Anna McGahan plays Miss McGraw in ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’. (photo: Sarah Enticknap)
When Anna McGahan was offered the role of mathematics teacher Miss Greta McGraw in Picnic at Hanging Rock, she was informed the series was a re-imagining of the 1967 Joan Lindsay novel, which in turn inspired Peter Weir’s seminal 1975 movie.
The actress had seen the film and read parts of the novel, including the final chapter which was omitted from the original version and included in the 1987 re-issue.
So she looked forward to tackling the fresh interpretation of her character in the scripts for the Foxtel/FremantleMedia Australia miniseries written by Alice Addison and Beatrix Christian.
Weir’s film famously ended without explaining why McGraw and several students disappeared on Valentine’s Day 1900.
Without giving away any spoilers, McGahan says of the six-part series: “It offers that edge more than the original film, but will still leave audiences with a question mark, which I think is really important.”
Among the points of difference, McGraw was portrayed in the film as a middle-aged woman played by Vivean Grey. McGahan says the new version provides more insights into the lonely and repressed character’s psyche, struggles and longings.
The actress found it fascinating to work with three directors, Canadian Larysa Kondracki and Aussies Michael Rymer and Amanda Brotchie, who each had very different styles and interpretations of the story.
She describes Kondracki, the set-up and lead director, as “a radical, a fire; with her, you get all this adrenaline.”
Rymer is a consummate professional and visionary, she says, while Brotchie is an actors’ director who involved herself in all the choices the actors made.
At times, two or three units filmed simultaneously so some cast members switched from set to set. “Even though it was disjointed it offered a fluidity. We were not segregated; everyone was working together,” she said.
McGahan relished the chance to work most closely with Madeleine Madden, Samara Weaving, Lily Sullivan, Ruby Rees and Inez Curro as students, and with Yael Stone, Natalie Dormer and Lola Bessis as fellow teachers.
The Brisbane-born actress’ career got a significant boost after she was awarded the 2012 Heath Ledger Scholarship from Australians in Film, with roles in House Husbands, ANZAC Girls, The Doctor Blake Mysteries and The Kettering Incident. In two weeks she will start shooting the climactic Doctor Blake Mysteries telemovie, for which she is yet to see a script.
She played a member of the resistance movement in Ashlee Jensen and Terrance Young’s sci-fi thriller Project Eden: Vol. I, which co-starred Erick Avari, Mike Dopud, Bruce Bohone and Cliff Simon.
Another string to her bow is writing, both as a playwright and author. Her theatre writing credits include He’s Seeing Other People Now and The People of the Sun, the latter co-written with Joel McKerrow.
Currently she’s working on a narrative non-fiction book about spiritual transformation, which has elements of an essay she wrote about the Salvation Army.
“I feel really privileged that I have been able to continue working in screen quite consistently but at the same time developing my skills in theatre directing, producing and writing,” she says.
“In this industry it is easy to want to take short cuts and to be put on a pedestal, which aren’t necessarily earned yet. I feel like I still have quite a few years of training ahead.”