Jacqueline McKenzie in Stan Original series ‘Romper Stomper’ (Photo credit: Ben King).
Jacqueline McKenzie made her film debut in Geoffrey Wright’s 1992 movie Romper Stomper as Gabe, the ill-treated lover of Russell Crowe’s Nazi skinhead Hando.
So the actress was delighted when Wright told her two years ago he was working on a contemporary TV series which would follow Gabe, two other characters from the original film and Gabe’s estranged son, Kane, during a race riot in Melbourne.
McKenzie has already seen the first two episodes of the six-part crime drama/political thriller produced by Roadshow Rough Diamond’s John Edwards and Dan Edwards, which will premiere on Stan on New Year’s Day.
“I’m super excited,” she tells IF. “It’s really fantastic, there are a lot of characters, it is very current, very different from what we have seen on television lately, it speaks to the people in our country and it’s our voice.”
That group clashes with a gang of anti-fascists led by university student activist/anarchist Petra (Lily Sullivan). David Wenham is Jago, a right-wing shock jock and the rest of the cast includes Dan Wyllie and John Brumpton (who both appeared in the original film), Sophie Lowe as Blake’s wife Zoe and Nicole Chamoun as a Muslim student.
Wallace, McKenzie says, is a very powerful actor, unpredictable and absolutely dangerous on screen, and funny and light on his feet.
She won’t elaborate on how Gabe has evolved in the past 25 years, observing only that “it is an extraordinary experience coming back into this world.”
John Edwards tells IF: “Jacq’s role was so critical for her 25 years ago. If you can imagine that character 25 years later you never quite know where it’s going. Every moment she is on screen she absolutely commands your attention.”
Ever since the 1992 movie McKenzie and Wright had talked about the possibility of collaborating again.
“I always thought if there was a medium that is designed for Geoffrey and would benefit from his presence and vision it would be television,” she says.
“He works fast, he knows the camera angles and how to tell stories and he can make snap decisions which are always right because he knows what’s going on from inside out.
“You feel like you are in very good hands with him cinematically and as an actor, which is not often the case when you have directors who are great with camera but really not so cool about character. That doesn’t matter because they cast you and they trust you and you have the dialogue where you work hard and you hold up your corner.”
Daina Reid, James Napier Robertson and Wright each directed two episodes and the scripts were written by Wright, Robertson, author/poet/rapper Omar Musa and journalist Malcolm Knox.
“The directors were very different but all told the exact same story; the differences if anything reflected the building of the script to the climax,” McKenzie says.
Before Romper Stomper she starred in Matchbox Pictures’ Safe Harbour, a four-hour drama/psychological thriller directed by Glendyn Ivin for SBS.
Her character, Helen, is an embittered, driven and ambitious lawyer who is among five Australians on a yacht who set sail on holidays bound for Indonesia.
En route they encounter a broken-down fishing boat full of desperate asylum seekers. The Aussies agree to tow the stricken vessel but the next morning it has vanished. Five years later they meet some of the refugees and discover someone had cut the rope, resulting in the loss of seven lives.
The ensemble cast includes Ewen Leslie, Phoebe Tonkin, Leeanna Walsman, Joel Jackson, Hazem Shammas, Nicole Chamoun and Robert Rabiah. She says her character sets out to save her soul after the tragedy at sea.
The busy actress has appeared in five films in the past 18 months: Tori Garrett’s Don’t Tell, Ben Elton’s Three Summers, John V Soto’s The Gateway (which opens in cinemas next March) and two 2018 releases, Luke Sparke’s Occupation and Corey Pearson’s Harmony.
“It’s lovely to be getting these film roles, “she says. “Working in theatre I can’t commit to doing more than a few scenes most of the time. But I do have a massive role as a scientist who is studying teleportation in The Gateway, which was awesome. I love sci-fi. I did years on The 4400 and I just love the fact that in order to say something about our society you can set it in this whole other world and say the most blatant things and be as risky as you want because there is no risk; it’s all done in allegory.”