In response to a viewer’s request, we’re going to take a look at Essie Davis, who stars as Phryne Fisher in what has fast become one of our most popular mystery series; Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
Davis was born in Tasmania in 1970, where she attended the University of Tasmania in the late 1980s, then went onto study drama at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. After graduating in 1992, she joined the Bell Shakespeare company where her first role was that of Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.
In 1995, Davis made her first film, Dad and Dave: On Our Selection, about a bushman who runs for parliament. The filmed starred Geoffrey Rush, and Leo McKern, of Rumpole of the Bailey. Davis’ most recent film is The Babadook; a psychological thriller which opened last year to critical acclaim.
Davis has managed to combine an acting career on film, stage and television. In 2003 she received a Laurence Olivier Best Supporting Actress award for her performance as Stella in the West End production of A Streetcar Named Desire and in 2004 she earned a Tony Award nomination for the Broadway production of Jumpers. In 2008, she appeared in the film Australia with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman and the same year, Davis played Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the Melbourne Theatre Company.
Although based in London, in 2008, Davis returned to her home town of Hobart in Tasmania to help form The Tasmanian Theatre Company.
In 2012 Davis was cast as Phryne Fisher. Before filming began Davis had to cut her long, wavy hair. ''We tried a few wigs”, Davis recalls, “but they didn't look right, so they started trimming my hair and it just got shorter and shorter and in the end I said, 'Just do it.' It wasn't easy but Phryne just had such a specific look, I wanted to capture that.''
Davis has also been up for the physicality of the role and has had to master the tango, climb on top of trains, and scale heights. Although enjoying the stunts, Davis confesses to having had a “few scrapes”. Namely she tripped over her long pants and sprained her ankle and she broke a rib doing the foxtrot. The actress also dislocated her knee during a particularly passionate love scene in an alley. The biggest challenge in playing Miss Fisher though is that the filming schedule leaves very little time for rehearsals.
“Whenever I get a moment off, I’m doing a tango lesson or learning Mandarin”, explains Davis. “I think that was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. But, I know my one sentence incredibly well. A year and a half later, I can still pull it out when needed. Certainly, all of the dancing, you’ve got two hours to learn how to flamenco and look like you’re brilliant at it. Because she’s really good at everything she does, trying to do each little part of it with great skill is very challenging.”
Davis married director Justin Kurzel in 2002 and in 2006 the couple had twin daughters, Stella and Ruby.
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