Judy was the first Australian actor who seemed to have a strong international career. She really paved the way. I wanted to be just like her, with a career just like hers. I made lots of very uninformed decisions when I was young because I thought that’s what Judy would do. I wouldn’t do television because, “Judy Davis doesn’t do television.” When I saw her in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, I realised she does do television. And, naturally, she was magnificent. Judy Davis playing Judy Garland is definitely something everyone should see.
In my 20s, I got the opportunity to work with Judy when she directed me in The School for Scandal. I was beside myself with nerves and excitement. She was an outstanding director. One day I was complaining about the shoes they were making me wear and she laughed and said, “You really have to learn to stand up for yourself, you’ve got to take charge.” And so I did.
Jennifer was a year ahead of me at NIDA and she was the most talented actor in the school. We became friends through our mutual admiration for each other. After we graduated, she eventually started writing films that she wanted to direct, and she wrote a story for me that nearly got up and then didn’t. In frustration, she sat down and wrote The Babadook, which is an incredibly important, beautiful horror film that’s really about grief and mental health. I starred in it and it’s one of the jobs I’m most proud of. It was such a loving and creative process. I did whatever she asked me to do; we had such immense trust in each other. She’s a brave writer, director, storyteller and hilariously funny. We are always having a good laugh.
My mum was the most tolerant, kind and unshakable person. She taught me patience and generosity. When I was little, Mum made all these beautiful costumes for me and ferried me from primary school productions of Joseph and [The] Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to Alice in Wonderland over at the Theatre Royal for my weekend drama classes. She was always preserving fruit, making cakes, feeding animals, children and grown-ups, and managing my artist father’s life. I never once saw her get angry. The harshest word she ever said was “bother”! I remember asking her once, “How
can you bear all of this? You know. The chaos and fury of our family?” She told me, “Essie, I just think it’s better to be like a reed in the river and let all the storms wash over you and when the storm’s tide has passed, you can stand up tall and straight again.” Mum was always there for me and
for all of us. It’s a dilemma I face now as a working mum with my own [family] because I want to give my children what I had, which was uninterrupted love and stability.
This article originally appeared in the March issue of marie claire.