Tammy MacIntosh - I broke down
3rd June 2019 - New Idea
By Stephen Downie
On screen, we're used to seeing Tammy Macintosh as fierce Top Dog Kaz in popular prison drama, Wentworth. It's the role of a lifetime for Tammy, but it's taken a toll on the actress.
She says the often physically and emotionally demanding scenes can affect her long after the director calls "cut".
"I'll go... home after filming, make dinner, sit down and just completely break down," Tammy, 49, tells New Ideas, ahead of Season 7 of the Foxtel drama. "That's my body's way of coping; of just saying, 'release it'."
Introduced in Wentworth's Season 3, in 2015, Tammy's character, Karen 'Kaz' Proctor, is the leader of the vigilante group Red Right Hand and has been in the middle of the mayhem from the get-go.
The intensity of the series, which is filmed in Melbourne, took some getting used to for the actress, but her husband, Mark Yeats, has been there for her. The couple married in 2005 and have a son, Benjamin, together.
"In my first season, I was very lost, completely consumed with emotion and overwhelmed with the character I was given," Tammy recalls. "One morning, I was walking along the promenade at St Kilda, and my husband called and I broke down in tears saying, 'I can't do this'. He says, 'Go for a run and have a cry, I'll talk to you tonight', and by doing that he doesn't let me get too indulgent. He lets me have a moment and then come out the other side."
Tammy has been a regular face on TV screens since her TV debut on much-loved series The Flying Doctors in 1989. Since then, she's had roles in series such as Police Rescue and as Dr Charlotte Beaumont in hospital drama All Saints.
Along with her husband, it's her former All Saints - and now Wentworth - co-star Celia Ireland who has been a big support for Tammy while filming Wentworth away from her family.
"Calling Celia Ireland every night and going through the day has been key," she says. "We support each other."
The beauty, she adds, of the cast of Wentworth, is there's "not an ego in sight".
"There's no time, no room," she says. "You have to be a stripped back actor here because you have to have room to take it on, and then afterwards, to let it all go.
Celia agrees that she and Tammy have often leaned on each other after a particularly gruelling day on set.
"We both have family in Sydney, Tam and I," Celia, 53 says. "You'd have a really heavy day on set and you'd just ring and go, 'Shall we go for a walk?' or, 'Come over for a cuppa', or, 'Let's go to dinner', and you just debrief and get it all out."
As fans of Wentworth know, scenes of the series can be very intense. In season 5, Kaz's life was on the line when the prison van she and Will Jackson (Robbie Magasiva) were in, crashed into a dam. After freeing himself, Will eventually saved Kaz from drowning.
"I went home that night after filming the scenes and I was shaking until I went to bed," Tammy reveals. "I felt like I'd been in a real car accident."
Then there are the scenes where the characters verbally - and sometimes physically - abuse each other, such as the Season 5 episode where Joan 'The Freak' Ferguson (Pamela Rabe) was lynched by the other inmates.
"Pamela is extraordinary, but let me tell you, I saw Pamela after that scene, sitting in the trauma of what she'd been through," Tammy says. "We are all human. We all suffer the same reactions. It's really hurtful, hardcore abuse some days from other actors, as their characters, and you have to process that."
There is no let up for Kaz this season as she faces off with her enemy, the icy Marie Winter (Susie Porter), who was involved in dealing drugs and human trafficking on the outside.
"Kaz was abused as a child and she is angry and reactive," Tammy says. "She's like a ticking time bomb that's about to go off at any time."
For Tammy, Wentworth has been the most "ridiculously confronting" job of her career, but at the same time, it's been her most rewarding.
"I've been acting for 31 years this year, and I would never have imagined, as a teenager on The Flying Doctors, that I would be capable of putting myself in the shoes of Kaz Proctor. I'm so grateful for the experience.