With every season of Foxtel’s Wentworth comes higher stakes, grittier drama, and captivating new characters. Especially ones who wear boots, leather and jackets to die for. Oh, and did we mention the new season also brings a little sexual tension between therapist and patient (aka our beloved inmate Francesca “Franky” Doyle?) Okay, there are a lot of other amazing things going on in H Block, but most notably is the season 3 addition of Libby Tanner’s compassionate yet hardass character, Bridget Westfall. Bridget, who goes above and beyond for the ladies of the prison might go a tad bit further for Nicole da Silva’s character on the show. We won’t get too much into the relationship between these two (although there are some spoilers in this interview, so reader BEWARE!) but I can say that season 3 will BLOW… YOUR… MIND! In more than one way– probably several very unforgiving ways.
Tanner, who is one of Australia’s most popular actors, has made a lasting impression on not only the fans back home with her long list of credits, but amongst the (deviant Tumblr trolling) American viewers as well. (#TeamTanner for life!) The show, which follows a group of women (and some hunky corrections officers) and their grippingly dark drama while behind bars is the one show you’re not going to want to miss this summer. Tanner’s portrayal of the prisons new forensic psychiatrist is intriguing, compelling and an all around entertaining performance. The chemistry between her and the rest of the cast is unmatched to many long running programs currently airing in America. Man, those Aussie’s sure know how to make some damn good TV!
Tanner was kind enough to chat with me at length from her home in Australia about her characters huge arc this season regarding the Governor’s (Pamela Rabe) misconduct, and Bridget’s budding (and borderline unethical) romance with one of the inmates. We laughed… a lot, and shared stories about the impact the show has had around the world.
So, without further ado…
MCKENZIE MORRELL: Let’s talk about Bridget Westfall. Can you tell us about the character you play on Wentworth and what drew you to that role?
LIBBY TANNER: She’s a forensic psychologist and I was very excited to audition for her because she enables the inmates to go to a truthful place. She kind of facilitates their own stories and their truths to come out. So it’s a lovely connection that she has with the prisoners and it’s all a bit rough and tumble script and play, and it’s quite interesting to take these characters to a place where they can connect. So I think that’s was what was fascinating to me, and also I didn’t have to wear teal. [laughs]
MM: [laughs] Right!
LT: No, they’re very glamorous with Bridget. I thought they did a very good job dressing me.
MM: Oh, definitely. Now, is it true that you kind of went in for another role in Season one? I know that a fan had posted something on Twitter asking that question, if they had wanted you to be involved earlier in the series. Is that true or not?
LT: Yeah, that’s true. There was an interview along the way. It was misquoted though, I didn’t say that I turned it down, because I didn’t get it. [laughs] I did go for another part earlier on, but I missed out but it was fortunately that I missed out, because my baby girl was only six weeks old so it would’ve been pretty tough! It’s really good timing now, because she is three years old now and running around and it’s a lot easier. I have some family support so I can go off and work when it comes along.
MM: Right. I think it worked out how it was supposed to, anyways. We’re happy to have you on Season 3! Wentworth is super hot right now, especially in the United States. Are you surprised that the show has gotten so much global traction?
LT: I’m happily surprised- happy for a little Ozzie show! [laughs] Much smaller budget than an American show, which can make such an impact. I have seen the other one, Orange is the New Black, and they’re two very, very different looks and different shows. I think that Wentworth has a sophistication about it and I’m very proud of it.
MM: Definitely. Was it difficult coming into an already established show and cast? Did you have any concerns about the fans receptiveness to your character or anything like that?
LT: No, no. The executive producer Jo Porter and I go back twenty years, so I’ve played a lesbian for her [laughs] on a show called Pacific Drive twenty years ago! And so, you come back to a show you’re pretty much back in the family, because you know half the crew. I knew half the actors from All Saints, there are a few women that I haven’t worked with, but look it’s an intense set because it’s all women, and that’s a different thing altogether- a lot of flying estrogen. [laughs]
MM: [laughs] A lot more cat fights?
LT: [laughs] You kind of got to sit next to the blokes in the crew at lunch time, you know, to kind of balance it all out! No, it’s absolutely fine. I’ve belonged to a few shows, two or three seasons down the track, and I’ve never had a problem with it. That’s what we do. You take the work when you get it and you run with it. But I really do appreciate the camaraderie and the depth of the cast when you do start off on a show together, it’s really special, too.
