Rebecca Gibney has a desire – to create more roles for actresses as they age. But rather than just talk about it, she’s doing something about it, writing a film she hopes to set in her native New Zealand.
Rebecca is ranked among our most successful actresses – credited with creating one of TV’s most-loved characters in Juliet Rafter. When Packed to the Rafters finished in 2013, Rebecca pledged to step behind the camera as well, which led to her launching a production company with husband Richard Bell.
It was partly driven by Rebecca’s desire to create more roles for actresses as they age. The screen star says that while she has seen a growth in parts for the over 60s – such as Judi Dench and Maggie Smith – her own age group is still under represented.
“There seems to be a gap for actresses in their 40s and 50s, and my goal is to get some more normal, middle-aged women up on the big screen. I believe there is a market for it.”
Having said that, Rebecca herself has broken through the age barrier and at 50 is busier than ever, appearing in the tele-move The Killing Field and its spin-off crime series, Winter. She recently wrapped filming on feature movie The Dressmaker with Kate Winslet and has commenced work on a television doco-drama about entertainer Peter Allen. But, she says, she had to actively pursue and create the opportunities.
“I am in a fortunate position because of my profile in Rafters and I have capitalised on that – but I quickly recognised that I couldn’t just sit and wait for the roles to come in. I still audition and I still chase parts, and if the roles aren’t there I go and write them or knock on doors and get someone else to.”
In The Killing Field Rebecca plays Detective Eve Winter, who she says is a deliberate shift away from Julie Rafter. “Julie became such a huge part of the Australian culture and remains very loved.
I still walk down the street and people say, ‘When is Julie coming back? We love her!’ but I needed to play someone completely different – I’m an actor and I need to stretch myself. I would have done myself and the public a disservice if I had played another version of Julie so I went to the network [Australia’s Channel Seven] and said, ‘I really want to do a show in the crime genre.’”
She was soon presented with a version of The Killing Fields, which at her request was rewritten with a female detective as the lead.
“A lot of women come up to me in the street going,‘ Oh my God, I love this new character,’” she says proudly. “She is a strong, single, independent older woman forging ahead in a predominantly male world.”
And while the production is not her own, the opportunity to co-produce the show has been a good warm-up for her work with husband Richard.
“I was one of a few voices, but I was heard, and now mine and my husband’s goal is to produce our own stuff. We don’t just want to create projects for me – we want to create them for other women as well.”
It’s hard to believe that Rebecca is 50 – but in fact her husband threw her a surprise 50th birthday party last December.
“I thought I was going to spend the night on a boat with a couple of friends. Richard convinced me to go into a place for a drink first and there were about 100 people there from all areas of my life. They had flown in from New Zealand, all around Australia – one had even come from LA. A lot of the Rafters people were there too. It was just fantastic,” she says warmly. “Richard made a beautiful speech and he had put together a video of photos – I just cried all night.”
Rebecca Gibney appears as the cover story on the New Zealand edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly.