New Face: Alison McGirr

June 21, 2018
The young actress scored a big break with a major role as part of the esteemed ensemble in Bruce Beresford’s Ladies in Black.

Had you read the novel, Ladies in Black, before you got the part?

I had, I loved it, I read it in two sittings – it was a wonderfully impressive piece of work !

Did you feel it was a particularly Australian story?

It’s definitely recognisably Australian with the use of Aussie vernacular and Sydney is a character in itself, but the stories and themes are universal. That’s why it’s such a loved book, it’s relatable and enjoyable – its setting just adds another layer particularly as the rest of the world is quite enamoured by us and our stories at the moment.

The film is filled with well-known Australian performers such as Noni Hazlehurst, Shane Jacobson, Deborah Kennedy, Genevieve Lemon, Rachael Taylor, etc. Was it exciting to be part of this ensemble?

It was so exciting and creatively rewarding. To work alongside these wonderful actors, some of whom I had grown up watching and admiring, was such a gift, it was fun and also inspiring. Working with Noni was a masterclass in acting! The most successful and talented actors are usually the hardest working and kindest. Acting is reacting in its purest form and to create those honest reactions you need to have a genuine connection, which is a lot easier when you get to work with considerate, caring performers.

What was Bruce Beresford like as a director?

Bruce was glorious, he’s an icon for good reason. He knows exactly what he wants but at the same time is so collaborative. It’s great to have those boundaries in which to find freedom but also to know that your input is genuinely valued. Even in some of the more difficult scenes to shoot, I felt completely at ease; Bruce creates a very safe space. I had such a marvelous time with him on set, his stories are wonderful and plentiful, buy his books if you haven’t already, he’s wickedly funny and insightful, I could listen to him all day!

How do you feel the film will resonate today?

I think it’s perfect for the times we are in right now. Madeleine’s [St. John] story comments on the plight of women and the journeys we all have to face in some capacity to prove ourselves in a male dominated society. Today, females are (still!) fighting for the right to be viewed as equal human beings rather than our gender determining how much we earn or what is acceptable behaviour. It’s completely relevant.

What was it like being in the world of such a different time and different society?

It was lovely to be amongst the absolutely incredible sets. [Production Designer] Felicity [Abbott] is a master, every detail so carefully thought out and beautifully executed. It makes your job easy when the second you step on set, you’re immediately transported back in time. The same goes for costume. When you put the beautiful vintage underwear and frocks on, your posture improves, your demeanor changes, all these pieces allow you to live authentically within 1959 Sydney. It was really interesting to do all the research of the time, I listened to the music charts, read news articles and magazines, whatever I could find, so I could get a feel of it, and I spoke to some older friends who had been around Sydney in the early sixties. I loved creating Patty, sitting in the make up chair with rollers in my hair, getting my face so beautifully painted, I wish I could recreate that eyeliner, it was a special experience. It also made me feel grateful that, even though as a woman today, we are facing some pretty big issues, we’ve come a long way since ’59. It was wonderful to live in that space with the pretty frocks and beautiful hair and quaint houses but I tell you, all the etiquette and the restrictive underwear and the lack of communication and equality in most relationships, I would go mad. I respect my grandmothers and the ladies of that time for their endurance, not just with the macho society they had to deal with, but with that underwear and the expectation of always being ‘put together’. Give me my lululemons, a bare face and the option of having a drink at the bar any day!

What did you take away from the experience?

I had such a great experience, I’m still blown away and so thankful that Bruce trusted me with Patty and that I got to work with such talented artists and technicians. I’ve taken away an even larger appreciation for our industry and how phenomenal our people are, forged some beautiful friendships and found a new confidence in myself. Pretty damn good outcome from a job!

What’s next?

I have a couple of projects I’m currently working on. I feel I’m in such a great place now, the possibilities are endless, I want to do everything and try it all.

Ladies in Black is in cinemas October 18, 2018

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