Any time there’s been a real lag in my career, or moments of “God, what is this that we’re doing?” I’d think of Helen Mirren. When I was at drama school, I’d see her picture in the front of different plays that we’d be doing, where she had been the first actress to take the part.
I remember when I saw Prime Suspect I was quite young but it had an impact on me. She was this sexy older woman, and I saw that and always had that feeling of like, “Oh, this is not finite. You’re going to be able to continue doing this in a real way, and in a fun and an important way for a long time. So don’t worry about the shit that you’re missing out on at 22.”
My mother is an absolute go-getter. She never stopped. She just pushed us out of the house and encouraged everything that we were remotely interested in. She’s fiercely independent, sometimes to a fault. When I was at school, I was the only one with divorced parents in my class. And that was just how it was. She runs her own business. She never remarried.
Her main thing was giving us freedom. She was born in the ’40s, so comes from that school of thought where she wouldn’t want to be called a feminist. Yet she is the pinup; she’s been a small-business owner since I was five. She lives on her own, maintains everything. She’s free-spirited and feisty. Even though she doesn’t want to call herself a feminist, she absolutely raised one.
My agent, Trish McAskill, has shaped not just my career, but my life. I met her when I was pretty fresh out of drama school and she was the first professional person to encourage me to leave Australia.
On my first trip to America, I stayed in this really shitty little motel because I couldn’t afford anything else. And Trish was just on the phone, literally guiding me through from the other side of the world. When I got cast in Fringe, I didn’t have anything, not even a printer to print the contracts. Trish was on the phone to me that day saying, “I got it. Go to a petrol station.” I swear to God. She’s like, “Just go to the petrol station and stay there.” And I went and printed them there. We’ve been in the trenches together. I greatly admire her tenacity.
My grandmother gave me a literary education. She was this intellectually curious academic woman who married a grazier, lived in Western Queensland, and was truly someone who just journeyed in her mind. When you met her, she seemed like the typical country, ex-schoolteacher mother, but then you’d read what was on her bookshelf and you realised that there was nothing prudish about her.
She never lost that burning intellectual curiosity. She taught until two weeks before she died. She taught me to embrace curiosity for curiosity’s sake.
The Newsreader airs Sundays at 8.30pm on ABC-TV and ABC iview.
This story originally appeared in the September issue of marie claire Australia, out now.