Wentworth, is a hit Foxtel series that is generally all about the ladies in teal, and as much as I love a well-made prison show that is predominantly female– we have to give props to those few blokes who continue to ride out those waves in the high-stress women’s correctional facility known as Wentworth Prison. Robbie Magasiva, who plays Will Jackson on the critically acclaimed Australian series, is one of those talented lads whose character helps manage the prison that’s home to so many of our favorite inmates. His character has quickly become one I love, hate, yell at, and root for, and am overall delighted to see on screen each episode.
For those just tuning in, spoilers are ahead, so close out of this window now– everyone else who’s all caught up… keep reading, season 3 secrets ahead. It’s pretty obvious that Magasiva’s character has gone through the ringer since we first met his character in Season 1. His wife, Meg Jackson (Catherine McClements) was killed in cold blood the very first episode (talk about bad luck), he has a history of drug abuse which comes into play throughout the series after learning his wife had a torrid affair with his best mate, who is also a corrections officer at the prison where he works. Oh scandal! Not to mention he was arrested and framed for murder surrounding an inmate’s slain husband later in the series. This guy just can’t catch a break! Did we forget to add that current Governor, Joan “The Freak” Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) has had it out for Mr. Jackson since she arrived at Wentworth Correctional Centre? Yep, that’s a thing. But no matter the ups and downs of his character, Magasiva does a kickass job bringing this layered officer to life.
I caught up with the Wentworth star on his off hours, he was getting in some downtime at the gym and we played phone tag for a while– which, can you believe, was the highlight of my evening? haha. He even offered me a cuppa tea for my troubles, which I plan on cashing in on if he ever visits my neck of the woods in the U.S. (get your butt to NYC, Robbie). Magasiva and I spoke at length about Will Jackson’s evolution over the years, his talented co-stars and even his experience taking on pilot season in America. It was an all around pleasure, to say the least, to speak with this awesome dude from New Zealand.
Let’s get to it!
MCKENZIE MORRELL: Now that you’ve spent a lot of time with this character, what do you think Will Jackson’s greatest weakness is and what about his greatest strength?
ROBBIE MAGASIVA: I think Will Jackson’s greatest strength is his humanity. He’s got a heart of gold. Hence, this is why in episode 1, 2 and 3 he just gets absolutely nailed [laughs] because I think he’s so vulnerable. But he’s got a heart of gold and he sees good in everyone. You know, he’s in a system where society looks upon these people as criminals and losers, and Will always see the goodness in those people. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, they end up being in jail. In terms of what his weaknesses are, I think it’s that he opens himself up to those things too easily. And also, my character’s past is… he’s been at war; he’s had difficulty with folks. I think that’s also his weakness, which has always come back to haunt him. You know, Meg Jackson, the love of his life– his rock– was taken away. He had nowhere else to turn so he ended up turning to what he thinks will take away that pain, and that’s the darkness he’s sometimes in.
MM: Oh, definitely. I mean, when you initially went out for this role, what made you want to sign on to the project? Did you identify with him at all on a personal level?
RM: You know what? That’s never crossed my mind, to be honest. I was back in New Zealand when this audition came up and I read the character breakdown and I thought, I have no idea why they are giving me this opportunity, but it’s great and I’m going to give it a go. Because in the character breakdown, this bloke is an Australian, you know, a true blue Australian. And along comes this Kiwi [laughs], so as soon as they knew that they wanted me, things kind of changed. They changed the character’s characteristics around me because I obviously don’t look Australian.
MM: [laughs] Right. And I mean, this recent season– Season 3– was a big season for Will. We find out that his time as a social worker is the driving force behind a lot of Ferguson’s actions. Did you have any idea going into the role that Will would become such a pivotal part of the Governor’s unraveling throughout the seasons?
