The Freak may have fallen, but that doesn’t mean she’s down and out for good. As the Wentworth Season 4 trailer shows, “sometimes you have to lose control, to gain it.” And if that message from The Freak herself, plotting in her padded cell isn’t enough to get your pulse racing and skin crawling, let’s just say that Top Dog Bea Smith better watch her back, and not just from former Governor Joan “The Freak” Ferguson’s mind-games, but also from her new inmate and subsequent rival Karen “Kaz” Proctor. You know, the head of the Red Right Hand, the vigilante group who gave Bea a “helping hand” when she was desperate for answers after she was drugged and kidnapped (by Ferguson’s henchman) within the prison walls.
Danielle Cormack, who plays the ferocious redhead, might have started out as a meek and obedient wife on the hit series, but one thing’s for sure, Cormack’s character is nothing like the woman we first met in season 1. Bea’s failed attempt at murdering her abusive husband was the first impression we ever had of her… but that impression soon changed, when the audience and the inmates of Wentworth saw something in Bea that she didn’t even know existed. Cormack’s character quickly rose to power behind bars, taking charge of the prison, while making many enemies. Her new position cost her more than she bargained for, and she was forced to avenge the death of her daughter Debbie by taking out both Brayden and Jacs Holt. Does she even have anything to lose anymore? Cormack says “she does have things to lose,” which ignites worry in our minds as the show returns this month to Foxtel (and hopefully not long after to US Netflix).
With so many threats in a prison setting, how does one truly stay on top for long? With Franky out of the immediate picture (she won her freedom at the end of Season 3, but how long will that last?), Ferguson behind those same walls as a psych patient and Kaz out for blood… there’s a whole lot that can go wrong, and probably will go wrong. It was a long time in the making, but I finally got a chance to chat with Cormack about her role on the critically acclaimed Australian series, and boy did we have a blast. After we encountered some good old fashioned international cellular issues, we hopped on Skype, and virtually hung out dishing on all things Wentworth. From seasons past to her favorite season yet (spoiler alert: it’s season 4), Cormack was just as excited as I was to talk about the future of Bea Smith.
So without further ado…
MCKENZIE MORRELL: The United States is finally caught up with Wentworth and we’re really excited for some more, but has it officially hit you guys that the show is reaching such a vast audience?
DANIELLE CORMACK: Yeah, I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’m certainly aware of the audience numbers, mainly due to social media and the various responses I get from around the world.
MM: What initially attracted you to the show? Has being a part of it affected you in anyway that you didn’t expect?
DC: The initial attraction was because I was aware of the tone and the nature of the show because it’s based around a very iconic Australian show called Prisoner, so I was already educated on the world of the show, and I was invited to audition for the role of Bea Smith—which I jumped at! Secondly, but also most importantly, because it was show based primarily around women and, with Wentworth, the issues facing women in today’s society.
MM: Your character has really evolved since her first season. What do you think the biggest factor was contributing to her changing from the beginning to now? I mean, there were a lot of things that contributed to it, but what do you think is the main reason that pushed her over the edge?
DC: I think the grief journey for her has been a big one. The amount of loss that’s been incurred over her life has certainly redefined the woman that she is. And also a matter of survival, I think. In that environment, her moral compass has shifted a lot. The relationships that she’s forged and the relationships that she’s lost, they help change and they reconfigure people’s internal worlds, and I think that’s what she’s encountered. So of course there’s going to be a natural and logical progression of change.
MM: I think what’s great about your character is that she has nothing left to lose. Her daughter’s dead, her husband’s dead, she’s killed people now. She’s kind of been brought to this new level. Do you think that mentality is what put her in her place in Season 3 and moving forward of where we’re going to see her?
DC: I think so. But even though on face value it seems like she’s got nothing to lose, or appears that she’s got nothing to lose, I think that she does have things to lose. She’s forged and formed some really close friendships and relationships with people in there, and in [Season] 4, it becomes really prevalent, which is why I’m really excited about 4. By the way, 4 has been my most favorite series to shoot to date. I’m very excited, although I can’t give away too much.
MM: Yeah, we expect that. [laughs]
DC: Yeah. And that’s much credit to the writers and the creators on the show that, yes, although it might seem that she’s got nothing to lose, perhaps around the corner she does. And that creates this wonderful platform for more drama and keeping the stakes really high.
