“I do feel as though if I’ve met at least 20 Evelyns in my lifetime!”
Having worked in TV since the '80s, Marg Downey is perfectly placed as The Newsreader's power-behind-the-throne.
Her silent, stealth character in ABC drama The Newsreader may be a fictional creation, but actor Marg Downey knows her well.
“She’s not based on anyone in particular, but I do feel as though if I’ve met at least 20 Evelyns in my lifetime!” she admits.
“I’ve had a long time to encounter these types. I think I even saw them in my childhood. My parents had some friends and I’m sure that one of the wives was Evelyn-esque!”
As the wife of veteran news presenter Geoff Walters (Robert Taylor) Downey’s character has had audiences glued to their screens. Writer Michael Lucas has endowed the role with enormous influence in the politics of the 1980s newsroom.
While Downey is famous for her comedy work on Fast Forward, in more recent years she has moved to dramatic roles, especially in theatre, but also Newton’s Law, Top Of The Lake: China Girl, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, House Husbands and City Homicide.
“Hang on, Evelyn’s in every single episode!”
She won the role after submitting an audition tape from home.
“I thought it would be my usual sort of ‘inserted-into-a-couple-of-scenes guesty,” she tells TV Tonight.
“When I got the full scripts I realised, ‘Hang on, Evelyn’s in every single episode!’ I rang my agent and said, ‘This is just a great part.’ It’s something I could really sink my teeth into. She’s a really interesting character, because on the one hand, people say she’s manipulative. I think one critic described me as ‘horribly good,’ inferring that she’s horrible. But she’s also fiercely loyal and loves her husband. So it’s multi layered.
“I was so thrilled when I got the role.”
“She’s the power behind the throne, really”
Evelyn manoeuvres from organising society soirees to underhanded negotiation with news boss Lindsay (William McInnes).
“She’s the power behind the throne, really. She’s very smart and aware. I feel as though she could have worked in television behind the scenes in publicity or something. She’s got a handle on how people operate within that industry.
“She’s a bit of an all rounder. She is raking the leaves out of the pool, preparing the roast dinner and meanwhile being across all the politics in her husband’s workplace. She’s a bit of a dynamo.”
In Sunday’s finale, Evelyn will wield her most influence yet, in a stinging exchange with Lindsay.
“It’s a beautifully written scene,” she teases. “Also that was the first scene I shot in the whole series. It was totally out of sequence. It was the first time William and I interacted. I was very prepared but I was a bit nervous, to be honest.”
Yet while many have likened the character of ambitious news presenter Helen Norville (Anna Torv) to Jana Wendt – a claim Michael Lucas denies- coincidentally, it was Downey who famously parodied Wendt in Fast Forward and The D-Generation in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
“I was sitting sometimes in make-up chairs right next to them”
Having worked in TV stations for decades, she is convinced the ABC series has accurately captured the era.
“I was in those make-up rooms with women, like Simone Semmons, Naomi Robson, Jennifer Keyte. I was sitting sometimes in make-up chairs right next to them, having a chinwag. Even pre-dating that I was doing Jana at the ABC. So there were female journalists running around the corridors. I suppose through osmosis, I picked up a little bit of information along the way… which is why (The Newsreader) rings very true to me, having been there and witnessed it.”
Downey once met Jana Wendt at the Logie Awards and describes her as “absolutely charming” which is fonder than her recollection of one unnamed producer who, during the early 1990s, had an idea for her impression to become part of a current affairs war.
“I was so appalled I went made a complaint”
“I do remember a producer from the Hinch program calling me in and saying, ‘Your impersonation is spot on. We actually have the power to destroy Jana!'” she recalls.
“I burst out laughing. I was doing a parody! I certainly wasn’t out to destroy anyone! I think he thought we could take her down in the ratings or undermine her somehow. I was so appalled I went and made a complaint.
“It just goes to show how ruthless television can be in that endless chasing of ratings. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to achieve that.”
Maybe a plot idea for Season 2?
The Newsreader finale airs 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.