Essie, Phryne Fisher is a lady detective with a twist isn’t she?
She’s a delight – buoyant, fun and complex, a modern woman of the 1920s who’s a champion for women’s rights and underdogs but also incredibly wealthy, multi-lingual and partial to finding love in peculiar and dangerous places. She’s a fox!
Much more Charlie’s Angel than Miss Marple then?
Oh yeah, Phyrne does it all: shooting, dagger-throwing and hatchet hurling, even kneeing bad guys in the balls. She’s a superhero but a real woman with her own demons and a sad life story that she’s forever trying to puzzle out. I think the most glorious thing about her is she can do anything and she’s prepared to do anything – from picking a lock with a hair-pin to somersaulting through a window.
And accessorising to suit…
It’s set between two wars, a fascinating era for Melbourne and Australia and an era of opulent design and art deco stylings, so of course all the outfits and cars and sets are divine. Each of the episodes is in a different Melbourne locale – beachside, industrial, often in beautiful Natural Trust homes – so it’s very sumptuous and a real feast for the eyes. But lucky for me Phryne’s most essential accessories are an elegant, gold-plated little Smith & Wesson gun with a pearl handle and a super-skinny stiletto dagger with a turned ivory handle that slips neatly into my stocking top. It’s a beautiful gun and a beautiful dagger and both were a pleasure to carry!
The 11 Phryne Fisher novels by Aussie author Kerry Greenwood are all full of crackling dialogue. Did that attract you to the role?
Very much. Phryne’s a classic lady sleuth in that sense – she talks rapid-fire and her words come clever and witty from a tongue as lethal as it is seductive… she’s an outrageous flirt and someone capable of humiliating people in order to uncover their evil. Women of the 1920s were no scaredy cats, they were increasingly independent, taking off their corsets, cutting their hair and buying houses and cars.
It’s a huge production – 13 hour-long episodes. Has it been fun?
The schedule has been slaughter, particularly as I’m in 90 per cent of the scenes. But what’s been great about playing Phryne and what I’ve always found most attractive about acting is slipping into the shoes of someone else. It’s that simple. Sometimes you have to walk through a private fear or embarrass yourself for a role but to get that whooosh of adrenaline where the character’s thoughts and emotions surge through your body and you’re just a conduit, not consciously acting but outside of it all… well that’s an incredible buzz. I felt like that watching myself in Cloudstreet – I didn’t see me, and that made me proud.
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries premieres in February on ABC1