RM: No, I didn’t actually. I didn’t until I read the scripts, but I think the way the writers decided to go with that was genius. I thought it was great! I thought it was a nice introduction of the Governor as a new character and also, I think on a personal level, I never thought I’d be a pivotal, but for me it was an opportunity to work with Pamela because, she’s…I mean, you’ve seen her work. And to be in the room, to be on set with this woman… it’s just, it just blows me away. When I get on set, I have to be on my game. When you’re in the environment and you’re working with a person like Pamela Rabe, it makes it all the easier. I had no idea that he was going to be a pivotal role in the Governor’s downfall but for me, it was just like great– great story, great arc for me, personally, because I get to work with this woman.
MM: Will gets wind that Franky (Nicole da Silva) is the one who killed Meg. For several seasons, he was desperate to find that out and kind of seek revenge on who killed his wife. But when it came down to it, he let her go. Why do you think he made that decision? Do you think his priorities changed throughout the season?
RM: I think how I look at it is, because I’ve seen Franky’s journey from Season 1 to Season 2 to where she is in Season 3, and the subtle changes also, although you don’t see it on screen, it shows that she is. We actually spoke of that earlier how Will has a soft spot for people that want to change and he sees that in Franky. Also, when I do find out, Meg also betrayed me because she had that affair with Fletch (Aaron Jeffery) and they had a baby together, which she got rid of. All these things, I think he got to a point where, you know what? I think part of him, part of Will, it was at peace. It was finally putting it to rest. He knows everything that happened to Meg and also the fact that she didn’t mean to kill her, it was an accident and I think for my character anyway, it was just putting that to rest. What was Will going to achieve by beating her up? You also have to take into account if he’d done that, he’d be no better than Franky or anyone else.
MM: Oh, that’s so true.
RM: It takes a lot more for a person just to walk away from things like that. But I think for my character, it was just, okay, you know what? I’m going to put this bugger to rest. If I had beaten her up, it would have meant losing my career and the possibility of ending up where Franky is right now.
MM: Exactly! I think that that’s a great answer, that just the evolution of the characters throughout the series, really. Now, I had a lot of fans writing to me on Twitter questions for you and a lot of them acknowledge that chemistry between Will and Bea (Danielle Cormack). Would you be open to a romance between the two characters?
RM: [laughs] Yeah, I would be open to that, but I think for my character, I don’t see Bea as a love interest. I actually see Bea as a friend. From Episode 1, I understood her. This is a housewife that had an OK life, apart from getting beaten up from the husband, and we all have that in us, that one mistake we make that we regret that puts us in the situation where Bea is. So understanding her coming into an environment… Will is used to seeing criminals coming in and out. And this woman, she didn’t plan for her life or direction to go where she is now. So for her to come into this prison, it’s a totally new environment, it’s a new world for her, so he sees that. I think our relationship is a lot about caring and understanding that she had made a mistake for her to end up where she is right now. She’s not actually a bad person, it’s just the circumstances in her life that’s put her there, which is a common thing, and he understands. It wasn’t a love thing; it was an instant knowing and understanding each other. You know when you meet someone and you think, I’m going to be really good friends with you because I like your vibe. It’s that more than a love interest. I don’t know what the writers have in store for us for Season 4 – well, I do, but I can’t give it away.
MM: Oh, boo! [laughs]
RM: [laughs] I think that’s how I see that relationship. And whether they do blossom into something else, I think it might take away something special about it, a uniqueness of that relationship if it was to go another level.
MM: Now, obviously you get to work with a great cast. Is there anyone in the cast that you’d like to have more scenes with that you might not get to work with on a daily basis?
RM: I’d say Celia (Ireland) and definitely Pamela I would love to have more scenes with because I enjoy working with those two and I love their work. I mean, I love everyone else, but they are the two that stand out for me.
MM: Wonderful choices. We can’t argue with those. What about the diversity on the show? Do you think Wentworth aims to incorporate all types of people from all walks of life?
