TV interview: Danielle is bringing favourite prison drama back to life

Danielle Cormack, who is taking the lead role in Wentworth Prison.
Danielle Cormack, who is taking the lead role in Wentworth Prison.
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New Zealand-born actress Danielle Cormack is a familiar face on Australian TV thanks to roles in acclaimed series Rake and Underbelly. Now, she’s set for cult status in the UK too, as she takes the lead role in Wentworth Prison, a contemporary reworking of Prisoner: Cell Block H.

You play Bea Smith in Channel 5’s new drama Wentworth Prison – how would you describe the character?

This is a woman who by virtue of her circumstances and marriage has found herself in a position she never expected to be in, so she’s in a very frightened, vulnerable state when we first meet her. I also see her as very strong - she’s a complex human being, and I think a lot of women will be able to relate to her.

How does she change throughout the series?

Historically, the story of Bea Smith was that she was top dog, so I think people are going to assume that she ends up becoming top dog in this series, but that’s one thing I could never assume while playing her. But, having said that, I think there’s only one way for her to go - she spends a lot of time trying to toe her moral line, which becomes increasingly more and more difficult, and she does compromise her own ethics, which will then change her.

Did you approach Wentworth Prison as a new drama, rather than as a remake of Prisoner?
I did. We’ve garnered a lot of attention because of Prisoner and there are some beautifully placed nods to it throughout the series. I chose not to have much to do with Prisoner because I just didn’t really see its place in terms of the type of TV we were making - not necessarily the subject matter, but just the pacing and the fact that it’s set now, not 30 years ago, and a lot has changed since then - especially in Australian women’s prisons! It’s already been shown in Australia so we’ve got a good grasp on how the audience has responded to it.

What did you learn from talking to the real prisoners?

It’s a very complex situation - from talking to a lot of the people who had been inside, you realise it’s not as simple as someone just being a bad person. Maybe there’s one in a thousand who is really, truly bad, but in most cases it’s a woman who’s made a series of bad choices because of her environment or the people she’s had around her.

You’re also working on another drama series at the moment, what can you tell us about that?

It’s the third series of a TV drama called Rake. I did play a crown prosecutor but now she’s a defence lawyer so I’m always on one side of the law or the other - no fine lines for me!

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