EXCLUSIVE: The cast of Wentworth spill on “amazing” new season

Everything you need to know about Season 7
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Inside the walls of Wentworth Prison for TV WEEK’s exclusive photo shoot, original cast members Robbie Magasiva and Celia Ireland reflect on a major component of the series’ ongoing success – unpredictability.

“At the end of season one, we believed this extent of drama had never been seen in Australia before,” Robbie, 48, explains while sitting inside the prison guards’ office.

“But we didn’t know for sure until we had a media pre-screening in Sydney. Everyone arrived and these guys were staunch Prisoner followers, so I wasn’t sure how it would go…

“Then, the episode ended with my wife dying and everyone [in the room] freaked out! We had killed off one of Australia’s best actresses, Catherine McClements. They were blown away; then I knew.”

Clockwise from top left: Katrina, Tammy, Robbie, Kate A, Leah, Bernard, Rarriwuy, Kate J, Celia and Susie.

This impulsive way of thinking hasn’t let up since. Although, it’s not exactly impulsive, it’s a masterful plan.

Back in season four, fans watched in horror as “Top Dog” Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack) was killed by Joan “The Freak” Ferguson (Pamela Rabe). But retribution came calling in season five when the governor-turned-prisoner met her demise.

The risks were undoubtedly high; killing big characters could lose interest and topple the entire show.

Wentworth has, within the walls of the prison, this in-built crucible and epic story of emotion,” Celia, 52, says. “Who’s the Top Dog, and who’s vying for Top Dog? It’s not just shock, but the drama and the clever writing. The performances are uniformly strong, and the characters storylines resonate.

“And the cast is 90 per cent women; it’s really rare, but wonderful to see that.”

Susie, Celia, Tammy and Leah are cleaning up their act.

Celia, like her female cohort, has found her best form in the teal tracksuit. The actress’ performance as Liz Birdsworth has been nominated for two TV WEEK Logie awards, winning Best Actress in 2016. She’s also nominated for Most Outstanding Actress for this year’s Logies.

Her character, who’s battling early- onset dementia, is likely to be at the forefront of more drama in season seven.

“Oh, it’s a huge arc,” she hints. “I get my script, break it down and dissect what the trigger moments are and what the emotions could be ahead.”

Kaz Proctor, meanwhile, sits loud and proud as Top Dog of the prison. But her portrayer, Tammy McIntosh, 49, won’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

“I feel like I say this every year, but each season when they send through those episode links, I go, ‘Oh, my God – this show is amazing!'” she says.

“It could be the best season yet. I say this as an audience member, not as someone on the show, because, really, there isn’t a weak link. Just when you think storylines for certain characters are done, there’s a twist. And then they move forward.”

It’s been the show’s constant ability to “move forward” that has kept fans and critics enthralled. The series even won two unprecedented TV WEEK Logie Awards for Most Popular Drama Series and Most Outstanding Drama Series in 2018. Inmates may come and go, but the drama remains as palpable as ever.

Celia and Tammy say they often have to “walk it off” after a day of heavy filming.

Leah Purcell, who plays undercover cop Rita Connors, has brought fresh hell to Wentworth recently, but her nemesis Marie, played by Susie Porter, hasn’t gone down without a fight. Susie hints that fans “will absolutely love” the hair-raising battle between them.

“Things changed on Wentworth after season four when Bea was killed,” Susie, 48, says of the series’ vitality. “New characters came in and proved that this show is far bigger than its parts. Marie has changed this season and she’ll do anything at any cost.”

As a newcomer on the show, and the youngest at 28, Rarriwuy Hick admits she wasn’t sure what to expect when she stepped behind bars. But the reality of the demanding production, and the emotional toll it takes, quickly hit home.

“My first four days were really intense!” the Cleverman star recalls with a laugh. “Ruby had an epileptic fit while she was boxing, and went through some big, emotional scenes. I thought, ‘It can’t get bigger than this, can it?’ And then it did!”

Rarriwuy is proud not only to be in the award-winning show but to also represent the Indigenous community.

“I come from a remote Aboriginal community [Dhalinybuy in the Northern Territory], where we don’t really have television,” she says. “It’s funny, because a lot of us have become actors.

“But the support is amazing. I’ll go online and there’ll be people from all around the world using blackfella slang now. When people are drawn to it, that’s when you know you’ve done a good job.”

Their characters may be enemies in prison, but Susie and Leah have nothing but love for each other.

As the success of Wentworth grew over time, Australia’s biggest names clamoured for a role.

Established actor Bernard Curry, 48, who joined in season four as prison guard Jake Stewart, says he was in awe of the female ensemble and knew he had to bring his best to the yard.

Wentworth had already established itself as a trailblazer in terms of strong female protagonist roles,” he says.

“But I felt like I came on as an equal. Everybody brings their A-game to this show; we all love what they do here and I feel deeply grateful to be part of it.”

Knee-deep in trouble and immorally skewed, Bernard’s storylines have kept him on his toes. And so has his co-star, Kate Atkinson, 47, who plays prison governor Vera Bennett.

“I was amazed that fans thought they should get together,” Kate says of Vera and Jake’s complicated romance. “I was like, ‘What? Really?'”

Guard duty with Robbie, Kate and Bernard.

With the series renewed for a further 20 episodes after its seventh season, Wentworth is now in the record books as the longest-running one-hour drama series on Australian television.

“For a while, it looked like the show wasn’t going to continue [past season seven], and I struggled to process it,” Katrina Milosevic, who plays Sue “Boomer” Jenkins, says. “Then we got told it would continue, it meant so much to us.”

Of course, the end is inevitable for any show. But before they close the wrought-iron gates for the final time, the cast insist there’s a lot more story still to tell.

“I got goosebumps when I learnt what happens,” Katrina teases. “I absolutely love this show and my character. Boomer is a very complex character, and there’s lots of room to move with her. This has truly been a phenomenal experience.”

Meanwhile, Kate adds that when the show does come to its eventual end, she’ll be “milking every last bit of it”.

“The producers are keeping their cards very close to their chests,” she says of the ending. “But I’m not apprehensive about it. I feel like the way to enter into the final season is to think how lucky we’ve been, and if this is our last hurrah, let’s make the most of it.”

Katrina and Rarriwuy pack a punch – both on and off screen.

Wentworth airs Tuesday, 8:40pm, on Foxtel’s Showcase.

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