MM: So now, one random fact about you that not many people or perhaps your fans know about you.
NDS: Aw! What’s a random fact about me? Oh! I’m really good at cutting hair!
NDS: Yes! Randomly, give me a pair of scissors and a head of hair, and I could give someone a pretty decent haircut. I’ve had friends and family over years hit me up, but it’s something I find really boring, so I don’t do it often. But for whatever reason, I must have been a hairdresser in a past life.
MM: And that kind of leads into my next question. If you hadn’t pursued an acting career, what profession do you think you would be in right now?
NDS: I think in my earlier days, I would have thought that I’d pursue maybe law or psychology, because those were the two things that really interested me. These days, I’d probably choose something like naturopathy. But at the moment, I have a friend who’s a master carpenter. He’s teaching me carpentry, and I would, in an alternate life, love to be a builder or a furniture-maker.
MM: Are you working on any carpentry projects right now?
NDS: Well, I finished making my own coffee table, which is very cool. This last week, I’ve just been helping my friend renovate a kitchen.
MM: Oh! That sounds like fun! I never thought of that. Now, you became the first national champion for UN Women Australia. Can you tell us about that organization and how you got involved?
NDS: UN Women is a faction of the United Nations. It used to be called UNIFEM. As Wentworth was going to air, and I could see how much popularity it was gaining, I made a conscious decision to use my profile in a positive way in the community. And it was a no-brainer for me that was going to be about women’s rights and advancing the status quo for women. So I did some research, found the national committee for UN Women Australia, cold-called them, and said, “Hi. I would like to offer you my services. Let’s start a conversation.” We did, and a year later we kind of figured out what my role would be and how we’d go about it.
MM: Is there anything we can do to help things along?
NDS: You can jump on to any of the UN Women websites, and they tell you about projects that they’re running globally at any given moment. Donations are always your best bet, and just staying informed about issues.
MM: Lastly, is there anything that you would like to add, or anything that you would like to say to the fans?
NDS: I think any opportunity to thank the fans should always be taken. Because they have been a joy and so, so giving in all their love. So I’d like to thank them in a big way!
MM: Thanks so much. It’s been wonderful chatting with you.
NDS: Thanks, McKenzie! Thanks for the chat.
Follow Nicole da Silva on Twitter: @nicdasilva