Celia Ireland has been acting professionally for more than 25 years but the role of Liz Birdsworth on Wentworth may well be her most truthful on screen so far.
Demanding a grounded and honest portrayal as the prison’s “peer worker,” has afforded her the chance to pull back on her theatrical skills.
“Professionally, I really wanted to practice the art of being incredibly comfortable in front of the camera. Having a gig like this is fabulous for that. You have to be incredibly truthful on this show. You can’t fake it. There’s a real rawness to the performances,” she tells TV Tonight.
“To practice that every day for 5 months every day is fabulous.
“This character has a truth to her. There’s something unadorned about Liz that is good to play. It’s challenging because there is nothing to hide behind. My character on All Saints was more heightened and a bit ditzy. It still has to be truthful. But the grounded-ness that Liz has is a good challenge to wrestle with.”
For her efforts, last year she picked up a Most Outstanding Supporting Actress win at the Logie Awards.
Die-hard Wentworth fans (and there are many) will be glued to their screens for the 5th season premiere, to see how the show deals with the S4 finale in which Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) was killed.
Ireland acknowledges it was tough for everyone to deal with such a bold move by the writers.
“It was hard to shoot the last ep, knowing what was going on. But I think in terms of Bea’s storyline it was absolutely right for her. She had done everything she could possibly do. It really is like a tragic heroine, at the point in her life when she finds what she thinks is real happiness with Allie, it’s taken away from her,” she explains.
“Those weeks weren’t easy, particularly for Danielle, because she had created such an amazing character. She was literally in it all the time. She always hit it, never off the mark. It was exceptional, really.
“So you lose that. But what’s interesting is that in approaching S5, there is a new energy. It’s as if the gap that was left is filled by something else.
“It feels dynamic and interesting, but in a different way.”
“It’s a brave choice to kill off one of your big fellas.”
There were even fans, including in the UK who refused to believe the finality of Bea’s death. But the move allows producers to broaden their lens to more of the ensemble.
“It’s a brave choice to kill off one of your big fellas. As much as I adore Dan, we are close friends and I think she’s truly exceptional person and actor, it made sense for her. She went out with a bang. You don’t want to be the character that’s there until the bitter end! I’d rather go out with a bit of a hoo-ha and go out riding high!
“Now it feels like there are big, solid stories around the majority of the cast.
“There’s not really one character that carries the whole thing or pushes it through the main narrative –which was true for Bea.”
For Liz Birdsworth, her story arc will surround the choices she made in S4, shadowing Sonia Stevens (original Prisoner actress Sigrid Thornton) and supplying evidence on her to authorities. Isn’t that a betrayal of the prisoner code?
“In some respects it is, but for Liz at this point she really thinks she hasn’t got anything to lose. The other women don’t really have any loyalty to Sonia. She was an outsider in S4,” says Ireland.
“So I think she thinks she is a snoity-toity pain in the backside. So I don’t think she had any specific loyalty. Liz is shrewd and she probably thought it was a risk worth taking. And I think she genuinely believes Sonia killed Helen, and she felt bad about seeing Helen’s kids on telly.
“It unravels, rather unexpectedly.”
“I don’t think it was an enormous moral dilemma for her. But it had been Franky, Boomer or Bea, it would have been a very different kettle of fish.
“But you have to watch Season 5 to see how it all unfolds! It unravels, rather unexpectedly.”
Ireland also has a message for fans who vowed not to return to the series after Danielle Cormack’s exit. Storylines involving The Freak, Franky Doyle, Vera Bennett, Doreen, Boomer, Kaz and more are bound to keep them hooked.
“It’s absolutely their choice, and I honour that. If they were there mostly because Bea was in it then they will miss her. But if they are open enough to understand that she was part of an ensemble they might be pleasantly surprised,” she continues.
“Don’t underestimate how attached you are to the rest of the characters. There are some mighty performances and stories to come. So it would be disappointing to miss that just because one person is not there.
“There is the sense of the ghost of Bea peppered throughout the first episodes. It’s not as if we start S5 and it is all forgotten. There is a strong feeling and sense of loss.
“Have a sneaky peek. See if we can’t win you back.”
Wentworth returns 8:30pm Tuesday on Showcase.