Rachel Griffiths does NOT want to know how magic tricks work - nor does she really
enjoy talking about the mechanics of how she performed scenes with her 'other' self in her
film, Me Myself I. When she saw The Matrix with a boyfriend (note 'a'), for example, he
kept leaning over to her and whispering tricks of filmmaking to explain how Keanu appears
to be flying through the air. "I went 'NO! Keanu's flying, OK! That's what's
happening!' I think it's a boy thing: for him it's all about how they do it, but for me
it's all about the magic."
"feeling confident and relaxed"
We're sitting in a 10th floor hotel suite looking across Circular Quay at
the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and she's wearing a fluffy off-white top with a crew neck and a
black leather skirt. On her feet, she has a pair of black strap sandals with a leather
flower. It's all part of the other side of being a star: doing press junkets, giving
interviews to all sorts of media in a row of interviews from breakfast to gimmeabreak.
"It's very tiring," she says with grace, "unpaid, and rather lonely. You
also have to travel a lot, which again takes you away from home…and you're not doing
what you love doing." But Griffiths is not really complaining. Especially in
Australia; "in America the journalists are all very big personalities and are
demanding - here it's less exhausting."
With 12 films in seven years behind her, Griffiths is finally feeling relaxed about
herself as an actress - "feeling confident and relaxed about what I am and what I can
do." And she has loved the variety of roles, as all actors do. "I love playing
such a range of women - from a kind of upper class English woman from the 50s, and an East
Coast New Yorker…it's really interesting, like having a window into so many people's
And Griffiths will happily discuss the broader aspects of her character Pamela, and
working with writer/director Pip Karmel. "The first things we discussed," she
says, "are things like the tone of the film and how she saw that being placed. When I
read this script I could see it played so many ways. That kind of 'what if' comedy is not
a genre we've really done a lot of in this country. Americans are much more confident with
it in that their actors are more used to the genre - like Splash and Groundhog Day and
Multiplicity and right back to It's A Wonderful Life or Wizard of Oz -with that fantasy
element and real suspension of disbelief."
"to lift a character off the page"
Griffiths clearly admires Karmel's talents, honed as a film editor (on such films as
Shine): "She has a grasp on craft which some first time directors might not have. To
me the script showed that it was written by somebody who had reflected on things for a
long time. And certainly she understood what shape a film needs to have - whether that all
comes from her being an editor or going to film school or just being film literate, I
But the script was only the start: Griffiths sees her part of the job as an actor as
fleshing out the written characters of a screenplay. "It is our job to lift a
character off the page and make it live. Even the most realised character on paper is
still only on paper - our job as actors is to make them credible and give them an
emotional life and hopefully make you care about them."
In approaching each role, Griffiths take a different tack - "it really depends
from film to film. Sometimes you feel the character so close to yourself that you really
don't have to do much. Sometimes you need to play the piano brilliantly or go and learn
some skill if that's an enormous part of the role, like having to convince the audience
that you are playing the cello - or the flute, or have an accent. I think my biggest
preparation for Me Myself I, for instance, was - especially as I'd been doing so much
intense work - was to watch a lot of comedies and start to work out how actors play that
romantic comedy. How they make moments poignant and never drag the film into some kind of
domestic realism. Not to say there aren't moments where an audience might be moved to the
brink of tears. It's a hard line to walk."
You might think, though, that playing a mother - as she does in Me Myself I - may be
especially demanding. But Griffiths is pragmatic and blunt about that: "Well, in this
role, it's a woman who has no idea of what she's doing," she says with a laugh,
"so that was fine. But seriously, I love working with kids, it's great fun. But I
wasn't having to convince anyone that I was a terrific mother. In fact I think the comedy
comes from me NOT knowing what to do." (Her mothering is conducted as the 'other'
Pamela thrown into the role by the freak of fate that enables her to see her life as it
might have been had she married her old ex, Robert.)
Herself a filmmaker - her short, Tulip, has won numerous awards and has been widely
distributed - Griffiths is adamant that the Australian film industry is a "healthy
vine" - it just needs fertilising with enough resources to keep growing.
The screenplay for her second short - about a man who has a nervous breakdown on the
way to work - has just been finished; "it's about how fragile our minds are…and
it's on the funding trail," she says optimistically.