While she has been prolific as a Television and Stage actress Garner harbors some regret that her career began after the Australian Film renaissance in the 1970s.
“As actors we all want to do film, but it’s a bit of a sadness to me that throughout my career the Australia film industry has faltered to the extent that it has. It had its heyday before my time, and probably will (return) after my time,” she says.
“Film is still a glorious and romantic medium that we all as actors want to be part of, but it just doesn’t seem to be working out that way.
“I’d like to do more film work but I don’t know in Australia if that’s going to be possible.
“I just can’t see Australia finding its relevance as a film-making culture unless the government gets behind it and says ‘Let’s regenerate this industry.’
“All our good writers are leaving feature film writing to write for television. You need talent and endurance to make a good film because it takes about 7 years.
“I think it’s a shame that we are prepared to cast the film industry aside. Why isn’t this being discussed? Why isn’t it in the papers? Why isn’t anyone saying, ‘Where are our Australian feature films?’” she asks.
“Why is it ok not to have a Film industry? We’re a unique culture. We can make great films. Why is it ok not to have one? Israel wouldn’t put up with it. France wouldn’t put up with it.”
But while Garner acknowledges the prolific state of the Television industry, she says it is no longer the poor sibling to Film.
“If it wasn’t for Television we probably wouldn’t have AACTA Awards because most of the awards are about Television. Although you wouldn’t know that because the Film Industry has tickets on itself about being Film and not Television.
“At the end of the day what’s being made in this country is Television. And what’s being made well is Television and what’s being watched is Television,” she insists.
“The filmmakers that we know and love might have to pop down a few pegs and acknowledge that we’re the ones keeping on, keeping on. They’re the ones who are actually struggling for stories to tell. Where are they, actually?”
Currently appearing in The Doctor Blake Mysteries for the ABC, she attributes the renaissance in Television to improved audience tastes.
“I think it’s to do with long-form storytelling. We can’t necessarily tell a great yarn in 90 minutes. People want more intricate storytelling and character development. I think it’s to do with people having evolved as consumers of story.”
In her second season of Doctor Blake, Garner plays housekeeper Jean Beazley. Performing alongside Craig McLachlan (‘Lucien Blake’), the pair have established a nuanced relationship: Jean is employee, assistant sleuth, and distant admirer of her employer.
“She’s a woman of principal and she’s been in that house for a long time. She knows it better than Lucien does because she was the original housekeeper for the father,” she says.
“It’s an interesting relationship territorially because she’s more than just a housekeeper. It’s her home as well, she’s been there for 20 years.
“I think she watches herself very carefully to make sure she’s not over-stepping the mark and being too familiar.
“She’s also very careful about her conduct with the doctor because it’s often misconstrued by the society around them. She’s very aware of being proper and formal at all times. Which is very admirable.”
Yet while Jean burns a candle for Lucien, she maintains her discretion in this most period piece.
“I don’t think she would fully allow herself to acknowledge that, even in her own heart. She’s there as a working person, who doesn’t really see herself as a contender,” Garner explains.
“She’s the sounding board for Blake because she’s got the lowdown on all the townsfolk, having been a Ballarat fixture for so long.
“She’s the font of information which he utilises. He uses her as a sort of moral compass and she uses him as a way of broadening her own inner life, because hers is pretty straight-forward.
“It’s intriguing for a man and a woman to share a home and not be sexually involved. With our contemporary principles and mores, we find that extraordinary. It’s a discipline that we wouldn’t really see today.”
The Doctor Blake Mysteries is ABC’s highest rated local drama of late, last week netting 871,000 viewers.
Garner says the complexities of her role and relationship with Lucien make the role of Jean deeply satisfying.
“I always feel that the scenes I have with Craig have to be treated really carefully, because she has to be so many things and still be true to herself and her duty. But also allow her to be the human being and the woman as well,” she says.
“Intellectually for me it’s delicious. I don’t need many scenes because what I get is enough.
“I never say ‘I don’t have enough to do in this show!’ because everything I get is deeply intricate for me.”
While the murder mystery elements drive the Doctor Blake plot, it’s in stark contrast to her former role as Detective Jennifer Mapplethorpe in City Homicide. Garner spent 5 years in the Seven series, but concedes the brutal crime scenes weighed heavily on her.
“I used to really not look forward to those,” she admits.
“By the end of it I was so sick of blood and the horrible crimes. They were really awful.
“At least it (was) not real. At the end of the day it’s make believe. I feel sorry for the people who do have to deal with that stuff every day.
“But 4 or 5 years of anything is enough. When you become blasé about it… it was time for me and I was definitely getting tired of the procedural. City Homicide was very procedural and language-heavy. It wasn’t ‘legalese’ but it slipped into that sometimes. Like those big medical shows, they are hard to learn and you have to look like you know what you’re doing.
“The preparation is immense.”
Looking back on her TV career that includes The Henderson Kids, RAW FM, House Rules, Blue Water High, Changi, A Country Practice, Blue Water High, she nominates working alongside Joanna Lumley in 1994’s Class Act as a personal highlight.
“She was everything you want from a human being! I learned a lot from being around her,” she says.
“Working in London was fun and being paid nicely, not having to struggle on the bones of your arse, door-knocking. That was good.”
Garner concedes that despite periods of unemployment she has no desire for the Hollywood career that so many younger actors pursue.
“I don’t see my career the way other people do. People say ‘You’re always working!’ but no. I’ve had lots of very lean times. It’s hair-raising and even more hair-raising when you have children,” she explains.
“When I do something like Doctor Blake that ticks all the boxes I feel blessed, but I never ever presume there is always something around the corner. I’m very happy to quietly build my career. I don’t have any big aspirations.
“(Hollywood opportunities weren’t) in place when I came through and now it is, but it’s not for me. I’m the wrong time. But I wouldn’t swap my career for anything.
“There are still loads of people in Australia that I haven’t worked with.
“As far as I’m concerned, everything I need is here.”
The Doctor Blake Mysteries 8:30pm Friday on ABC1.