Kween Krush alert!! This is where we celebrate everyday women for being complete badass Wonder Women.
Alicia, we have a big fat crush on you! We’ve watched you from our living rooms for a while now; famously as ‘Kim’ in the Network Ten series Offspring but also in Wolf Creek, Redfern Now and Miss Fisher’s Mysteries. Over the last few months you’ve been touring Australia and wowing audiences on stage as Rosie in the musical Mamma Mia; sooo we’re not going to pretend that we didn’t go into complete ‘fangirl meltdown’ when you started following us on Instagram.
First of all, bravo, well done, hooray! How long have you been acting for? And most importantly, why are you an actor?
Thank you! It’s nice of you to have me here.
I was always interested in performing growing up, thanks to Young Talent Time in the 80s, and ended up studying voice and drama at the Victorian College of The Arts but my first gig almost felt like an accident – I’d heard the ABC were looking for an actress, who could sing, for their new mini series Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude with Ben Mendelsohn. Somehow, I landed the job and twenty years later I’m still here! I have no idea how or why. Part tenacity and part luck, I guess.
I’ve really focused on my acting work over the years, by choice. I’m fascinated by how people and relationships work, or fail, and there’s something very juicy about delving into a new character’s psyche and trying to bring it to life. Acting teaches me about people, and myself. It forces me to stay present. I also like playing dress ups and I like the on set catering!
Is making your mark in the world of acting and entertainment in Australia. as challenging as one might think?
I don’t think I’ve ever tried to ‘make my mark’. Things really have just evolved over time in terms of my work and there’s been no method whatsoever. I’d like to say it’s all planned but, really, nope! I think a lot of people get to this ‘middle aged’ point in their lives and think “how the hell did i get here?”. That is me. Most days.
Did you have moments where you wanted to give up and do something else? If so, what gave you the strength and courage to keep going?
A few years ago, I remember questioning the relevance of what I was doing. I had two little babies on my own and life just suddenly became more meaningful! I remember thinking that perhaps I should be doing something with a deeper impact; something which made a difference to people’s lives and something less self focused. But over the past ten years I’ve really been reminded that there’s a side to this business that is far greater than any of us – most recently in fact, a girl came up to me on the street to tell me she is living with stage 4 terminal cancer. She told me she watches Offspring religiously and that my character ‘Kim’ makes her laugh and reminds her of the nurses who helped her in hospital. I could see how much the show has meant to her during her illness. Stories like these make me realise that what we do actually does make an impact; helping people feel and think and laugh. It’s important and, I guess since becoming a mother, I get that now.
You’ve played some gutsy, witty and glorious characters, are taking on these kinds of roles a conscious decision?
Sometimes. I actually prefer working on drama than comedy, believe it or not. Overall, I’m more likely to want to play roles that are different to others that I may have played in the past, so it’s more about contrast and challenge than anything else. But there were certainly times, long ago, where I had to say yes to whatever work came along just to pay the rent.
📸: Giovanni Lovisetto
Bear with us but we need to get a few burning Offspring questions in. What was the best part of playing Kim Akerholt?
Playing ‘Kim’ was a huge adventure. We never really knew what the writers were going to throw at us at any given time, so there was a lot of joy in that. I also really valued the freedom we were given from our directors and producers. So much of the final cut was born from the playfulness that existed on set; we were encouraged to take risks and make bold choices – an actor’s dream.
Kim is funny, sincere, brutally honest, a lesbian, a working mother, a devoted partner and beautiful friend. How did it feel to cover the sensitive and complex subjects she dealt with?
We really did cover a lot, didn’t we?! Cleverly, Offspring was able to flow from absolutely heartbreaking storylines to ones with mayhem and hilarity, sometimes within the one scene. We felt supported as actors with the directing and writing team so I knew the balance between ‘Kim’s’ bluntness and heart was always going to be kept in check. The comedy/drama line can be a tricky one to find, sometimes. I just feel very lucky that I was able to discover and develop this as ‘Kim’ over such a long period of time.
📸: Sarah Enticknap
What was it like being on-set with such a diverse cast and are there any cast members that have become like family?
In many ways, the cast and crew did become like family. I guess that happens after 8 years of long hours making television together! Many of us had children during that time, got married, got divorced, got pregnant! Huge milestones. This industry is quite unique in that you can work extremely intensely with each other for years but, next minute, you start a new job and inadvertently become part of another ‘family’ with similar intensity! So, yes, we stay in touch but this business means we are not always in the same city or country at the same time. Thank goodness for social media!
Seriously bear with us. Did the death of Patrick devastate you too? Haha.
I do remember the first time I read that particular script and I gave Matt LeNevez (Patrick) an extra big squeeze at breakfast the next morning! We knew it was going to upset the audience but had no idea it’d be to the extent it became. I STILL have people telling me they haven’t recovered! Many liken it to when ‘Molly’ died in A Country Practice and I remember that sadness myself so I can feel how much this particular storyline meant to people. It’s a great testament to the show and to actors like Matt and Ash (Keddie) to have people respond like they did to their work.
📸: Giovanni Lovisetto
We get the impression you’re a proud feminist, is this true?
