They met and fell in love on the set of The Thorn Birds. Today, more than 25 years later, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown tell Susan Chenery why they were made for each other and why he is happy to let her call most of the shots.
On a distant hill in a still, quiet place, Bryan Brown is making billy tea on a spluttering fire. A plate of lamingtons sits on a rough-hewn wooden table.
Coming towards us through soft rain is Rachel Ward, sitting astride a striking Appaloosa horse. Just as Bryan, with his strong, sharp profile and fierce gaze, seems etched into a rugged outback landscape, so, too, does Rachel seem carved into this Australian pastoral scene at their farm on the New South Wales North Coast.
These tall, striking people met on the set of The Thorn Birds in 1983, where something immediate and molecular happened. “It felt very instant,” recalls Rachel. “I remember meeting him, shaking his hand and feeling this extraordinary sense of relief. I just remember having that incredible feeling of phew, phew. There was a connection very quickly.
I felt that he was the masculine to my feminine, the yin to my yang. “I sensed that he was strong. He knew his mind. He had the right priorities and values that I respected.”
For approximately one second, Bryan was hesitant about getting involved with a co-star he would have to work with in the months to come, and the consequences if it all went wrong.
“He thought he would have no chance of getting away,” explains an amused Rachel, “but actually he bloody knew he didn’t want to get away. And he hasn’t been able to get away ever since, ha, ha.”
Theirs was a lightning attraction. Just a few months after they met, they were married, in the chapel at Cornwell Manor, Oxfordshire, one of Britain’s most beautiful houses, the home where Rachel grew up.
During the nuptials, the brash Antipodean stood in front of Rachel’s aristocratic English family and delivered the alarming news that it was “about time the aristocracy had a bit of convict blood”.
Such colonial audacity was greeted, he says now, by “a loud guffaw” from the Aussies and perhaps a wry smile from the other side of the table. “We had a small wedding, no more than 50 or 60 people, and it was very joyful,” he says. It is now more than a quarter of a century since they found each other and they remain one of Australia’s most enduring celebrity couples, the parents of three children – Rose, 24, Matilda, 22, and Joe, 16.
They are also the consummate working couple and never more so than now, with the release, on August 6, of their collaboration, Beautiful Kate, a movie directed by Rachel that stars Bryan, along with Rachel Griffiths, Ben Mendelsohn and newcomer Sophie Lowe.
To read more about Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward, see the August issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, out now.