RM: Oh definitely. I think that is part of the success of Wentworth. I think people love Wentworth because it’s real, you know? People can relate to it because part of it is real. I think there are stuff in prison that we do that they don’t normally do in prison [laughs]. But there’s still a reality. People can identify with these characters because it is something that could easily happen to them. And I think, I’m not blowing my own horn here, but I think the cast and the crew and directors, they do a phenomenal job. And if you’re doing that right, then people will actually lean towards watching something that is real or what’s almost true to life. And also, there are different characters. Here in Australia and also at home, there are shows that are on you don’t see much color, if you know what I mean.
MM: [laughs] Oh, America is infamous for that.
RM: Exactly, America is the same as well. In terms of what Australia represents, it’s actually a multicultural country and that is not represented in probably most of the Australian shows. But Wentworth represents that. It’s trying and it’s doing and it’s representing what the face of Australia is now. So I think that’s why people are tuning in, because, “Oh my God, there’s someone that looks like me that has the same skin color as me.”
MM: Yeah, it’s definitely relatable and everyone has a place.
RM: I think that has a little bit to do with it, but also, the fact that the writers are doing such a tremendous job bringing this thing to life. And the actors as well, they love these characters, there’s so much time in these characters. They know these characters probably a lot more than the writers do now. These guys, the actors, they work their asses off just trying to get the chemistry right. And I think that definitely shows in what I’ve seen. I’m so stoked to be part of something successful, or part of something that people love.
MM: Oh and they do love it! Wentworth has gained quite the following, especially globally. Has it sunk in yet for all of you guys— whether the creators, the cast, the writers— that you kind of struck gold with this show, that people are really taking to it?
RM: Oh yeah, it’s definitely sunk in. In terms of the success it has now, it’s been watched in 80 countries and it’s doing really well here in Australia and really well where I’m from— I’m from New Zealand and it’s just killing it over there. And I think Netflix in America are gaining that momentum. As long as it keeps us employed [laughs], to be realistic, for the next few years, I’m happy. Yeah, but it’s definitely sunk in and I’m just proud to be part of this. I’ve worked in projects where people are just in it for the wrong reasons, you know? And this cast is in it because they love this show and they love the characters and they love the fact that the world loves it.
MM: I know, everyone seems just so happy to work together. The material is generally super intense; that’s what makes the show so great, that it’s just so raw and gritty. Are you guys able to have some laughs on set and keep things lighthearted? What are some things you guys do to relieve stress?
RM: Oh, definitely! Definitely! I mean [laughs], there are days where the intense scenes, you do need that time just to get in that moment. But most of the time, I think me and Aaron, we just— we’re blokes. We’re two little boys in a woman’s world [laughs]. You kind of have to have that in a show like this because of how intense it is. We try to have fun!
RM: No, that’s correct. I was over there, was it last year? No, beginning of this year, for my first pilot season. Oh my goodness, what a beast that is!
MM: [laughs] Now, did you find that the audition process here in America is very different from over there?
RM: So different. So, so different. It was just– you know what it’s like. You know what? I was absolutely flabbergasted. I was totally unprepared. You know, people spoke about pilot season but to actually experience it, I was just going, “wow, wow.” But I took a lot away from that, so I’ll go back next year and be ready. Over there, it’s such a massive competition and it’s just all about selling yourself.
MM: Oh, it is.
RM: Which I’ve got to get used to.
MM: Yes you do! Because hopefully the goal is to come on over here and give us some good TV in America. [laughs]
RM: Well, that is the goal. For everyone as an actor, that’s probably the pinnacle of where you want to get to is the states, so I’m still going. Baby steps for me, but I’m still doing it! And I’m going to keep on doing it until I feel like, you know what? I can’t do this any more. But for right now, I’ve still got it in me. I’ll keep on coming to your country until you guys accept me. [laughs]
MM: Come, come please! [laughs] Now, you’re pretty active on Twitter. How have the fans been? Do you get any strange messages? Is everything generally positive?