I guess so! I’m the daughter of a strong minded women who was very independent and outspoken and I almost feel as if I am becoming more like her, the older I get. My Mum was always about fairness and, growing up, I never had the feeling that I couldn’t achieve or do anything different than my two brothers. There have been relationships along the way that have challenged me and these beliefs but, in hindsight, I’ve only come out the other side even stronger and more determined that I can have and do anything I want.
If so, does this change how you raise your children? Does this change how you are at work?
I hope my kids don’t feel a difference between their genders. I’ve taught them that Princesses can slay dragons and that Kings can cry too and my daughter knows very much that her worth is not tied up by her looks or the dress she wears. I guess when my kids leave the nest and step out into the world they’ll come across experiences and attitudes that will contradict their own but hopefully I’ve given them a solid enough base.
I think we are progressing slowly, in Australia, with content for women in our industry and you only need to look at what’s happening in the states to see how much this will change over the next few years. Thank goodness! So, this is exciting and I’m happy that my children are growing up in a period where equality and attitudes within the workplace are being so widely discussed.
📸: James Morgan Photo
What women are you krushing on at the moment?
I’m currently working on Mamma Mia! The Musical which is produced by three incredibly, strong women – Louise Withers, Linda Bewick and Phillippa Gowen. I’ve known Louise and Linda for almost 20 years. They put their whole heart and soul into producing these mega musicals and run an incredibly tight ship yet, at the core, have a genuine love for bringing beautiful stories to life on stage and bringing good to the world. I’m learning a lot from them and the way they operate. I’m also working alongside two amazing actors; Natalie O’Donnell and Jayde Westaby. We are touring together for 13 months and I have major crushes on them both! It can be a tough gig but these two slay it every single night and I watch them in awe, not just as performers but how they just tackle their days as working women and mothers. We spend a lot of time together; mostly in fits of laughter in our dressing rooms but also propping each other up in support. It reminds me daily of how important it is for women to be there for each other. I don’t have sisters, but I’m glad I have these two.
Is it an absolute thrill being back on stage?
It really is! Musical theatre can require so much more of you, especially vocally, and I’m enjoying that challenge. Our physio calls us athletes and when you see what our ensemble do, you wouldn’t be surprised. We need to be meticulous with our sleep and food routines and coffee is now my new best friend! The challenge is real but the buzz of working live is so worth it.
What’s the whole experience of rehearsing and touring been like so far?
It’s quite intense. I’m a single Mum and my kids tour with me. I’m not exactly sure how we are making it work, but we are – and that’s all that matters right?! We’ve toured to Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney already and each city has been full of new adventures for us. I’m looking forward to bringing the show to other states over the next few months.
Touring a show like this is a lesson in logistics and the company is like a well oiled machine in regards to the crew. The work we do on stage is only the tip of the iceberg.
Is it possible to prefer performing on stage over being on-screen? Or is it like having to choose your favorite child?
It’s hard to say. If I look back on past jobs, my favourites have always been the ones who have had great people involved. Yes, the piece itself matters, but to me it’s also about who I’m collaborating with and what they stand for. There’s nothing worse than working in a toxic environment. It stifles creativity and prevents people from doing their best work. My life is too short for unenjoyable experiences!
Speaking of favs, ready for another tough one? What’s your favourite ABBA song?
We sing Dancing Queen twice in Mamma Mia! and it’s now becoming my favourite – which is surprising because it’s actually quite a killer song to sing. ABBA were tricky like that. Many of their songs are quite easy to listen to but once you pull them apart they’re often really bloody difficult! Our audiences are absolutely going off during Dancing Queen though so that softens the blow!
How did you do/feel/think when you heard that after 35 years ABBA have reunited and are making music again?
The first thing I said was “I need to be in the front row!”. It’s going to be one of those tours – everyone will want to go to. I met Bjorn 17 years ago when I performed as ‘Ali’ in the original Mamma Mia! musical. He seemed like a great guy but we have barely kept in touch so it’ll be great to see him again (haha!).
📸: Richard Dobson
📸: James Morgan Photo
Why should we come and see Mamma Mia!? What makes this show so special?
Firstly, you should come and see it because it’s great to support live theatre in Australia. That’s a no brainer! Secondly, this show is like a delicious cupcake! It’s story is simple and beautiful, focusing on love and family and friendship – but it’s blended with kick ass ABBA tunes and some incredible spandex costumes. We genuinely want people to come along for a laugh and a cry and let loose a little!
And finally, you must be super chuffed with everything you’ve achieved in your life. What’s one thing you would now tell your younger self?
Oh, gosh! I think I would tell my younger self that life is not always lollipops and rainbows; you’re going to win friends and loose friends, you’re going to fall in love but it will hurt like hell too, you’re going to miss out on that gig you really want and society is probably going to tell you you’re no good or ugly at some point – so just ride it out because one day you’ll see that none of that really matters at all.
Carmela has been a ridiculous fan of Alicia Gardiner for like a gazillion years! So she was thrilled when Alicia turned out to be an absolute treat and gem of a human through out this whole interview process; reaffirming once again that it’s ok to meet your heroes guyssss.
📸: Peter Brew Beven
MAMMAMIA NATIONAL TOUR DATES
Crown Theatre From May 15th 2018
Princess Theatre From July 10th 2018
Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre From October 9th 2018
Carmela’s Mum and Aunty Maria went to see the show at the Crown Theatre in Perth and they had an absolute ball! Do yourself a favor… 😉