MM: I totally agree. Your character was sort of the new kid on the block, as well. She was appointed by the board and starts to grow concerned, obviously, about the misconduct going on inside the prison. With that said, were you shocked to see Ferguson’s downfall at the end of season 3?
LT: The character… I don’t think Bridget was shocked. I think Bridget picked Ferguson for who she was in the very first scene that we played together. She says something like “I’m a wake up for these people whether they think they…” I can’t remember the line now, but it was in the first scene we’re walking down the crosswalk together and she gives it to her and she says, “You can’t fool me. I can see through you. You’ll never do my job.” So she’s a pretty tough character. [laughs] She’s really gutsy and she actually said that she was a bit of a psychopath in the beginning. She just needs to be clear enough to play her game, to catch her out. And poor old Vera (Kate Atkinson) she just wanted her dream to come true, and work under this difficult woman and get the kudos for it. But I think throughout the season, she realizes that Bridget’s got something to say and starts to understand where she’s coming from. She’s an amazing character, played by Pamela Rabe, an incredible actress and so professional- probably the easiest to work with on set.
MM: That’s awesome. That character is one of the ones where you love to hate her and hate to love her. I think she just brings that duality to it and it was really great to see that unfold throughout the season, for sure.
LT: She’s a thrill to work with. Before we shot some of those scenes where she’s glaring at me I’d say, “Oh Pam! You’re scaring the hell out of me!” and then she’d wink at me and she’d say, “Let’s do it.” [laughs] She’s a gorgeous, gorgeous lady, yeah. I’ve seen her on stage quite a few times and I’m a great fan of her work. Wow, what a presence she has, and that intimacy you know, that experience of what you’re putting on stage is really something else.
MM: Wow. That’s great to hear. It sounds like you all get along pretty swimmingly.
LT: Yeah, oh yeah. We’re like a little back shed compared to America, our industry, so we all celebrate, “Woo hoo! Look at this taking off all around the world.” I’m getting fan mail from all over, I can’t believe it, you know, places that I’ve never even dreamed of going to, or know about. It’s such an awakening. It’s been fun. It’s a great ride.
MM: That’s awesome. Do you guys ever talk about it, like did the creator know that that was going to happen. It really has taken off over here. All my friends are asking if I watch and I’m like, “I’ve been watching it! Where have you been!?” I think that it’s so amazing to break in over here, because we like our drama.
LT: Yes. We had an idea that it might take off, because Prisoner was such an iconic show, and it was so well received. When I was ten years old trying to watch it, I’ll never forget my mum saying, “Libby get away from the TV. You’re too young to watch that.” We were all into it. Funnily enough I remember being on set and thinking, my mum passed away nine years ago, but I just got the giggles and I looked up and thought, “What are you gonna do about it now, mum?” [laughs] So we all loved Prisoner, and we knew that it had such a wide fan base, and it was a good bet. And it paid off for the producers, as you can imagine, and it’s globally, so hallelujah. It’s a good feeling!
MM: Well, people cannot get enough of it. More seasons. We need more and more seasons!
LT: What episode are you up to?
MM: I actually am done with season three, so I’m waiting for season four. I’m technically on Australian time, but we will just keep that between us until it comes out in America. [laughs]
LT: Yes, yes. So it has been released in America now, hasn’t it?
MM: Season three has not yet. I know that it’s been released in Canada on Netflix, but not in the U.S. But I definitely need to know what’s going on if I’m going to be talking to you lovely people, so…
LT: Yeah, you’re ahead of the game. [laughs] You spoke to Nicole [da Silva] and Socratis [Otto] I believe, as well.
MM: Yes, I did. They were wonderful. You guys are just a great group of people. I’m just going down the line and sharing you all with everyone in the United States. I want everyone to know about you!
LT: Very cool McKenzie. That’s great. I’m so happy you’re excited about it and you’ve spoken to some of us. It’s great. Suns out and it feels like it’s gonna be a good day!
MM: Everybody just took to your character and they were definitely rooting for that slow burn of a relationship between her and Franky. How important do you think it was for the character to stay objective and not cross the line before Franky was released from prison?
LT: She waited for as long as she could, but she definitely thought Franky was pretty special. She said that to her, I think it was in episode nine, and she’s talking about feelings developing and Bridget goes “I wasn’t talking about you Franky, I was talking about me.” There was so much honesty about who they are and their standing and what they can do in that relationship- which at the time was nothing. And she does the right thing, and she’s setting it up. That slow burn is a lovely set up. She’s going to do whatever she can to make sure that she’s okay and get her out of prison… and love her up! [laughs] And she wants to see her happy and succeed and she takes the right route to do that. It’s very interesting.