MM: Now, in terms of Season 3, did you have a favorite scene that you shot?
DC: Season 3? How long ago! [laughs]
MM: I know! I feel like it’s so hard to talk to you guys because we’re just caught up and you guys are done with that and moving on to new things.
DC: Ok, Season 3, favorite scene. It’s always a difficult question to answer because there’s so much that goes into a show and to dissect it and compartmentalize it like that feels like it’s reducing the experience.
MM: Yeah, I can see that.
DC: I think I’m going to override the question and say that my favorite thing about the series is working with a phenomenally committed group of actors. Everyone gives it their all 100% of the time. All the people I work with and the whole production, they work so hard to make the show the best it can be, and that’s what I enjoy. When you’re working with people that are really good at what they do and they just want to keep getting better, we keep challenging each other and supporting each other—that’s magic.
MM: Yeah! Now I have a random question. So obviously in America, you guys have accents to us and we probably have accents to you, and there’s a little debate that goes on if your character’s name is pronounced “Bee” or “Bae”?
DC: No, it’s “Bee.” [laughs] But what I love is [laughs] people have very affectionately dubbed Bea “Bae” [laughs], which I kind of like. There’s the whole Beyonce connotation there, and who doesn’t want to be called “Bae”? [laughs]
MM: Right? “Queen Bae.” You just take over the world.
DC: It’s almost like an autocorrect now that the word “Bae” is more popular than the name Bea, so I think there’s a lot of autocorrect that happens. But it’s definitely “Bee.”
MM: Yep, I just want to make sure I’m right. Ok. Obviously, Maxine is Bea’s right hand woman. How has it been working with Socratis Otto? I mean, I love him to death; we’ve had conversations before. Did you expect your character to gravitate towards his character when she was brought into the season?
DC: Whether or not I had that expectation, it’s neither here nor there because it’s up to the writers. They write the relationships and they forge those relationships.
MM: Of course.
DC: But, I was thrilled when they introduced the character of Maxine. I felt like it created a really wonderful debate within the world that we created. You know, the inmates were polarized by Maxine arriving into Wentworth, which is great. And also, for the viewers as well, it’s always controversial when you have a character that is and was at the time, probably not so much now due to a lot more transgender people coming out in public and not being so stigmatized anymore. But at the time, representing a marginalized group of people. And Socratis is so utterly committed and dedicated to representing the transgender community in a light that’s true to them. I just adored that and completely admired his conviction. He was a joy to work with because the sacrifices that he made, I think, go so unnoticed. All of the makeup, having to maintain a certain diet I’m thinking and the hours in makeup. For me, I put my tracksuit on and I’m five minutes in makeup. Whereas for Socratis, the amount of time and the detail—he was so meticulous about Maxine’s appearance, looking after the makeup and making sure it was absolutely right, and that takes time and we’re moving pretty fast. I have nothing but the utmost admiration and affection for Socratis. He’s a very dear friend now and I miss him dearly.
MM: Aww, right!
DC: Maxine, aside from how she entered the prison, she’s such an amazing force in the piece because she does become Bea’s second I.C. [in command] and she’s so loyal and level-headed. And she has a street wisdom that I don’t think Bea possesses. So they work really well together.
MM: I think they do. They are probably my favorite pairing or friendship on the show.
DC: It’s an extraordinary friendship. And for me to see the viewers and the fans of the show embrace that friendship means alot to me and Socratis as well. When you get that feedback, you feel it and that’s something you carry with you in future shoots and you really guard it. How the viewers respond to our show does help inform our show somewhat.
MM: Oh, that’s interesting!
DC: Of course it does. You’ve got all the people out in the world and the way that they feel about certain relationships or moments, it’s hard for it not to inform it.
MM: Right. Well, that’s great! We love that dynamic, so we’re hoping to see more of that as the seasons progress. But in Season 3, a big plot point was the Red Right Hand and the character of Karen Proctor, and obviously at the end of the season, she’s in jail. We can’t really talk about Season 4, but in terms of Season 3, do you think Bea had any idea the lengths that this woman was willing to go to get her way?
