SHE has played everything from an Amazon warrior queen to ‘top dog’ in a women’s prison, but Danielle Cormack’s latest role in upcoming mini-series Deep Water offered her a chance to play something a little different.
Deep Water is a four-part crime-thriller series that was inspired by the gay hate crime epidemic that engulfed Sydney in the 80s and 90s.
“I was attracted to this project for many reasons but mostly because it is a really important story to tell,” she tells the Star Observer.
“All the stars were aligning in terms of this project, the people involved, the timing and of course the character. I could see her but also her potential and I was granted some license to help form the character on the page.”
It was also an opportunity for Cormack to work closer to her home in Sydney – filming around “beautiful” Bondi in the middle of summer.
But the icing on the cake was working alongside a stellar cast including Orange Is The New Black’s Yael Stone and Game of Thrones’ Noah Taylor, and reuniting with Shawn Seet who directed her as Kate Leigh in Underbelly.
“(Yael and I) had a few brief conversations about Orange is the New Black and Wentworth – I’ve been a big fan of it since it started,” Cormack remembers.
“I was interested to hear what the experience of working on a mostly-female prison drama in the US was like compared to what it was like for us here.”
To prepare for the role of Brenda, Cormack had extensive conversations with an experienced female constable who was able to talk her through the role of a crime scene investigator.
“I was intrigued about her experience within the force as a woman and how over the years that has changed,” she says.
“It’s important with any character I play that the experiences they’ve had are embedded into the character as much as possible, and I’m only able to do that by having the experience myself or researching it.”
Cormack relished the role, and found the forensic nature of Brenda’s personality satisfying.
“My observational skills had to be on high alert at all times,” she says with a laugh.
When she’s not starring in hit television programs like Wentworth and Rake, Cormack likes to focus her energy on raising funds for charities that help children.
She recently completed a 100km charity walk, and just returned from a trip to Cambodia – where she got to witness firsthand the things money do for the children.
“Leanna (Walsman) and I have been good friends for a long time – especially after we worked together on Wentworth and she said ‘do you want to do this walk?’ Any time someone asks me to help out, it’s usually an emphatic -yes.
“And then I go back and think, ‘Oh wait, what did I just say yes to?’” Cormack says with a laugh.
After describing the 26-hour, 100km trek as an “extremely grueling and challenging experience”, Cormack admits that she would gladly go back to do it again next year.
“I recovered more swiftly than expected – the physical pain left me quickly but the psychological element was another thing,” she says.
“(At the end) it felt like I didn’t really do it, it was just a blur, but my body kept screaming that I definitely did do it.”
Cormack has also been an ambassador for Childfund Australia and New Zealand for years, which led to her recent trip to Cambodia to see how fundraising affects the lives of people on the ground.
During the trip, she had the opportunity to speak firsthand with the children and families who are benefiting from the programs that Childfund enables.
“To be an ambassador for anything, it’s important that you know that the organisation is actually doing what they say they do, and you get to experience it firsthand,” Cormack says.
“Although it can be difficult seeing how some people live, it can also be incredibly humbling and enlightening to witness their resilience and that people are actually being helped by your contribution.”
While speaking to the village elders and governing bodies, Cormack says she found clean water and education were two of the biggest priorities.
“Primarily it comes down to clean water because that’s imperative for good health. If you don’t have a healthy community, you don’t have healthy children and they can’t function,” she says.
“And secondly it’s education so kids can stay in school, so they aren’t separated from their families and sent out to work.
“What I found was parents want the best for their kids, they want their kids to be educated, they just don’t necessarily have the resources. And after schools being built, its things like access to solar lamps so kids can study at night instead of using kerosene lamps because there’s a danger of toxicity and of their huts burning down. It’s little things we take for granted, it makes such a difference.”
The trip to Cambodia coincided with the airing of Wentworth’s controversial season four finale, which saw Cormack’s beloved character Bea Smith sacrifice her life to bring down the show’s villain, Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson (played by Pamela Rabe).
“I hear the world lost a bit of colour last night,” Cormack wrote on an Instagram post while travelling through Thailand.