MM: The relationship between your character and Nicole’s really came full circle. I loved the parallels of talking about being picked up by a hot girl in a hot car, and then it actually happening. [laughs]
LT: It is cool. The writing is lovely. I’ve really enjoyed working with her because of that particular thing where she loses it and regresses back to a little girl, and she knows that she’s safe with Bridget. She takes her there, she takes her to that place in that room where she can be herself, and I don’t think she’s ever been able to trust somebody like that. They found that together, and Bridget recognized that in Franky. That spirit that she has in herself and that determination, and that honesty. She’s just going to go for gold and she wants to go there with her.
MM: Now, since we’re on the topic of Nicole… if you could describe your co-star with only one word, what would it be?
LT: Oh… what would it be!? That’s a tricky one. She’s pretty fearless. How about that?
MM: I think that’s a perfect word to describe her.
LT: Yeah, she’s fearless. She definitely goes there and doesn’t hold back, and that’s what any actor would really like to work with, so it’s terrific.
MM: She definitely super talented. Now, If you could swap places with any other character on the show, who would it be?
LT: Wow. I’d have to with the Governor, wouldn’t I? [laughs] I don’t think I’d want to be one of the moles. In that dirty, muddy water down there. I’d have to go with the Governor’s office, for sure. She has that sensibility.
MM: My friend and I go back and forth because she’s a big Governor fan and I’m like, “No.” We were unsure of the Franky situation and if she was going to live or not, and what was going to happen to her. We were going and back and forth rooting for both of them, but that’s not going to work- somebody’s got to fall.
LT: I can’t believe how well received it is and how people have really taken to these characters. People are asking me, “When is the next season? We can’t wait!” Men and women, you know.
MM: Oh, it is. It’s crazy. I like to introduce little snippets and slip it into conversation for people who haven’t seen it yet, and my friend starting watching Wentworth, and then her boyfriend started to watch it because of her. One day she came out of the shower and he was continuing the season on Netflix without her because he loved the show so much. I think it’s awesome that it’s universal and male or female- everybody digs it. We definitely need some more seasons over here.
LT: Yeah, I wonder how far it will go and how long it will be on. It will be great to see how far they can take it and where the story will go.
MM: Definitely. And that leads me to my next question… We have got to know, will we see Bridget in season four? Can you tell us anything!?
LT: [laughs] It’s not been confirmed yet, no one really knows what’s happening yet, there’s a possibility of it, but I can’t confirm it.
MM: Okay, we’ll take that it’s a possibility and we’ll run with that. So since you won’t tell us any secrets, let’s talk about social media. You currently have an Instagram and a Facebook, is that correct?
LT: That’s correct. I think it was perhaps three months ago, I didn’t even know what a hashtag was. [laughs] My friends who had set it up for me, said you’ve got to come figure out how it works now, and I’m fascinated by it all. I can’t keep up with all the messages. It’s a bit overwhelming, but it’s really quite lovely and people can tell you directly and personally how much they dig your work and dig your character, and how it affects them and how they carry you into their lives. Some people say things like, “I can’t live without her!” It’s definitely changing my life in a sense that I’m not just an actor in Australia now, and that’s how the other cast members feel being that it’s such a global thing and there’s messages coming in from all over the world. There are more possibilities for us now and we can open up and do more work, so it’s a really positive thing- social media. I look at it like that. I have been told that people can get crazy and you’ve got to watch what people write on your site, so I’m weary as well, but it’s exciting and beautiful. There are incredible artists and people doing all these lovely sketches and it’s amazing. It’s good fun… I’m like a little girl around it. [laughs] My daughter, she’s nearly fourteen, she thinks it’s hilarious. She’s like, “Mom, you’ve got more people than I have.” [laughs]
MM: [laughs] Now do you have any plans to join Twitter? I know that’s a giant leap, and people over there can be a little crazy, but they also can be very welcoming and loving.
LT: Right. No, not yet. I have to educate myself about that. I’m a little bit weary because you have to kind of work at what you’re going to tell the world. I haven’t even looked at other people’s Twitter accounts. But I will be looking at it, because I’ve been told I have to. [laughs] This is now part of my job!
MM: I kind of opened up the forum and had people submit some questions that they might want to ask you and it just blew up. People were hashtagging you and they were sending all these great questions and so I know that if you’re ever ready to go over there, people will be receptive to you and you’ll have loads of followers, for sure.
