Wentworth’s new jail love secret
Actor Kate Box got her first taste of the global popularity of Australian TV drama Wentworth on holiday in the US.
Box's partner, Jada Alberts, starred as intimate Toni Goodes in season one of Wentworth back in 2013. When the couple were in San Francisco a few years back Alberts was stopped on the street by fans.
"These women were besides themselves to see someone from Wentworth," Box says.
"I thought 'Wow, this show has reach'. It's exciting to know it talks to so many people and is championed by so many people."
NIDA graduate Box was most recently seen in SBS' Stateless with Cate Blanchett and was nominated for an AACTA award for her role in ABC's Les Norton with Rebel Wilson.
She won an AACTA for Best Lead Actress for her 2018 role as Marg McMann in ABC's Riot - based on the 1978 protests that led to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras - and has been in Rake, Picnic At Hanging Rock, F---ing Adelaide (where Wentworth's Pamela Rabe played her mother) and Offspring as well as extensive theatre work.
Almost a year ago Box and family relocated to Melbourne to film the final season of Wentworth; with her first episodes airing next week for the penultimate season on Foxtel.
Box plays Lou Kelly, a career criminal who'd first gone to jail as a teenager, becoming Top Dog at Wentworth in the pre-Bea Smith era. The season return sees Box back in Wentworth for a 10-year stint after a botched armed robbery.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone working on it who wasn't a Wentworth fan," Box says.
"It definitely holds its ghosts," Box says of the drama's set. "The first time I walked into the shower block I had visions of those awful things that had happened in there on previous seasons, that horrifying scene where the Freak was assaulted. These terrible gory images jump out at you when you're on set - oh this person was necked here, that person got shivved there. It's like some gruesome tour of ye olde Sydney.
"But it's thrilling at the same time. On my first day of filming my character was chucked into isolation. They were saying 'Kate do you want to pop out and get some fresh air between takes?' and I was happy to just sit there and try and get used to being in this tiny space. I got a glimpse into what it might feel like in real life."
Lou Kelly enters Wentworth with boyfriend Reb Keane (played by Zoe Terakes) - the pair met at a private clinic where Kelly was undergoing anger management. Transgender Keane's parents had sent him there to "cure" his gender identity issues - Reb was born Rebecca but always knew he was in the wrong body.
"Lou is so madly in love with Reb and would do anything to protect him and keep him safe," Box says.
"It's pretty beautiful to be able to play that love story. She can really justify so much of her behaviour because she's out to keep this man safe. She's a beautifully complex character, I love that about her, she can be humorous but also a thug, but also incredibly delicate with Reb. It's a great Romeo and Juliet story."
Kelly also corrects anyone who misgenders her boyfriend - now struggling being in a woman's prison and trying to get access to testosterone - the pair were stealing to raise money for Reb's surgery.
"Language is so crucial," Box says. "To be talked about in the right terms is really important. All the writers and producers were really careful with their language and words, so were the characters, it was a great thing to see evolve in this series.
"It's a conversation that's happening at the moment in the media, it feels like it's long overdue but there's now a platform to talk about it more and we definitely use that platform."
Terakes, whose preferred pronoun is their, identifies as non-binary while Box is a proud gay women.
"There's something to be said for having queer actors play queer roles," Box says. "You bring with you a lifetime of living in those shoes. The community is part of who you are. There's something really powerful in playing queer roles, it makes me a braver human.
"For so long we haven't been telling our own stories - or those stories haven't be told - so to be able to a guardian of those characters is really special and pretty important for our industry and our community, to see representation on screen."
Box says her role as gay activist Marg McCann in Riot was a turning point in her career.
"I found a new-found bravery as an actor shooting Riot. Sitting dead centre in a story that was so important to me and not hiding behind anything as an actor, I was an open and out gay woman playing this incredible gay woman. I felt so much stronger because of it and I'm grateful that feeling has stayed with me. I feel a braver and more courageous actor because of it. Coming into Wentworth where you're surrounded by extraordinary artists, it's fun to step in there ready to run full pace."
The cast are currently filming the last 10 of Wentworth's final 20 episodes - it will end in 2021 - while adhering to strict COVID-19 restrictions on set.
Box admits her character's violent treats can sometimes be hard to leave at work.
"You have to get home and put the pasta on and cuddle the kids. They help me switch off really quickly. Sometimes the material lingers around a little bit, you hug your kids a little tighter, stay in their bunk and read one more book to bring you back down to earth."
Wentworth Redemption: Foxtel Showcase, Tuesday, 8.30pm
Originally published as Wentworth's new jail love secret