THERE’S something about Nicole da Silva’s performance as Wentworth’s resident bad-girl-turned-good that seems to have captured the imagination of people all over the world.
It is rare for an Australian television series to generate interest from every corner of the globe like the Foxtel series has. Wentworth, now in its fourth season, screens in over 90 countries with its loyal overseas fanbase growing thanks to services like Netflix in the US.
When season four kicks off, the former ‘Top Dog’ finds herself tackling a completely new obstacle – life outside of prison.
“I think it was a bit of a gift for me to have Franky on the outside for season four,” Nicole tells the Star Observer.
“I felt like I was filming a completely different show and I got to explore a side of Franky that I had never explored. We have never seen Franky on the outside until now so I think audiences are really going to enjoy seeing who she is out there and watching her journey unfold.”
The last time we saw Franky, she was triumphantly walking out the gates of Wentworth Detention Centre into the arms of her closest confidante on the outside – Bridget Westfall, played by Australian television icon Libby Tanner (All Saints).
Bridget formed a close friendship with Franky while working as the prison’s forensic psychologist, before she was forced out of the job by the conniving Governor Joan Ferguson (stage actress Pamela Rabe).
“They’re not without their problems because Franky has just come out of prison and she has been in there for some time so there is an adjustment period,” Libby reveals.
“She’s a tough girl, Franky, and she wants to not lean on Bridget too much so we see her struggling – but you also see their love surviving.”
But Bridget wasn’t Franky’s first love interest – that honour fell upon Governor Erica Davidson played by stage and screen actress Leeanna Walsman (Looking for Alibrandi and Jessica) in the show’s first season. Their romance quickly became a sensation online with the show’s followers. Her exit from the series left many fans devastated.
“They’re (Leeanna and Libby) both really different people and different kind of actors,” Nicole says.
“What’s interesting about the work that I do is that you find those relationships according to your dynamic in real life.”
Describing Libby as a “really open and playful person”, Nicole says it’s that energy which then fed into Bridget and Franky’s relationship.
After Libby received the call from her good friend executive producer Jo Porter, she auditioned with Nicole to see if there was any chemistry and they “hit it off”.
“She’s pretty easy to work with – she’s a fearless actress so she kind of goes there straight away, no mucking about,” she says.
“We jumped in and we worked really well together.”
And that chemistry has not gone unnoticed. It has spawned a legion of shippers, who create Tumblr and Twitter fanpages dedicated to the pairing. They have even dubbed the couple ‘Fridget’.
“They have embraced ‘Fridget’ and their love story right into their hearts,” Libby says.
“They wake up and tweet about it, they do collages of them dancing, they do videos – they can’t get enough which is gorgeous. It’s so sweet that they spent the time putting that energy into the couple.
“And good on them cause it is a great love story. Against all odds, their love overpowers everything else and they do get together and they do struggle like any other relationship.”
Bridget isn’t the first time Libby has portrayed a lesbian character. In fact, she played one of the first lesbians on Australian television – Zoe on the short-lived series Pacific Drive back in the 90s.
“The community, I have to say, are the most loyal fans I’ve ever had dating back to when I did Pacific Drive when I played lipstick lesbian,” she says.
“I have to say fans from 20 years ago are still with me.”
Nicole says the reaction from the LGBT community towards the series and Franky has also been really supportive.
“For the most part the LGBT community are proud and open to having a lesbian relationship – or multiple lesbian relationships – represented on screen cause they’re so few and far between,” she says.
“I think it’s really important, not just for Australian television but drama and film and television everywhere to have these people, and these relationships on screen. It’s part of our tapestry, part of our community and we need to tell those stories.”
While Nicole has a lot of LGBT friends, she says her main research for the part of Franky was into what it means to be locked up inside.
She visited prisons, and spoke to current and ex prisoners about their experiences.
“I just made sure I had a real understanding of what it was like to be on the inside and how that can influence who you are as a person,” Nicole says.
Libby didn’t do any research when it came to playing a lesbian as she approached the relationship like she does any other on-screen romance .
“I just go in as me and I listen, and respond to another human being and that’s how I’ve always done my work,” she says.
“I don’t see anything special about a girl being in love with a girl – it’s about being in love with a person. I don’t understand how powerful they (the LGBT community) hold it, I just think it’s a love story.
“But they must feel honoured that there’s more lesbian and gay storylines on television. It represents their community, makes them feel empowered and happy.”
The series often deals with heavy themes, like murder, suicide and drug overdoses which would taken an obvious toll on the actresses.
Nicole says that impact is definitely a hazard of playing Franky.
“It can follow you home,” she says.
“But there is a lot of joy and a lot of play on set. There’s a mind frame that everyone is in it together and even though we’re exploring all this dark content, that we need to find the light in it and there’s a lot of strong friendships because of it.”
But Libby finds it quite easy to separate the world of Wentworth from her home life.
While some actresses on the show are more method, Libby says she’s always just looked at it as work.
“I’ve always gone in, done my job, said my lines and gone home to take care of my three kids,” she says.
“It’s very easy for me to drive home and start cooking, do the washing and I have a lot of things that remind me of this part of my life being more prominent so I don’t actually feed into any of that.”
When Libby first started on the show, she was taken aback by how intense it was. One of her first scenes was with her good friend Celia Ireland, who she worked with on All Saints for years.
“I said, ‘my goodness, this is intense – all this flying estrogen’ (and Celia said) ‘oh yeah baby, welcome to Wentworth,” Libby says, with a laugh.
“And since then it has been bam bam bam, this slamming intensity which is, I guess, what you get in a prison which is a full on place on to reside.
“It is difficult for actors to come into a new show that’s been established, and it’s in its second or third season but I was lucky to come in knowing half the crew and actors on it so it was quite welcoming for me and I felt quite okay with what I do, and I was supported so the camaraderie is lovely.”
Watch Wentworth season four on Foxtel’s Soho channel on Tuesdays at 8.30pm