Nearly 40 years since Joanne Samuel made her feature film debut in George Miller’s Mad Max as Jessie, Max’s wife, the actress is enjoying a career resurgence.
In the past couple of months she appeared in Thomas M. Wright’s drama Acute Misfortune and in Louis Mandylor’s comedy Christmas Down Under.
After directing the web series Stinson Creek, a murder mystery written by Becky Head, she plans to direct her first feature, a family film which has the working title Broken.
The feature will be produced by Samuel and her husband, DOP Nick A’Hern, via their company Jah Media. They have raised some private investment and may seek funding from Screen Australia. She says the plot follows a multi-generational family’s spiritual journey.
“Work tends to dry up when you reach a certain age,” says Samuel, who made her screen debut in 1973, aged 16, in ABC drama Certain Women and was a regular as a nurse in The Young Doctors.
The actress took time off to raise three children and for many years has taught theatre to young people aged from nine to 17 in the Blue Mountains, since 2013 via the Three Sisters Youth Theatre.
Daniel Henshall stars in Acute Misfortune as Australian painter Adam Cullen, who battled drugs and alcoholism and died in 2012, aged 46.
Wright co-wrote the screenplay with journalist Erik Jensen, based on the latter’s 2014 book ‘Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen’.
Romper Stomper’s Toby Wallace plays Jensen, whom Cullen invited to stay in his spare room and write his biography on the pretence he had a contract with a publisher.
Samuel appeared as the magistrate who dealt with Cullen, who was represented by flamboyant barrister Charles Waterstreet, who played himself.
In Christmas Down Under she played the wife of John Jarratt’s character – the first time she had worked with Jarratt, a good mate since the 1970s.
Produced by Ignite Pictures’ Adam Horner, the rom-com follows a young woman named Ellie (Justine Kacir) who enlists the help of an Aboriginal tour guide and a YouTube-famous Uber driver to find her husband and his eclectic family.
The actress’ recent credits include Matt Drummond’s family adventure My Pet Dinosaur; Rake, in which she played a nurse who is confronted by Richard Roxburgh’s bare bottom; Brock and Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door.
She has fond memories of Mad Max, recalling that even Miller admitted he was not sure who would want to see the film, and has kept in touch with Mel Gibson.
Samuel supports the #MeToo movement and acknowledges that she was the subject of harassment in the 1970s. “It was a different time, when things happened that you would not put up with now,” she says.
In the late 1980s she was a regular on Hey Dad!, the sitcom which starred Robert Hughes, who in 2014 was jailed on sexual and indecent assault crimes committed in the 1980s.
During production she saw no evidence of Hughes’ criminal activity but she did wonder why it was such an unhappy set.