Magda Szubanski AO is a national treasure, having for decades entertained Australians. The Star Observer spoke with the actress earlier this week, on what was the eve of Szubanski returning once more to our screens, this time as the formidable hostess of Weakest Link, premiering on Channel 9 on May 25, 2021.
On the show, Quizmaster Magda will put contestants through their paces as they compete, backstab and embarrass themselves in the hopes of winning a huge cash jackpot of up to $250,000.
However, Szubanski tells us, had the role being offered to her when Weakest Link first premiered in 2001, she would have likely turned it down.
“Interestingly when I think about it, I wouldn’t have done this if I wasn’t ‘out’ or when I was younger before I had ‘come out’. Back then even when I did big ad campaigns, I would always feel obliged to tell the people working on the ads that I was gay. (This was) because there were all sorts of obligations to those people. That is quite shocking in itself, to think that that might have created problems for them.”
“But certainly, I would not have felt confident taking this sort of a role back then. But now, things have changed a lot- ever since I came out in 2012, and what’s great is that heaps of LGBTQI contestants are coming on this show, not that I know until they tell me, because my gaydar is just so bad, I’m hopeless….”
“But we are getting our share of queer contestants, and we are also getting people coming on that are wanting me to be mean to them, which I think is hilarious. We are a bunch of sadist or masochists. I think if I bought out a spanking paddle their eyes would light up, I might have a future career as a dominatrix.”
Szubanski pauses for a second before adding with a chuckle, “I’m definitely channelling more of the spirit of Lynne Postlethwaite than Sharon Strzelecki, and think it’s hitting just the right tone, and the mark of that is that contestants on the show afterwards still love the show and have a great time, it has that element to it, it’s still savage but not scarring.”
Globally the Weakest Link has been produced in 46 territories around the world, with more than 1500 episodes having gone to air in the UK alone.
But as Szubanski explains “the show in its previous iterations was also so brutal I just wouldn’t have done it. But what Jane Lynch and the Americans are doing with The Weakest Link is a bit more of a piss take and a bit more tongue and cheek. With Covid and all that’s going on in the world, that brutal tone that characterised its earlier incarnations, just doesn’t feel right now.
“It’s important to maintain the larrikin spirit and not be too precious and take the tone down a bit. The ability to take the piss out of ourselves is the mark of an evolved civilisation.”
Tackling Online Trolls
Of course, Szubanski has not been sheltered from the kind of brutality that seems to sum up so much of the current social climate. Last year, after appearing as her much loved alter ego, the netball loving Sharon Strzelecki, in a Victorian Government COVID-19 ad, Szubanski became the target of senseless online attacks and trolling.
“I’m much more concerned when is it an orchestrated pile on by groups of people for the purpose of silencing voices on Twitter. To be honest they say fat stuff about me all the time, but it is water off a duck’s back now.”
Szubanski explains that “I refer to myself as fat, I don’t have a problem with it, that is what I am, and I think the reclaiming of that word is really important. There are some people out there that are just very damaged. Having a stir and being able to tease each other a bit, I mean look at Ru Pauls Drag Race- there are ways you can do that, but there is a difference between that and being downright abusive.”
— Magda Szubanski AO (@MagdaSzubanski) May 8, 2021
“There are two things, one is to not give them the power to hurt you, but also that you can’t control what people say, that’s the bottom line. The only thing you can control is how you respond to it. I think there is an element in me that will stand up to that stuff, I’ll agree with it, I’ll make comments, but also honestly, I couldn’t care less.”
“You can’t let the opinions of a few damaged people destroy you. It’s important to go get support from others, and to realise it says a great deal more about them than it does about you.”
Queer Contestants On The ‘Weakest Link’
With a couple of minutes left of our interview, Szubanski turns our attentions once again to Weakest Link, and tells us that what’s been great is the number of people from the LGBTQI community coming on the show and feeling that they are comfortable and that they belong there.
“I’ll be stirring them, but it won’t be about their sexuality, we’ve had terrific, really big, really fun characters coming on the show.” Szubanski adds.
“But I suppose what I would also say is that I’m a 60-year-old fat LGBTQIA woman who is now the host of a major show on a major network and that is progress, because there is no way 15 years ago, I could have done that.
“I’m not saying it’s all perfect, but it is important to remember our successes and our wins, and for me, I never thought I could be ‘out’ and land a gig like this.”
WEAKEST LINK PREMIERES TUESDAY, MAY 25, AT 9.00PM ON CHANNEL 9 AND 9NOW.