DC: I don’t know. I think Bea, at that point, she had her own agenda, so I don’t think she was particularly aware of what Kaz’s intentions were and what she was up to. I think at that point, Bea was just using Kaz to serve her own agenda.
MM: Yep! And now it’s going to bite her in the ass a little bit. [laughs] But we’ll see how that goes.
DC: Which is great! It gave her somewhere to go in terms of the relationship in 4.
MM: [laughs] I can’t wait. We’re waiting for it over here. We’ll be delayed, but it’s OK. Kind of an off-the-cuff type of question— If you could pick another character from another show to come into Wentworth, who would it be?
DC: Oh my goodness! OK! I’m so terrible because I don’t watch a lot of television. Oh! You know who I’d [laughs] really love to see on Wentworth?
DC: What’s her name in Girls? You know, Jemima Kirke.
DC: I think she’d be great! [laughs] She’d just come on and mess shit up. [laughs]
MM: [laughs] I think that’s a good answer. To get into fan interaction, social media and all that good stuff, I have to ask this question because people were tweeting it at me. Much like other fantasy pairings on TV shows, the fans want to see Bea and Franky get together. This is a big thing, I’m sure you’ve see.
DC: Since you’re asking me that, do you mean get together as in form an alliance? Or get together as in fall in love? Or just get together physically?
MM: I think it’s romantic, I’m not really sure.
DC: A romantic coupling?
MM: Yes. Romantic coupling. What do you guys think as actors, you and Nicole [Da Silva], or anybody really who’s getting these “shipping” things going on with the fans? Do you kind of just giggle that people see things there that might not be there, or what is your take on it?
DC: I think it’s wonderful that show elicits such a strong response from people, whatever the response is.
MM: That’s good!
DC: Yeah. It’s why we do what we do; it’s to engage with people. To invest their time in the characters and the storylines, and to be moved by them and to have vested interests. So if people are out there shipping away [laughs], great!
MM: Go for it!
DC: You know, I think that Bea and Franky would be great together. Why not? But I say that objectively outside the show, not as Danielle Cormack playing Bea, just Danielle Cormack. Who wouldn’t want to be with Franky?
MM: Right? [laughs] That is true. That is so true!
DC: [laughs] But Nicole and I have a bit of a laugh over it. And of course, the famous Wild Orchid scene, which very generously the writers let me rename that shampoo because it wasn’t initially called Wild Orchid. It’s called Pomegranate. [laughs] And I just felt, why shy away from a moment that could be infused with a frisson between the characters? Why not allow that to happen?
MM: Well, that was a good suggestion, definitely! Obviously, people just want to see your character with a lot of different characters. I know I had a conversation with Robbie [Magasiva] last year, and he had mentioned he sees Bea and Will’s relationship more like a friendship. Do you see that the same way, or do you see it as the fans see it, as it could be a romance?
DC: I think by the end of Season 3, they’ve traveled quite a road together. I think they’ve formed the type of friendship that they do have an affection for each other. Whether or not it’s a romantic one, I think both of them know that they’re in a situation that would be next to impossible. But there’s a healthy amount of respect there and I’m looking forward to 4 for people—that’s all I want to say—for the exploration of different relationships forming and…[laughs]
MM: Right? I’m like, ‘Can I get anything out of you?’ Nope. For your character, it has to have been a really validating experience to kind of take down The Freak. How do you think her and Franky felt when they kind of finally won?
DC: Well, have they?
MM: I know! That’s what I’m saying. Have they won?
DC: Tell me, McKenzie, who wins in this show?
MM: Nobody. [laughs]
DC: Right. And if they do, the victory is so fleeting. It is so fleeting.
MM: Oh boy!
DC: That’s what I love about this world. And the writers, they stay very true to that. And that’s what creates good drama. That’s why people engage with the show. Because for all of the hope and for all of those mini victories the characters have, it get’s ripped out from right underneath them very quickly. And then it riles the audience up again and it keeps the audience-show relationship fire stoked.
MM: Now, in terms of characters from Wentworth seasons’ past, I had a discussion with Leeanna [Walsman] about Erica Davidson and perhaps bringing her back at some point. Would that be a character you’d like to see back? Or is there somebody that’s not on the show anymore that you’d like to come in and shake things up a little bit?
