With 25 years' work behind her, TV Tonight asks Nadine Garner to reflect on changes in the industry and learns why many actors are still doing it tough.
With twenty five years of professional work behind her, Nadine Garner is already a veteran of Australian television. Since her debut in Crawford Productions’ The Henderson Kids in 1984, she has appeared in numerous television and film productions.
On the eve of her third series with Seven’s City Homicide, she reflected on life growing up in the public spotlight.
“I feel it now. I feel like I’ve been around a long time,” she told TV Tonight. “Even though it’s all gone quickly, I look back and think ‘I don’t know how 10, 15, 20 years has passed.’ I feel in the doing of it that I’ve been here for a long time now. Not that you become blase about it. I still get nervous, I still worry that I might not be on top of the work on a daily basis. So it’s not old hat to me. I still have to really work at it.”
While the cliche ‘child stars’ in the US become infamous for their post-hit series falls from grace, Australian TV has a number of teenage actors who have blossomed into respectable and beloved actors.
“There’s a lot of us who started in our early teens. Justine Clark, Ben Mendelsohn, Matt Day, Simone Buchanan, Jane Hall. We all started as kids. So it’s not such an anomaly that I started so young, because there seems to be a lot of us who started in their teens or even earlier. Everywhere I look there are people who’ve been around as long as I have and who feel as tired as I do!” she laughs.
“I think those of us who started young and are still working are really thrilled that we are still working.”
In City Homicide, Garner plays Jennifer Mapplethorpe, the ambitious, intuitive, Detective Senior Constable of the State Police.
“We seem to go through phases of police dramas and then hospital dramas. And then there’s always the family dramas that are just staples, like Home and Away or Neighbours. They’ve been there as long as my career, really. I guess now there’s Packed to the Rafters, the same sort of ilk with feelgood drama.
“At the moment we’re in a big phase of cop-style dramas. We’ve just seen the launch of another one and we’ve just lost a hospital one, so we’re in full blown cop mode,” she says.
But despite an upturn in drama production with more work, Garner feels it doesn’t necessarily equate to better conditions for actors. She has seen much change since her early work with Crawford Productions.
“The industry hit its heights in the ’80s in terms of people’s pay, living away allowance, per diems, all those things,” she said. “These days it’s very hard to get a job outside of your own home town because no-one wants to pay you living away (allowance), no-one wants to pay you per diems.
“If you’re in television you might get an ok wage. That’s not guaranteed though. If you work in film you’ll probably be on Award. I just did a feature film and got paid Award minimum. That’s the Australian film industry,” she says matter-of-factly.
“You can’t get a film off the ground unless you make it for no money and everyone has to defer payment. In terms of actors’ conditions it’s probably the worst it’s ever been.”
Garner says acting jobs these days are usually cast amongst local actors. While there are certainly actors on City Homicide who are Sydney based such as David Field, producers will always look for a Melbourne performer first.
“They’ll cast the right person for the job, don’t get me wrong,” she says. “But their preference would be to cast locally because of the costs involved. You’ve got flights, accommodation, living away allowances. It’s expensive and so people are opting not to do it. Not just in television, but particularly in theatre. I think you know now that if you live in Melbourne you’re probably not going to get a job with the Sydney Theatre Company.”
But Garner is thrilled with the surge in Australian drama and the audience support for local product. She admits to still getting a kick out of starting each new episode.
“I’m very happy doing what I do. Getting a new script is always exciting. You never quite know what you’re going to get, or where you’re going or what the storyline’s going to be, so that’s always great.”
And with 25 years behind her, it helps to still be energised, if somewhat cautiously, be the fate of the unknown.
“In your career you’re never quite sure what your next job is going to be or where it might take you. So there’s always a sense of excitement of where you might be next.”
City Homicide airs 8:30pm Mondays on Seven.