Deborah Mailman dives into the dystopic future
Deborah Mailman admits she's a bit of a closet science-fiction nerd.
But with the exception of her role in the cult ABC sci-fi-drama Cleverman - for which she was Logie-nominated two years running - it's an itch she has rarely had the chance to scratch.
The five-time Logie winner is best known for roles in TV dramas such as The Secret Life Of Us, Offspring, Mabo and Total Control and movie comedies such as Paper Planes, Oddball and The Sapphires, so when the opportunity came up to appear in homegrown, dystopian sci-fi film 2067, Mailman jumped at it.
"I just love the possibilities of what you can do with a genre like sci-fi - you can take it anywhere. Some of my favourites are Interstellar and then of course there are those other ones … about fantastical other worlds like The Fifth Element. It's a genre that can open up a deeper conversation within the themes of the story."
It was the message that drew her to 2067. Set half a century in the future, when environmental degradation has brought the Earth to the brink of collapse, mother of two Mailman recognised a message very close to her heart, which is that humanity has to act now to preserve the planet for future generations.
"It is about my kids and about their kids as well and the next generations, so we don't … make too many mistakes for them to have to clean up. I still think we have an opportunity here - and even the small things will make a difference. I am always conscious about what more I could be doing - and I could be doing a hell of a lot more, that's for certain."
Mailman plays a hard-nosed CEO of a tech company in 2067, a part originally written for an older man, which the Indigenous actor says is a sign of how far diversity and representation have come in the 23 years since her AFI-winning breakout role in acclaimed drama Radiance.
"It's changed a lot," she says. "I know there will be a lot of people who say we still have a lot further to go but I think there has been a really strong start over the last few years in terms of getting different representation on our screen and that comes down to the writing room as much as anything.
"The more we have people from different backgrounds, different experiences, different religious beliefs, sexual orientation, disability in those rooms, that's when you can have a more authentic story being told, with lived experience from that community."
Mailman is grateful last year's almost complete shutdown of the Australian arts sector didn't affect her as gravely as many of her colleagues. She was able to record an entire new season of her Indigenous animated series, Little J & Big Cuz, from her newly built home studio in Wollongong, and also recorded voice parts for an animated series based on the hugely successful video game Ark: Survival Evolved. Other voices in the star-studded Ark: the Animated Series cast include Russell Crowe, Gerard Butler, Michelle Yeoh, David Tennant and Vin Diesel, but Mailman admits a little sheepishly that while she knows the game is a very big deal, she knows next to nothing about it.
"Madeleine Madden, who is a beautiful young Indigenous actor, is the lead voice and I lend my voice to the main character's mother. I have another session in coming weeks to go into the studio and do the rest of the voiceover. It's been great - but I really should do some more homework. I really should play the game but I am pretty hopeless around that world. I really have no clue but apparently it's massive."
While she's relished a slower year, spending time with her children, Mailman is raring to go when filming starts next month for the second season of Total Control. She won the AACTA Award for Best Lead actor in a TV drama for her portrayal of rising parliamentarian Alex Irving opposite Rachel Griffiths in the hit political thriller and says Alex will face even tougher battles in the new episodes.
"It's so exciting and I can't wait to get back into her skin again - she's a feisty one. It will be new world for Alex as she looks towards becoming an independent in the political arena. She's embarking on what will be a really hard job for her … because she's unliked by so many people on both sides of the political divide, but also with her community back home, so she has a big, long, hard fight ahead to secure herself as an independent voice within parliament."
Mailman is also struggling to get her head around the fact that The Secret Life Of US turns 20 this year. She still recalls the "life-changing, transformative" show fondly, and recognises just how trailblazing it was. "It really was. To be cast as a character that wasn't anchored in anything other than … trying to get the trifecta of love, work and home, I just loved it. She was just an everyday girl living in the city trying to make it work in her early 20s. It was very relatable for me and a lot of people who watched it - we really got that world."
And as to where her character, Alex, would be two decades after her life in that St Kilda share house, Mailman laughs: "She'd be CEO of Tinder or some dating website or app. She'd be earning a lot of money making sure everyone's happy and getting matched with the people they are supposed to be matched with."
2067 streams on Netflix from Friday.
Originally published as Deborah Mailman dives into the dystopic future