DC: I mean, of course I would because Leeanna is a dear friend of mine as well, and I was aware that people miss Erica. And I thought the relationship between Franky and Erica was only just beginning to be realized. But maybe that’s the beauty and the tragedy of it and it’s served its purpose for the show. I don’t know. That’s not within my jurisdiction to change because I’m not the writing team. But I think perhaps they made that choice because they felt they needed to move somewhere else, not because it was anything against the character or Leeanna, but just to keep things rolling. And the show can be ruthless, as you know. There have been some incredible characters on the show that perhaps we will not see again or we haven’t. What happened with Sky? But that’s good television. Television nowadays, it can be so brutal, but it keeps people invested.
MM: It does, it does. You guys have a nice following.
DC: If you never lost anyone, then it doesn’t keep piquing people’s interest.
MM: I totally agree. Do you guys ever feel like you’re going to, not run out of ways to engage people, but do you think, ‘We’re on such a high, is there going to be a time when we can’t keep that going?’ Is that ever a fear as an actor or just on a show?
DC: As one of the custodians of the show, and there are many, yes. [laughs] I’m in a constant state of, ‘Oh my God, is the character going to be just as interesting?’ The wheel’s already been invented, how can I put a new spin on it? [laughs] There are a few characters just arrived in 4, and although there are many storylines to continue, you’re still in a very small environment.
DC: And some storylines are stronger than others. It’s just the way it is.. I’m sure you’d agree. I’m sure most fans would agree. They’ll be favorite moments or favorite couplings that they really responded to and others that people go, ‘Oh, that’s right,’ they’ve probably completely forgotten that that moment happened. But yes, as I said before, as one of the caretakers of the show, I feel it’s absolutely within my responsibility to keep things fresh and try and find new ways to expose parts of my character.
MM: And you probably get love from all types of things that you’ve done. You’re probably still getting fan love from your days on Xena. Do you think that social media has brought everybody together? New or old fans, you are able to engage with people as they find you.
DC: Yeah, and I think that’s one of the elements I fully support of social media. There are many I don’t, but I think that’s one that’s helping form communities that couldn’t possibly come together due to postal times [laughs] or various geographical limitations. I often get feedback from people about the friendships they’ve formed and the relationships that they’ve forged over the show, and that people come together on forums and discuss in depth—you know, they have in-depth discussion about our show—and I think it’s wonderful.
MM: Right! The fans, globally, want to be able to engage with you guys in person. Are they any plans to attend any events, whether it’s in the United States or anywhere else?
DC: I would so attend an event. I’ve done that before, time committing, obviously. If there’s nothing going on, it’s always lovely to travel to the other side of the world and meet the people that support your show and give them the opportunity to ask questions. When people have taken hours out of their week to watch a show that you’re part of or a film that you’ve been part of making, it’s wonderful to hear their feedback and to have an opportunity to have those conversations. But, at the moment, I have no invitation to the States. I don’t think there’s anything in place there. There’s certainly something in the U.K. I did a meet and greet in the middle of last year, which was fantastic. It was very intimate. I did three events: I did one in London, one in Birmingham and one in Glasgow, and all three of them were wonderful. But they were all very small, so you have the opportunity of spending time with everyone.
MM: That’s got to be an awesome feeling. And you obviously are doing other stuff in addition to Wentworth, but to touch upon something that’s probably really important to you is that you’re also the ambassador for several organizations. Can you briefly talk about a few of them and how we can help spread the word, get involved or lend a helping hand?
DC: I actually just jumped on board as the patron of an organization in New Zealand called Bridge the Gap. There are certain aspects to the organization, but at the moment, it’s helping young women in prison to up-skill them—to make sure that they have skills when they leave prison to go find a job, to get the right support and get away from bad influences, perhaps certain family members and/or boyfriends, and put them in a safe place so they don’t keep re-offending, just to try and help break those cycles and help them thrive and recognize their own potential and make better choices. That’s really exciting for me. It’s all based around younger women, girls as well, who are part of the criminal justice system. I’m also with an organization over here in Australia called Shine [for Kids]. But I’m also part of ChildFund, which is more internationally based. In regards to helping, you know, I’m not about, ‘You have to give to my charity or the ones that I support.’ I think that if you want to, of course. But I think that if you feel you have time and you see people around you in your own community that need help or just need a hand, then make the time. It feels to me people come into the world equal until the environment informs how they are and it’s so unfair.
