Alison McGirr and Rachael Taylor in ‘Ladies in Black’ (Photo: Lisa Tomasetti).

Alison McGirr plays a discontented Sydney department store worker whose marriage has gone stale in Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black.

Although the comedy-drama is set in 1959, the actress believes it has a lot to say to contemporary audiences.

Adapted by Beresford and producer Sue Milliken from the late Madeleine St John’s 1993 novel ‘The Women in Black’, the plot follows Angourie Rice as Lisa, a shy 16-year-old who takes a holiday job in the department store.

Lisa meets a group of women known as the “ladies in black” and becomes a catalyst who changes their lives in the film which Sony is launching on 300 screens on September 20 .

McGirr’s character Patty is often troubled and irritable due to a disconnect with her hard-working and repressed husband Frank (Luke Pegler).

“Patty’s relationship has gone a bit stale and she tries to find that spark again, which we are all looking for,” she tells IF. “She has so much love to give. Lisa instills a sense of hope and drive in Patty, who sees this young girl going after what she wants.

“The film is so relevant today. Women have come a long way but we have to make our voices heard again to go the next level.”

McGirr was in Los Angeles when she read the script and felt she just had to play Patty. She self-taped four scenes and sent them to the producers, Milliken and Allanah Zitserman.

Three weeks later her manager told her to expect a call from Beresford, who, unbeknowns to her, had auditioned numerous actresses for the role and did not think any was right, until he saw her tapes.

“I was terrified but he was lovely and so complimentary about my acting,” she says. “He said he would tell the producers, ‘I want her, make it happen.’”

It’s the biggest role in the career for the actress who graduated as a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Acting at at the Queensland University of Technology in 2011, played Molly Brenner in Home and Away and guest-starred in the Showtime drama Penny Dreadful and in History channel’s Vikings.

McGirr relished working with the ensemble cast including Julia Ormond, Rachael Taylor, Ryan Corr, Shane Jacobson, Susie Porter, Noni Hazlehurst and Vincent Perez.

“It was amazing to be surrounded by actresses of that calibre,” she says. “I was so uncool with Julia, I was a total fangirl with her. Rachael is one of the most generous actresses I’ve ever worked with. I felt so blessed to be standing alongside her, stealing little tips and learning so much of how it is to be. And when Noni gave that ‘clever girl’ speech, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

Reciprocating, Taylor says: “Patty’s story is about female desire and how difficult it was to articulate that in 1959. Alison is such a beautiful and nuanced actress to bring that to life.”

As for the director, she observes: “It took him 25 years to make the film so he brought a lot of excitement and passion to the set. He was incredibly generous and very collaborative.”

In October she will return to Ireland, where her parents were born and she spent part of her childhood, to appear in Graham Cantwell’s Lily, a feature inspired by his short film about a young girl who is viciously attacked after she comes out. Clara Harte will reprise her role as the lead with McGirr as a social worker who runs a help group for young LGBT people.

After that she plans to make a second season of Thirty, a web series about four diverse women in Sydney who are stumbling through their early thirties and trying to get their acts together.

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