LT: Oh, wow. Okay! I’ll tell my team and we’ll get ready, we’ll prepare.
MM: You do have to prepare. Some people can be a little crazy, but I think if you just ignore them and embrace everybody else who is not cuckoo, I think you’ll be fine.
LT: I guess that’s life really, isn’t it? We all know pretty crazy people, gosh. You’ve just gotta ignore them and embrace everyone else. If I take Twitter on, just remembering that, I’ll be fine.
MM: Right. One negative comment shouldn’t outweigh all the great ones you’re going to get, so you just have to look at it that way.
LT: Will do, yeah. I’m directing a play at the moment, so I’m very busy trying to organize and everything. We open in nine days. It’s called the “Demolition Job” and it’s by Gordon Graham. It revolves around the lives of these construction workers who were in school together when they were twelve, and one bullied the other and now they are working together and it’s very intense. So that’s keeping me very busy at the moment.
MM: Acting or directing, which one do you prefer doing more? I know they are pretty different.
LT: I like both. I really enjoy working with actors and helping them get closer to the character and letting the truth come out- giving them a safe place to discover themselves, and also kind of break their balls a bit- push them around a bit. [laughs] I love doing that. This is a new thing for me and I’m going to direct a bit more, but it’s completely different. They’re really different, you know. But I love it all. I’m happy that I have different avenues and am not just stuck with the one thing. I don’t know how people can do the same thing their whole life. We get to play all these different characters and tell a story, and it’s great. I’m happy and I’m going to keep doing it.
MM: That’s great. Now, do you have a favorite moment or scene from the season? I mean, I just remember that library scene where Vera walks in on your character and Franky super close, and you just mouth, “Oh fuck!” and I thought it was the best subtle moment ever. [laughs]
LT: [laughs] I think the scene after that.. where Vera and Bridget are talking, we played it so many different ways, and it could’ve been played so many different ways, and I’m glad the director chose the one that ended up making the final cut. In some of the takes that didn’t make it I really took her on, and I’m glad they kept Bridget as a level headed character, because I think having her lose her game because of her feelings towards Franky, she’s just a professional and she’s a great character. She’s a smart one. I guess that scene… They’re all good. I really enjoyed the scene in the kitchen with Franky and Bridget. Everybody loved that scene! [laughs] I really liked throwing Nicole’s character around and she didn’t know where that was coming from, so that was fun.
MM: That was a great scene.
LT: They’re all good, all the scenes have been fun. The therapy sessions in the group room, and working with Boomer (Katrina Milosevic), and all the characters at once… I love the character and I love the way the women trust her and she can do so many different styles of play with them, because the women are always fighting and so intense. The funny thing is everything is intense in Wentworth. Celia Ireland, who plays Liz, looked at me after a scene we did and said, “Welcome to Wentworth Tanner!” and I’m like “Wow. Everything is intense.” For most shows, you have to be open enough and honest enough for the story to work. You can’t be all in your own head; the audience will pick up on that. You’ve got to keep being brave and keep being open.
MM: We discussed this a bit in the beginning of our interview, but people loved Bridget’s wardrobe- especially the jackets. In real life, what is your go-to fashion style?
LT: I love boots and jackets! I’m very comfortable wearing Bridget. Yeah. I’m jeans, boots and a jacket. Definitely. Always boots, I have a thing about boots. There’s something about putting the right shoe on, it just feels good. It’s like playing any character, as soon as you get that costume on, you’re halfway there. I don’t wear the high heels that Bridget wore though, or the leather, but I may now. I really enjoy them. She’s quite sensual in all that leather and all that bondage [laughs] and those high heels and boots- I mean come on! For real? You want me to wear this in a women’s prison!? [laughs] Bridget is pretty sassy.
MM: Oh, she is! To conclude, are there any American shows that you’re currently hooked on?
LT: I just finished watching Bloodline. Oh my god. It’s sort of a slow start, but you just keep guessing the whole way. It’s just fascinating and it blows your whole mind. Ben Mendelsohn is in it, he’s one of my favorite Aussie actors, so to see him up there was amazing and he’s gorgeous. His character is so cool, I love watching him because he’s an amazing actor.
MM: It is on my list and I will get to it soon. Now to close, any chance with the popularity of you, your character and the show in the states, do you have any plans to take on Hollywood?
LT: Oh definitely. We’re getting ready to do some meet and greets later this year, and my agent has a lot of contacts over there, so she’ll be sending me out to meet some casting directors and see where we go!
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