MM: Yes, it it.
DC: Effing unfair! I just feel it’s my responsibility as a member of the global community to help others when I have the time. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that wasn’t overly privileged, but I had a mum and dad and I was able to be fed and schooled, and I am so grateful for that. And I’m well aware some people aren’t afforded that privilege, so what can we do to help those people along so they have just as much opportunity as us? Whether it’s in your own community or overseas or within your own family, reach out.
MM: That’s great advice. Just giving back and even just to do something nice for somebody can make someone’s day, and it’s good to do that!
DC: Yeah, it doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time and it doesn’t have to involve any kind of finance, either. And I think we live in the time of “selfie.” Yes, it’s important to look after yourself. How can you look after anyone else if you haven’t looked after yourself. But whilst you’re looking after yourself and looking at yourself, look at the others around you. I bet that you’ll see a face in need. Even if it’s a hug or smile, those are free.
MM: Exactly! Being kind, pass it forward. Now, I won’t keep you too much longer, I just have another question for you. I know you can’t speak to Season 4, lots of top secret stuff going on.
DC: Oh, but I’m trying to give you as much as I can, let me tell you!
DC: So, you got me saying that it’s been my favorite. I think it going to absolutely shock and delight people this season, really. Really! Like nothing before.
MM: Oh no, I’m excited!
DC: Yeah, and I’d be excited. Once again, I think the writers have taken departure. You have to remember where we left off in Season 3. So we had Franky making parole, that was a big thing and I know that will be really conflicting for some people because—and this is what I love, McKenzie. This is what I love about the show is that, when you hear people’s voices through social media and letters, the absolute care that they have for the characters, that people can write, ‘I don’t want to see Franky go, but I’m really happy for her that she made parole.’ [laughs] That’s the response you want! Not like, ‘I’m not going to watch the show if Franky’s not going to be in it.’ [laughs] It sort of saddens me to hear that, but you think, just because one element isn’t going to be there that you haven’t enjoyed the rest of the show because I don’t believe that to be true. And granted, Franky is an extraordinary character, she really is a great character, but there are some really fantastic storylines and other characters on the show as well that I believe people respond to just as much. On that note of remembering where we left off, the introduction of Franky’s parole takes us into other worlds as well. I think the show carries a slightly different cadence this season, but it’s good. I’ve only seen the first two, granted not with the full sound and everything, and I think they’re really solid. Really solid.
MM: Well, I’m super excited.
DC: I can’t wait [laughs] to speak to people when the season’s over. [laughs]
MM: Oh gosh. Well, we’ll have to have another chat when it’s over.
DC: You’ll want to. I guarantee.
MM: Let’s make it happen. Well, obviously, the show’s amazing. I love it. I stumbled upon it, I binged it, I’ve gotten my sister obsessed with it. I’ve gotten friends obsessed with it, so it’s my mission to get everybody to watch the show. I just love your character. I love all the characters and you guys have been such a pleasure to talk to. You guys are such nice people!
DC: [laughs] You say that like it’s a surprise, McKenzie.
MM: Well, I mean, I’ve talked to some people who are not very nice and you have to, pull things out of them. It’s like pulling teeth.
DC: There’s no point in doing the interview, then. If you’ve got nothing to say, then don’t say it. You don’t have to do the interview.
DC: And thank you to you and to all of the fans. Without your support, the show would not be the show that it is. It takes many bodies to make a show, and it’s not just the people on set. You need people to watch it for it to stay on the air. And the fact that it’s traveled across the other side of the world and it’s gained this momentum and fan base over there, we’re pretty overwhelmed by that. And it keeps fueling the show on every level, so thank you. And thank you to everyone that watches the show.
MM: Yeah, we’re like, we need Season 5, 6, 7. Come on, just give us the rest! Thank you so much, this has been wonderful and I can’t wait to see what Season 4 has in store for us.
DC: Great, McKenzie! It was lovely to meet you finally.