Robyn Malcolm on Cleavage and Credibility
It is something of a surprise to see New Zealander Robyn Malcolm looking positively restrained, wearing a conservative skirt and blouse, for her role as Maxine Pavich in the new ABC television drama series Harrow.
Malcolm, 52, has played bogans, crime bosses, fierce matriarchs; on television she is loud, large, racy, dirty, ballsy, brutal, funny as hell. She brings a lot of oestrogen to her Cheryls (Outrageous Fortune), her Julies (Upper Middle Bogan), her Kirstys (Rake).
“I like a bit of heat in my characters,” she says, “I am not the ice queen and I never will be. There is a beautiful slow burning alchemy that happens with these really wonderful characters.”
While Malcolm’s characters are often “unashamedly quite sexualised” they have a kind of wild morality in their amorality.
“Most of them are girls on top,” she says. “When you look at the amount of exploitation of women that has gone on over the years and particularly of how their sexuality is presented on film and TV, one of the things I have always made sure of is that the female characters I play, their sexuality is upfront. It is on their own terms.”
Malcolm grew up in Ashburton. Her socialist family understood when she hightailed it out of there at 16. She instinctively knew that “these people are not my tribe, and I don’t think they get me either. I used to wear mad clothes. I got round feeling a bit different by being funny”.
She dabbled in theatre while doing a degree in English and music at Canterbury University but it wasn’t until she started going to professional theatre that she realised “you could make money doing this. I was just one of those people that was fortunate enough at the age of 17 or 18 to have unflinching confidence. Not with other stuff but in the acting world I had equal amounts of desperate abiding love and passion for it, and confidence. I just walked into it and kept walking and didn’t look back. But the funny thing is I think I have got half the confidence now that I did at 17”.
Malcolm spent years working in theatre where early on she was told by an eminent director: “You are going to have a brilliant career playing mothers and whores. I was insulted by that, but I guess when I look back he was right; it is the combination of those two energies I guess.”
Her tribe turned out to be the “creative, crazy, instinctive, emotional, narcissistic sometimes” people in show business. “Somebody said to me once that film making is like watching your beautiful home burn to the ground – you have got seconds to run inside and save what you can.”
Original article by Susan Chenery, The Sydney Morning Herald, February 15, 2018.