Time Out Sydney

Danielle Cormack plays Kate Leigh in the new series of Underbelly

“Hearty, fearless, formidable, ruthless, menacing, loving – Kate Leigh was all this and more,” says Danielle Cormack, the New Zealand actress bringing Leigh to life in Underbelly: Razor.

“For an actress she’s an incredible gift – so layered, so complex, so driven. Kate was the deadliest woman in Australia, yet despite the terror she instilled, there are also tales of her kindness that make you think twice about who she really was and how she became this legend.”

Best known to Australian audiences from the ABC’s Rake, Cormack began her research with a pilgrimage to Botany Cemetery where the ‘Snow Queen’ has rested since 1964. “It was a private moment,” she explains, “a chance to pay my respects before I walked in her shoes and put myself in the situations she faced in her life. The weird thing is Tilly Devine is buried in the same cemetery – on the opposite side to Kate, of course!”

Handily, Cormack also lives in the area formerly known as ‘Razorhurst’ and walking the former mean streets of Sydney gave her crucial ammunition “to unleash a daring side of my own personality to interpret Kate truthfully.”

Helping that authenticity of performance and the vivid re-imagining of Sydney circa 1927–36 was the fact Razor shot on location in Redfern’s notorious (now vacant) ‘Block’, the grittiest of all inner-Sydney precincts. “What the Underbelly series does so well is create these worlds,” confirms Cormack. “Arriving on the set in Redfern to work on real streets already so rich in history really helped infuse us into Razor-era Sydney.”

Ultimately, the real key to unlocking Kate was, reckons Cormack, distance from her subject. “I won’t judge Kate, but ethically I can’t condone the methods she used to create such fear for so many years. By the same token, I believe we’re all a product of our environment and Kate’s early life was very, very hard. Those formative experiences drove Kate Leigh for the rest of her life – to get to the top, to let no man beat her down, to never play the fool... to be the queen.”


NAME: Kathleen Mary Josephine Leigh
ALIASES: ‘Mum’, ‘Snow Queen’
APPEARANCE: “Good sort”, 152cm; dark wavy hair, brown eyes, fond of silver fox furs and floppy hats trailing ostrich feathers
ORIGINS: Born 10/3/81 in Dubbo; eighth child of bootmaker father; sent to Girls’ Home at 12; mother at 19; owner of “an empire of brothels, gambling joints, flophouses, sly-groggeries and gin mills,” 1919–54
WHEREABOUTS: 2 Lansdowne St, Surry Hills
SPOUSE: Divorced twice by 24
FORM: 107 convictions, 13 gaol terms for perjury, stealing, assault, illegal liquor sale, manslaughter
SUMMATION: “Most evil woman in Sydney – her kingdom is a noisome slum crammed with ancient hovels, the rottenness of crime, the roughness of jungle justice.”

Underbelly: Razor screens on Nine from Sun 21 Aug

First published on . Updated on .

Kate Leigh - Underbelly: Razor video

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