Rachel Griffiths says she “found her voice” while directing Ride Like A Girl

By returning home to Australia, Rachel Griffiths is raising her game as an actor, writer, producer and mother.
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When Rachel Griffiths left Los Angeles in 2012, she had received accolades for bringing to life complex characters such as Six Feet Under’s therapist Brenda Chenowith and Brothers & Sisters‘ business executive Sarah Laurent.

But the Australian star was working long hours, yearned to spend more time with her young family, and wanted to recharge her creative batteries.

“I needed to come back,” Rachel, 50, tells TV WEEK.

“For whatever reason, it’s how my brain works. I needed to come back to get my confidence as a storyteller.”

This year, she succeeded with the Michelle Payne biopic Ride Like A Girl, her first feature film as a director, and as co-creator, co-executive producer and actor in ABC drama Total Control.

“Rachel has come back to Australia to work on quality content,” Total Control co-creator Darren Dale says. “Something that really means a lot to her.”

In Total Control, Deborah Mailman plays the wonderfully contradictory Senator Alex Irving, and Rachel plays the embattled conservative Prime Minister Rachel Anderson, who takes Alex under her wing.

Yet by the end of the first season, political manoeuvring has shattered their alliance.

Firebrand Alex and practical Rachel are hurt by differing philosophies and a broken trust.

READ NEXT: Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths star in a searing drama about power, politics and personal cost

Rachel Griffiths and Deborah Mailman in Total Control.

(Source: Courtesy of ABC)

“In the first season, we walk in Deb’s shoes,” Rachel explains. “I’m the antagonist, but I was really determined that I not be the ‘trophy bitch in power heels who we don’t understand’.

“In many ways, I represent the positive aspiration of party politics,” she adds. “It was just so important that it’s not a revenge drama when I supposedly throw her under the bus. It’s really, really complex – nothing is black and white.”

Not even the title. When Rachel first conceived of the series more than 20 years ago, she came up with Black Bitch.

“It was a great title to be working towards,” Rachel says.

“And now that we’re breaking season two and looking at a three-season arc, I’m loving the title Total Control.

In a weird way, it’s giving us a clearer trajectory of where to go.”

WATCH NEXT: The trailer for Total Control. Story continues…

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So what can viewers expect?

“I think people want us together more,” Rachel says of Rachel and Alex, “because it’s exciting how these women may come to respect and understand each other.”

Although Rachel has enjoyed working on ambitious series such as Six Feet Under without “a seat at the table upstairs”, she quips, being a co-creator on her own series has given her – wait for it – total control.

“Watching actors like Deborah Mailman underused, you kind of go, ‘In America, she’d have her own show,'” Rachel says.

“Shonda Rhimes [the influential US TV producer and writer] would have written her a show! And so it’s like, ‘Let’s write Deb a show’.”

In Total Control, Rachel plays PM Rachel Anderson – and Deborah Mailman (above right) is activist Alex Irving.

(Source: TV Week)

Knowing Deborah has been a multi-award-winning actress in mostly ensemble projects, Rachel and the team at Blackfella Films saw her in a starring role.

“We basically said we want a canvas as big as Deb’s talent,” Rachel says.

“Men are being asked to bring their full throttle, and women are like, ‘Oh, no – you can’t be that because you’ll be unlikeable’ or ‘You can’t be that because that’ll be too shocking’.

“But that’s changing, and I’m proud to say I was part of a canvas that’s big enough for Deb’s talent to occupy.”

Stepping into the producer’s chair also makes Rachel all the more proud of the whole arc of her career, which rocketed after she played Rhonda in Muriel’s Wedding in 1994.

Rachel Griffiths and her family for the Melbourne Cup.

(Source: Instagram/@rachelgriffithsofficial)

“Every woman, perhaps every artist, has their own journey to find her voice,” Rachel says. “It took me 25 years to find mine.”

But ask if she and her artist husband Andrew Taylor, 52, have become role models for their children Banjo, 15, Adelaide, 14, and Clementine, 10, and Rachel turns on the self-deprecation.

“Oh, come on – we’re never a positive role model for our children!” she says with a hearty laugh. “I’m trying to lower the bar for them across the board!”

What Rachel is trying to do is engage in a broader conversation about how she can help her kids navigate a complicated world.

It’s one she says has more negativity around it than the world in which she grew up. Her current work is part of that dialogue.

Rachel Griffiths and Michelle Payne attend the Sydney premiere of Ride Like A Girl at Cremorne Orpheum.

(Source: Getty)

“I’m proud my daughters are seeing me create these opportunities for myself and for other people,” Rachel explains.

“To create this opportunity for Deb, to create a heroic movie for a talent like Teresa Palmer [who plays Michelle Payne in Ride Like A Girl], to have somebody like Stevie Payne [Michelle’s brother, who has Down syndrome and plays himself in the film] be on our big screens – I’m proud that they can see that.

Ride Like A Girl is in cinemas now.

Catch up on Total Control on iview for the Season Finale airing 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.

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