Susie Porter.
Susie Porter.

If you knew Susie Porter

SINCE graduating from NIDA in 1995, Susie Porter has become one of Australia's most well-respected actors, working consistently in film, theatre and television.

She has played an impressive range of characters, and has been nominated for six AFI awards, winning three, including two Best Lead Actress awards, as well as winning a Most Outstanding Actress Logie award.

No small feat in an industry known for chewing up actors and spitting them out.

In the flesh, Porter is strikingly beautiful. Not full-makeup beautiful, or used-to-be-beautiful beautiful. But presently, naturally beautiful.

Her face is strong and structured; part ethereal softness, part city-girl edge. A face full of expression.

Far from the self-obsessed, affected behaviour you might expect from someone who has spent the best part of the past two decades in front of a camera, she is gentle, interested and unaffected. A product perhaps of the 'very normal' upbringing she had in Newcastle with her parents and three sisters.

"It was a pretty relaxed, loving household," she says. "I was very lucky to have the childhood I did.

"I was a tomboy. I used to be mistaken for a boy a lot and I would wander around bashing up boys."

Porter's early ambitions were a far cry from acting, thinking instead that she might follow the family tradition and end up in the medical profession.

"Dad's a doctor, mum's a nurse and a lot of our family are doctors, so I kind of always thought I would do something in that field," she says, "maybe psychology.

"I wasn't a child actor and my school was certainly not a performing arts school."

At 14, Porter took part in a school production of The Boyfriend, and although she 'absolutely loved it', she was hardly bitten by the acting bug.

"I wasn't the type of kid who did theatre groups," she says. "It wasn't until I left school that I seriously thought about acting.

"I was always telling people I would be an actor, but I never really knew if I could do it. I never really knew how I would do it."

It was when she began an arts degree and joined the local theatre company that she began to take her first tentative steps toward an acting career.

"I remember my first audition," she says. "I went to a bar and had three drinks before I went in.
"I didn't get that part."

From these wobbly beginnings, Porter went on to study at NIDA, and soon after graduating got her first part, on a short-lived television series.

In the 17 seventeen years that have followed she has played everything from a tough-talking detective to a bikie moll to her most recent role as Pam, the free-spirited mum on the television series Puberty Blues and has established herself as one the country's leading actresses.

Even when starring in a production that flops (think Welcome to Woop Woop), Porter's acting integrity has remained intact.

"I think Susie has endured because of her craftsmanship - or craftswomanship rather - and her talent," says movie critic Margaret Pomeranz.

"Being an actor requires discipline which I think she has in spades.

"And there is a certain fearlessness to Susie that impresses. She's beautiful on screen; she has a 'presence' that is real. You believe every moment of her on screen."

Actor Dan Wyllie, with whom Porter has worked with on many occasions, including Puberty Blues, agrees.

"Susie is the most incredibly generous and open performer," he says. "She is so beautifully sensitive and engaged. It's what we call NAR (no acting required). When you work with her you drop into the emotional reality of things so easily; you kind of end up forgetting everything when you look into her eyes.

"In Puberty Blues our characters are the freewheeling, hippy parents," he continues. "We play this liberal, easy-going communicative couple. Everyone else was doing these dramatic scenes while we were kind of holding hands the whole time. So we thought 'Oh we are having way too much fun', but it's great to watch it back and see the kind of depth of feeling that's there. That's a testament to Susie's capacity for truth and her ability and skill."

Wyllie says Porter's emotional honesty in her personal life, and her gentle, genuine nature spills over into her onscreen charm.

"Susie is highly sensitive, and highly sensitive to other people," he says. "And highly critical of herself.

"So you have this powerhouse actor and on the opposite end she is, in lots of ways, very sensitive and childlike.

"A lot of actors are like that, but they try to cover it up. Susie is just very emotionally honest.

"She's like a beautiful open wound," he says. "Oh she's going to love that quote," he adds, laughing.

Sensitivity seems like it would be a heavy burden in a profession where you face rejection on a regular basis. Even when you aren't rejected, and you get the part, you face criticism and comment with every role.

"I'm very philosophical about it," Porter says. "Or I try to be; I'm learning to be.

"It's difficult, the rejection. You don't get a couple of jobs and then suddenly you start thinking 'Am I a bad actor? Is this it? Have I had my day?'.

"You might feel anger and resentment; you think you should have gotten the job, but look, sometimes it just doesn't go my way.

"I've taken it personally for so many years. It's gotten a little bit easier over time."

Porter has resisted the urge to try to break into the very lucrative American market.

"I did have a US agent who actually came over to Australia to sign me," she says. "But you have to do the whole pilot season thing over there, and it happened that my boyfriend (now husband, Chris Mordue) had said he wanted to take me to Rome at that time. So, you know, which would you do? Of course I chose Rome.

"If something came up (in America), of course I'd do it. I'd love to be on a big American smash, but I'm not bothered if it doesn't happen. I guess I'm not that ambitious. No, it's not that, it's that I'm not the right kind of ambitious."

Whatever kind of ambition it is, it seems to be serving her well, and it doesn't appear to be slowing down. There are plenty of roles Porter would love to sink her teeth into in the future.

"I've always loved Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. ," she says. "I'd also love to play a nun, and I'd really love to play a full-on, destitute teeth-knocked-out drug addict. A right mess."

Pomeranz says no matter what the role, Porter could do it justice.

"It's interesting that she wants to play a junkie, because I think she would go where no-one else would dare if the role demanded it.

"She is an actor, a good one. It pretty much boils down to that."

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