I am a huge fan of Wentworth Prison; I don’t know if my previous posts have alluded to that. In fact if you cut me with a knife fashioned from a toothbrush and a razor blade, I would most probably bleed teal. Series Two is currently underway on UK screens on Channel 5 and we have been introduced to a selection of new characters, which include the deliciously psychotic Joan Ferguson, played to perfection by Pamela Rabe, the token bundle of madness that is drug-fuelled Sky, and, my current favourite, strong minded transexual character, Maxine.
We have already seen some prejudice against Maxine, from prisoners, guards and lawyers alike, some real strength in her resolve in not falling into the trap of becoming a henchwoman for Franky and an endearing loyalty and intelligence that has made the character instantly likeable. Acclaimed star Socratis Otto, who has taken on the multi layered role, recently gave up some of his time to speak to me and discussed the atmosphere on set, the tribulations to come for Maxine and his plans for the future. And, because I’m a generous kind of guy, I share the fruits of our discussion exclusively with you here.
If you are not yet a fan of Wentworth it’s never too late to catch up. This is undoubtedly television’s most brilliant import for some time.
Interestingly I had just come off the back of working on Carlotta, a biopic of the first person (documented) to have gone through male to female genital reassignment surgery. Carlotta also still happens to be a major pioneer back home in Australia, a legend really. Look her up. So I learnt much about the transitioning process and just how lonely and confusing and frustrating it was even within the gay and lesbian community back then to understand and accept those who wanted to transition. It was a real eye opener. Today we find ourselves in a world full of plethoras – there’s a label or term or box for every colour, thought, behaviour, etc. The world tries to define the undefinable. Hence I just stuck to my instincts – Maxine is a gentle soul trying to survive in a world telling her she shouldn’t exist. So in a nutshell, I kept that in mind whilst preserving a heart that simply wants to exist and to love.
What are your previous roles and which has been your favourite to date?
Duncan, I’ve been so incredibly lucky and spoilt to have worked in theatre, television and film both in my homeland and abroad. I’ve played cops, prisoners, Hamlet, Peribanez, magicians, real life people, (George Dyer on stage, Charles Darwin on film), killers, heroes, lovers etc… never been typecast. That’s rare and a certain privilege. I’ve always embraced characters from the ‘underdog’s’ perspective as that is still very familiar to me.
My favourite… a beautiful little big soul called Maxine.
What is it like filming on a prison set?
I’m sure nowhere near a real prison! Everyone is supportive, encouraging, loving on set. Both cast and crew. It would have to be the best team I’ve worked with. I guess because they understand how deep the actors need to go to represent those incarcerated.
How do you get on with the rest of the cast? Are they good to work with and were they welcoming?
I’d known of and met a few of them previously. They welcomed me with open arms and I have bonded with them even more so. I think it’s really serendipity playing a TRANS character in this age as the world, despite its aggression, seems to appreciate and welcome those who are ‘different’ much more so than in previous years. Perhaps because those who are ‘different’ aren’t fighting as hard as their brothers and sisters had to and only want to survive alongside those who are ‘accepted’. Sure it’s always been a struggle for equality and acceptance, but these days barriers have been broken and I think at the very core those considered outcasts or the minority only wish to walk and talk, breathe without any form of threat penetrating their existence.
Your first scene was perhaps one of the most difficult. What was your first day on set like?
It was and wasn’t. It was because it was time to use her ‘voice’, be in her body. Always nerve-wracking. Can you imagine, a crew that have been working so tightly together for two seasons, and before them is a 6ft fella portraying a woman in a floral robe about to reveal her naked body. What was instantly pacifying was the scene before that naked shower sequence was a scene with Katrina who plays Boomer and I kid you not, she is one of the sweetest most giving people I’ve come across. She helped make it a very easy transition into the Wentworth world.
Do you see Maxine having a long term future on the show? What is coming up for your character?
Only because society and the law still frown on what they don’t understand – Maxine will probably still be stereotyped and boxed. And therefore not given a fair trial. Still what’s inspiring and educating is that she will hold on to her values and try to stand her ground.
How long does it take to film a series?
About 3/4 months.
The reaction to Wentworth in the UK has been hugely positive; why do you think its so successful and how do you feel about the fanbase it has built up?
It has been hugely positive. As to the reason – beats me. I don’t know. I’ve worked on things that promise a far greater response than they got and vice versa. I’ve learnt to just stick to my guns and find enjoyment in the ride regardless of the process or outcome.
What has been your favourite, least favourite, funniest and most difficult moments of working on Wentworth?
You know, Duncan, even the tough stuff, like what’s coming up in Ep 7 and 9, has been okay primarily because everyone’s so supportive and inspired. Celia, Katrina, Danielle, Nicole, they’re all so magical and idiosyncratic and I’ve had to do most of my scenes with them and it’s always been a thrill. It’s an incredibly rare job this one – not only because of the character I’m playing, but everyone – from the co-ordinators to post production – all the editors, all our ADR, the producer, the crew, all the cast, all the extras, we are all housed in the same building. Actually, it’s very much like a prison but it’s freakishly more like The Brady Bunch. So much love. Crazy, but it’s a wonderful environment that constantly encourages and motivates.
Having said that, of course Maxine’s emotional rollercoaster was tough, in Ep 9 there’s a confronting scene with Danielle that I found I could not go through because of what was required. I used it though.
What is next for you? Do you have any more projects in the pipeline?
A few things are awaiting a release date – My Mistress opposite Emmanuel Béart for one. These days films are filmed and they’re either sold or not. I’m traveling right now and am thankful for Maxine’s incarceration paying for my endeavors.
Anything else you wish to add that I havent mentioned that would be of interest to your UK fans?
Just that we are ALL gobsmacked by their loyalty. It’s them who are helping the show survive. We all talk about them frequently.
Socratis’ passion for his character Maxine is utterly clear in our conversation and, even more so, in his performances as her. What do you think of Maxine and the latest series of Wentworth? Let us know, using the comments box below and, as always, give me a follow on Twitter for more news, comments and views on the world of entertainment and beyond. https://twitter.com/Our_manPLA
Written By Our Man In The North