RM: Everything is generally positive, actually. Twitter is a new experience for me and I love it. But yeah, it’s generally been positive. Except Jemaine [Clement] from Flight of the Conchords, he doesn’t like rugby and I post a lot of facts about rugby and he said, “Robbie, shhh. Be quiet.” And I said, “So, are you going to come to the game?” [laughs]
MM: That’s great! Now you also perform in plays, right? Is that something you’d want to pursue more in the future over here, in America?
RM: Yup. I think for me, it’s just trying to keep my foot in the door and once I do that, then that would definitely be something I’d want to do. But I’m happy just to do, back home, to tell our stories. At the moment, there’s a lot of up and coming Pacific Island theatre or Pacific Island writers that are writing great stuff telling our stories. That’s a movement I want to be part of back home, just getting our stories out there to the world. And also there’s a big movement here in Australia that are doing exactly the same thing. I love theatre. I was down the road getting some food and this girl came up to me and she said, “I’m an aspiring actor and I just want to make TV and movies.” And I just said, “You know what? That’s not the foundation of being an actor. The foundation of being an actor is being properly trained and actually doing theatre.” And she was shocked by that, because for the new generation up and coming, it is all about getting famous. I think they’ve forgotten the art of acting. I get my buzz from being on stage. This is why I love what I do. Yeah, I love doing Wentworth, but part of that also is Wentworth pays my bill and feeds my kids. But in terms of the enjoyment I get as an actor, I always go back to theatre.
MM: And I think you get more interaction with theatre because the audience is right there.
RM: Yeah. For me, I’ve got a weird way of explaining it, but I used to play rugby. And I consider the stage my field; that’s where I get to play. I couldn’t play rugby anymore, so I thought, I’m going to find something that kind of relates to rugby and I decided the stage can be my theatre. All of the emotions and the nerves leading up to opening night– all those things, you don’t get that when you’re filming Wentworth. All the build up until you’re on and then there’s no escaping. You’re out there.
MM: [laughs] I’m sure Wentworth keeps you busy, but you also have a movie coming out in November called Now Add Honey. Can you tell us a little about that?
RM: Yeah, I’ve got a small role in there as a love interest. I’m a chef, but I can’t tell you about that. It’s my first Australian film is all I can say and it was wonderful. I got to work with Robyn [Butler] and Wayne [Hope], this lovely couple that had been working in Australia doing comedy for so many years and this was their first film. So for them, it was like their new puppy. It’s a love story. There wasn’t anything dark. If anything, it’s light hearted. It’s got no twists, you know the plots and you know what’s going to happen in the end. I think that’s what people need to expect when they go see this film. It’s actually just a light hearted, make you feel better kind of film.
MM: Yeah, you need some of those sometimes.
RM: Yeah. And I got to work with Portia de Rossi.
MM: Well that’s fun!
RM: That’s my call to fame. I got to share a kitchen with her.
MM: [laughs] That’s all you need, right? You’re golden now.
RM: Yep, that’s it. I’ve made it.
MM: [laughs] You have made it! And now to kind of conclude, I know you can’t say much about Season 4 since filming is underway, but I heard rumblings that you guys are shooting somewhere new. Can you tease anything? We’ll take little crumbs, anything.
RM: Yeah, we’re filming closer to town this time. Where we were, we were out in Clayton so it was a fair way from where we were all staying. And it was a wonderful studio. But the studio we’re in now, from where they’ve got us, it’s only a 15 minute drive and it’s an old warehouse they’ve converted into a studio.
MM: Oh, that’s awesome!
RM: That’s all I can…yeah, that’s alright!
MM: That’s all you can tell us. [laughs]
RM: That’s all I can say.
MM: Bummer. No, but we’re really excited. I know just me being a fan in the United States, we’re really excited to see what you guys have in store for us and obviously I wanted to thank you for taking the time to chat with me! That’s about it, I think. That’s all the questions I had for you.
RM: My pleasure. Thank you!
Follow Robbie Magasiva on Twitter: @Robbie_Magasiva