Back in the Slammer | Breaking all the rules
25th May 2019 - TV Week
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Logie Award-winning Aussie drama Wentworth is back. And according to several cast members, season seven is set to be the most explosive - and best - yet.
"This season is full-on," Kate Atkinson, 37, who plays pregnant governor Vera Bennett, says.
We last saw Vera at the end of season six, fighting for survival as a blackmailer zeroed in on the role she and co-conspirators Jake (Bernard Curry) and Will (Robbie Magasiva) played in Joan Ferguson's (Pamela Rabe) death.
She's now six months pregnant. And while there seems to have been a neat full stop to the "Where's Joan?" storyline (with her blackmailer killed off in last season's cliffhanger), this is Wentworth and you never quite know...
The Battle for Top Dog
This season, two new characters who were introduced last year - Rita (Leah Purcell) and Marie (Susie Porter) - are at the forefront of the drama, as both prisoners stare down hefty 15-year sentences.
"When we first see her in series seven, Marie is coming back from her court hearing," Susie, 48, tells TV Week. "She's been put away for 15 years [for the manslaughter of the doctor who treated her son while he was in a coma]. Obviously, her son is dead and things start to fall apart, so she's fighting to get out and clear her name."
She's also battling Kaz Proctor (Tammy MacIntosh) for the mantle of Top Dog. Kaz [*should this be Marie?!] is trying to keep her criminal undertakings afloat in the outside world.
"It could be the best season yet," Tammy, 49, says. "I say this as an audience member, and 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 they move forward."
At the same time, Kaz [*again, pretty sure this should say Marie] is processing the fact that her one-time ally, Rita, is responsible for the death of her crony Drago (Natalia Novikova).
Rita killed Drago in a brutal boxing match after the undercover cop stepped in to fight in place of her sister Ruby (Rarriwuy Hick).
A nice present for Kate Jenkinson, who plays Allie, was to be told by producers on her birthday that the show had been renewed.
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providing all magazine scans
Big, bad, and brutal - Wentworth proves itself as the top dog of television
Seven years behind bars is a long, long time. The thought of being cast out of the world and sentenced to spend time in an overcrowded, dangerous prison, where trying to survive is paramount, is enough to make your palms sweat.
But for the cast and crew behind the success of Foxtel's Wentworth, their cement confines are home.
The Australian drama, which debuted in 2013, has continued to push the boundaries each season. Brutal and brave, Wentworth producers showcased their intent from the outset with a volatile inmate, a riot and a shock death - all in the pilot episode.
Fans were instantly hooked, and a hit series was born.
'What just happened?!'
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."
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."
Ladies in lock-up
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. 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 MacIntosh, 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.
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."
Doing it for the last time?
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?'"
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 chest," 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."