When Teresa Palmer is stopped in the street you’d imagine fans would want to congratulate her on a role in the Oscar-winning Hacksaw Ridge or her celebrated portrayal of jockey Michelle Payne in Ride Like a Girl. Failing that, they’d likely comment on her brood – after all, there are four of them, all with whimsical names such as Poet and Prairie (there’s five if you count her stepson, Isaac, who she calls her “bonus” child).
But these days movies and motherhood are a firm second to the one thing everyone wants to talk about: that conversation with her husband – producer and actor Mark Webber.
Back in February, Palmer invited her husband onto her podcast, The Mother Daze, which she hosts with friend Sarah Wright Olsen. They began talking about his upbringing with a teenage mother and heroin-addicted father then quickly moved into a dissection of their relationship.
As the conversation grew from one episode to two, nothing was out of bounds, including the time they almost split, Webber’s drug relapse and their horrendous public argument snapped by paparazzi who believed they were rehearsing a scene for a forthcoming film they were starring in together.
They weren’t. Palmer was pregnant with their first child and the fight was real. “I’ve been stopped to discuss those episodes more than any other work I’ve ever done in my professional life,” she says incredulously. “People stop me with tears in their eyes, saying ‘thank you, thank you, thank you; his story, your story, your love, what you’ve gone through …’”
She’s all the more touched, she explains, because they were both hesitant. Were they doing the right thing? Should they be so open? But if they were going to use their platform to talk so candidly about their relationship, they wanted it to resonate. “We both agreed, let’s just crack open and be completely authentic and open with this because it could have a profound impact on other couples,” she recalls. “I knew we were going to be as revealing as we possibly can be in order to show that you can get through really challenging situations,” she adds, pointing out that the two episodes’ listening figures have been “insane”.
It’s a rare Hollywood actor, let alone couple, who’s prepared to shine a light on the inner workings of their relationship. Palmer, 37, doesn’t have “no-go” areas but speaks as she lives – consciously and with flow – as if work and characters fold into family and relationships and it’s all one evolving and expansive life rather than compartmentalised boxes.
In fact, one of her forthcoming guests on the podcast is her husband’s former partner, Frankie Shaw, the mother of her 15-year-old stepson, Isaac. Despite tense periods in the past, the pair are now close friends, with Palmer even acting as bridesmaid when Shaw married producer and director Zach Strauss in 2016.
As she says: “Everyone has these experiences in their past, lovers and romances, and these things have imprints on us that help us evolve to be the people that we are. I’m so grateful for the experiences that Mark had with Frankie raising a child because he wouldn’t be the partner and the man and the husband that he is today without that.”
An only child who became part of a blended family after her parents split when she was three, Adelaide-raised Palmer is intent on creating a family dynamic built on positivity and good communication. “While my parents were really lovely towards each other, they weren’t friends,” she explains.
“So I love that Isaac gets to have this experience where he’ll come home from school and we’re all hanging out at home together and it’s like it has this commune feeling. I can see how much it lights him up. All of us are really interested in doing self-work. We want to get to know ourselves better, communicate better and have deeper and more meaningful conversations and relationships in our life.”
While their willingness to explore their pasts and emotions benefits their other four children – Bodhi Rain, nine, Forest Sage, six, Poet Lake, four, and 22-month-old Prairie Moon – Palmer says it’s also helped with her work. This is particularly the case as she throws herself into a “season” of acting after a decade focused on motherhood.
As we speak, she is in the middle of a six-week shoot for Addition, a feature film based on Australian author Toni Jordan’s debut novel about a girl obsessed with numbers. She begged celebrated producer Bruna Papandrea, with whom she worked on the 2013 film Warm Bodies, to find her another role, and is thrilled to be back working in Melbourne.
She previously spent time in the Victorian capital shooting the TV mini-series The Clearing, now streaming on Disney+. Inspired by J.P. Pomare’s book into The Clearing, and loosely based on the notorious cult in regional Victoria known as The Family, the production is eerily gripping, with Palmer’s nuanced portrayal of Freya being heralded as her best work.
Working with a stellar cast including Guy Pearce, Kate Mulvany and Claudia Karvan, Palmer says that while the psychological thriller is confronting, it’s also redemptive. “I’ve read stories of people who have found themselves in such a dark place within the grasp of this abuse and have managed to break free [of the cult] and rebuild their lives again,” she says. “Those stories should be celebrated.”
Eagle-eyed viewers may spot a blonde-haired boy and the name Bodhi Palmer in the credits, and when I question whether her eldest son has also caught the acting bug, Palmer says marie claire is the first to spot the connection. “He has been begging me to do acting and I’ve said that once he’s finished school and makes that choice for himself then, absolutely, I would completely support that,” she says. “But in the meantime he can do it as a hobby and do acting lessons in the same way he plays basketball.”
Over the past decade Palmer has regularly taken her children to work. In fact, Poet and Prairie briefly accompanied her to our shoot because Webber was away working in America, and it was a Saturday and they know weekends are “Mummy time” (the boys had a sleepover with friends). In any case, she’s still breastfeeding Prairie morning and evening – “my boobs grow double the size by the end of the day” – adding that she’s breastfed without a break since Bodhi’s birth on February 17, 2014.
“I’m on day 3367 or something, so my boobs are pretty adaptable,” she jokes, noting that at times she’s fed two children at once. Palmer would like more children, saying she doesn’t feel she’s “done”, but for now she’s enjoying throwing herself into work, even if it sometimes feels as if she’s part of a travelling circus.
“Having four kids pretty close together meant we were just in it with the kids so I had to re-fall in love with acting and work,” she explains. “The opportunities that came my way in the past 12 months have really lent [themselves] to that. We feel grateful that both things can coexist.”
Pick up a copy of the July issue of marie claire Australia on sale Thursday 15th June to read the full story!