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Rachel Griffiths: Exploring The Different Faces Of Motherhood

Rachel Griffiths

Multi-award winning Australian actress and director, Rachel Griffiths, returns to the movie screen this month in her leading role as Margaret Brady in the Irish drama, Mammal, which debuts in the Melbourne International Film Festival. She plays a divorcee living in outer Dublin and portrays a woman on the cusp of alienation.

woman with drive met Rachel in Melbourne to talk all things film, philanthropy and motherhood.


Why did you decide to take the lead role in Mammal?

A couple of things really struck me when I read the script. It is an observation of alienation and it involves a woman. Most movies about alienation are about men and mostly about men in the moment before violence – before they shoot the president, before they kill their wife, before they do something terrible. It is your Taxi Driver type alienation whereas I think female alienation is much quieter and much more invisible in our society. To find a female director (Rebecca Daly) who was interested in exploring the life of a woman who is disengaged in her own emotional life appealed to me.


The main character decides to leave her infant with her ex-husband when they split. What can we learn from this sort of trauma?

The movie is a contemplation that we as women are born with an inherent sense to be a mother. In the second half of this century there has been a real fetishising about that natural bond between mother and child. The notion of natural mother is not the case for everyone and women who struggle to make that early connection are hugely judged by others. There is a sense of moral failure. I play a woman who makes the decision to leave the baby with its father. It explores the idea that she has a postpartum depression and is very much alone. That is the mystery at the heart of the movie. I found it very brave that somebody wanted to explore it.


Rachel Griffiths in Mammal
Rachel Griffiths in a scene from Mammal


You have three children and juggle motherhood and a career. Is there ever a moment that all aspects of your life are in sync and running smoothly?

I would never expect them all to be in sync. (laughs) Something is always going to suck. But at the end of the day I do not have a child with cancer, I do not manage multiple children under the autism spectrum on a nurse’s income. I am lucky that my husband and I live a comfortable life. If we ever whine, we look at each other and say “rich people’s problems”. And then we just shut up.


You have been a Hagar Australia ambassador since 2012. How has this changed your life in terms of raising awareness about child trafficking?

When Hillary Clinton talks about being raised to serve, it is something I can relate to. That notion of service was so ingrained in me I cannot remember when it was not there. My grandmother was a nurse until she had a family, my uncle is a Jesuit and my mother is a teacher. They are always serving others. For me, being an actor is a massive deviation away from that. I cannot give myself an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for my charity work, but I do what I can to raise awareness and give a voice to a topic that I feel passionately about.


How do you plan to stop child trafficking through your work as a Hagar ambassador?

We have done a lot to raise awareness on this topic via Hagar. We need to stop our sex offenders travelling to foreign jurisdictions where they can find victims. I want to stop their passports being stamped and them being allowed to travel. There is no left or right, it is just the right thing to do. That is my current obsession.


You lived in the U.S. for 10 years when you were busy filming Six Feet Under and Brothers & Sisters. Why did you decide to come back to Melbourne?

My husband, Andrew, and I spent the last 10 years coming back to Australia quite often. Mum came over every other year and we came back at Christmas. One trip back was for three months long. We never felt like expatriates in Australia. We were blessed to have all the work opportunities that the U.S. afforded us. But it is also nice to be home and be close to mum and have the kids grow up close to her.


What do you miss about the U.S.?

I miss the weather mostly. I also miss the level of ambition in the U.S. which you can sense in new projects. There they dream big of what they can achieve and how they can change the world with one TV show. If you say that here, it can be seen as a bit of a joke. But over there, you are making a cultural product that can change the hearts and minds of Americans.


What has raising daughters taught you about girls?

I have two little girls who are American and they are going to see Hillary become president, which is exciting. I tell them they can be president too and they believe it. I outsourced a lot of the early years to a nanny but I am not working as hard now as they both are going through primary school and I think they need me most at this point. Being there during their puberty years and being aware of what they are going through is a very precious thing.


You will be directing a film about Michelle Payne who won the Melbourne Cup last year. How did that come about?

It is very exciting. I met Michelle Payne at Randwick last year and I pursued and stalked her (laughs). We will be shooting the film next year. I always saw myself as a storyteller and I am surprised I became so successful at acting as early as I did. The telling of human stories has always engaged me. I understand the task of directing and how the day needs to go.

I think my strength is in understanding story and audience and what they need from it. I am humbled that Michelle trusts me and I am going to make a movie that Australians want to see about that event. Everybody remembers how they felt when she won. When they watch the movie, I want them to feel as good as they felt on that day. When the glass ceiling broke and the glitter came down and the balloons were released, it was a wonderful moment.

Mammal screens as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival this month.


Image credit: Jim Lee Photography


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