Fans of the show are in denial over the character’s death, with many speculating that they will ‘Jon Snow’ her – in reference to the Game of Thrones character who was killed off and brought back to life.
“I can’t help but feel… there’s a huge amount of joy from me that the character has been so loved and held so dear by so many people,” Cormack says.
“I think that’s a victory. Regardless of whether the character has good intentions or not – the fact that people want to see her on screen, have watched her journey and have emotionally invested in her, I say to the whole team of Wentworth and myself included, job well done.”
When asked if she has mourned the loss of ‘Queen Bea’, Cormack quickly counters: “Who says I’ve left the character?”
“I feel a great sense of pride around the character and at this point, I don’t think I ever leave any character. After four seasons of playing Bea, after a while – and you might have to qualify this with the writers – they start to write for you as well,” she adds.
“When you step on board they have a stronger idea of the character but slowly you amalgamate, and you fuse together through the design of it. The directors, the other actors, and the writers you feed off each other and all contribute to form the character.
“It wasn’t like Bea was a fully formed human that was created and I just stepped into the skin of her. She was created as a joint venture. I can’t step out of that skin, she is part of the fabric of me.”
Much of the criticism surrounding the death of the character relates to her season four storyline, which saw her finally explore her sexuality – falling in love with another female inmate, Allie Novak (Kate Jenkinson). The coupling – dubbed as #Ballie by dedicated fans – ignited hearts and imaginations all over the world.
“It’s been an incredibly important relationship for the show and on to be on prime time television,” Cormack says.
“Bea never identified as gay and then we follow her journey, going through that confusion and feeling destabilised and questioning labels. I loved that journey. I thought it was so true to the human experience.
“It really surprised a lot of people, I certainly didn’t expect it to resonate as strongly as it did… It was a surprise that this cheeky, playful and damaged character of Allie was able to enable a deep love in Bea that she hadn’t experienced before.”
Cormack auditioned with a number of actresses who were all right for the role, but Jenkinson – or ‘Jenko’ as she is known by her fans and friends – had something extra that landed her the part.
“I loved every minute of working with her and we’ve become dear friends,” Cormack says.
“People speak about the chemistry between the characters and you can’t have that without actually having a chemistry between the actors and that was definitely there. And I love her.”
Cormack says the show has also allowed her to make some fantastic friendships and relationships from the show that have enabled other creative endeavors. She has formed a production company with Nicole Da Silva, who plays Frankie on the show.
“I see a creative equal (in Nicole), we’ve worked together for a long time, even though we’ve been at odds with each other character-wise, we’ve always worked well together as creatives,” Cormack adds.
“We’ve spoken for many hours about doing stuff outside of the show. But she’s an incredibly busy woman.”
Now she’s out of prison so to speak, Cormack is on the look out for the next well-written role she can sink her teeth into.
“What interests me is playing characters that are well-formed… exposing all the colour and nuance of their interior world, or the chance to show they have secrets. It’s about creating a full human being, not just an archetypal character, especially as a female because historically females have been there to enable a male character’s journey,” she says.
“In Deep Water, Brenda plays an integral role in terms of relaying facts and exposing the forensics of the story, but she’s not integral to advancing emotional plot. It was a welcomed relief that she was emotionally uncomplicated, but playing someone like Bea Smith, Kate Leigh or Scarlett – the character I played in Rake – the emotional weight of those characters and the complexity of their journey, was a major part in advancing the plot.
“For me, there are so many different factors as to why I choose a role.”
Describing herself as a strong advocate for marriage equality, Cormack says she is flabbergasted that Australia hasn’t honoured everybody the right to marry.
“Growing up in a family where there were never any barriers up against race, sexual orientation or gender, it saddened me when I became old enough to realise there was homophobia, racism and sexism in the world,” she says.
“I champion any movement that supports those who have been marginalised to help them find a voice and to be heard. For example, it was such an education working closely with Socratis Otto who played Maxine (on Wentworth), and doing more research into transgender and what that means now.
“Thankfully there’s a much needed, louder conversation about unfair discrimination and human rights and helping people understand that journey… for people to be more empathetic and educated – most importantly educated about people’s choices and/or lack of, is the path to acceptance.”