How winning the TV WEEK Logie Award for Most Popular Actress, and taking the lead In Total Control, touches Deborah Mailman’s heart

''People are embracing our stories, and that’s moving for me''
Loading the player...

With five TV WEEK Logie Awards to her name and more than 20 years of film and television credits, Deborah Mailman has a CV of memorable performances. She’s been in and out of love as Kelly Lewis in The Secret Life Of Us, led a girl group in song in The Sapphires, and mourned a missing son in Mystery Road.

But Deborah can’t be sure if feisty yet inwardly insecure Senator Alex Irving is, as Total Control producer Darren Dale insists, her first leading role.

“I’m loving being this furious, complicated woman,” Deborah, 47, tells TV WEEK. “I love that she’s unfiltered in the way she goes about her life and says it as it is. I think she has a strong effect on people.”

That’s certainly true of Deborah, Darren says.

“She’s such an extraordinary actor,” he adds. “Her ability to portray depths of emotion, her comic timing, her megawatt smile and her incredible craft – I think this show is a real showcase for her.”

Rachel Griffiths and Deborah Mailman in Total Control.

Just like Alex, Deborah comes from a rodeo-loving Indigenous community in Northern Queensland, is a protective mum, and keeps current with the news. But that’s where the similarities end.

In order to portray the green Senator, she chose not to shadow any real-life politicians.

“I just wanted to try to start out on this journey without knowing too much of the world, and discover it for myself a little bit, to have the naiveté around it,” she says.

“Having a black woman in this position, having to sort of walk between the two worlds of federal politics and being at home, one of the things Alex says is that Aboriginal politics is far more complicated than anything that’s happening in the Big House! And so she has to negotiate both those pressures. That’s her journey.”

Deborah stars in Total Control.

In her own life, Deborah has been acutely aware of the wide-ranging impact of her work.

“I know intimately the responsibility I have to family and community, in terms of being an Indigenous actor and having a profile,” she says. “And being a black woman too.”

Although peer-voted accolades have been a welcome part of that career path, winning this year’s TV WEEK Silver Logie for Most Popular Actress for her roles in Mystery Road and Bite Club “means a lot”, she says.

“I was so thrilled. That’s massive.”

Deborah then summons a candour more common to Alex than herself.

“Why I think it means a lot,” she says, “is often, when it comes to Indigenous work, the stories are often those that people don’t really care about, or really want to hear about in terms of the general population. So it’s nice to sort of get that recognition.

“Because, actually, people are embracing our stories. It’s really touching and moving for me, and for a lot of us, to see people are becoming more appreciative of the oldest continuous living culture in the world.”

In Mystery Road with Meyne Wyatt.

Yet if Deborah is selective about the roles she chooses, it’s because she keeps husband Matthew Coonan and sons Henry, 12, and nine-year-old Oliver top of mind.

“It’s intense being away from my kids and my hubby,” Deborah says, “so I’ve always put a time out into every project, because I just need it.

“I need to get some oxygen again, to sleep, to get back to my reality, which is home – feeding the dogs, feeding the cats, doing the washing, and looking after my boys.”

But do her boys give her any feedback on her roles?

“No,” Deborah says before breaking out in laughter. “Because if they do, I’ll take their devices away!”

TOTAL CONTROL airs Sunday, 8.30pm, on ABC.

Related stories

Deborah Mailman
Celebrity News

Deborah Mailman: My childhood struggle

Since she was a shy six-year-old, teased for her weight at school in Mount Isa, Deborah Mailman has struggled to learn to love herself. Australia started falling in love with Deborah when she began her acting career 20 years ago, and she has finally fallen in line, accepting herself as well. Related: Georgie Gardner’s traumatic […]