Anna Torv: “I fought back the tears and carried on!”

The Newsreader star opens up about sexism in the media industry, and more.

Anna Torv won the AACTA Best Actress award and a Silver Logie for her brilliant portrayal of spiky vulnerable news anchor Helen Norville in ABC’s hit TV series The Newsreader, and now she’s back in an explosive second series that will have viewers on the edge of their seats.

“Helen’s fun to play because you can fly off the handle and you don’t have to hold any of the stuff in. It’s like you can just shoot from the hip,” Anna tells The Weekly.

But while Helen is holding her own in the newsroom, jaw-dropping misogyny lurks around every corner. She’s branded “aggressive and argumentative” when she nails male politicians in her interviews, and ultimately is forced to pander to her male bosses’ views of how a woman should behave.

Such sexism may be portraying a moment in time – this season begins in 1987 – but Anna says the behaviour still goes on and especially resonated with her.

“There’s one scene where William McInnes’s character is really attacking Helen. It’s cruel, I felt for her and I’ve had that [at work] on a set,” she admits. While she won’t identify the person involved, “this was not that long ago,” she says. “You don’t talk about it because you think this is the place I work and I have to rock up.”

What did Anna do? “I fought back the tears and carried on!” she says proudly.

Anna Torv

Anna likes Helen but feels sad for her in this series and says there is a little bit of her own experience in the portrayal. “I think you always recognise parts of yourself. One of the things I really recognise is that professional versus personal persona. And that’s not just acting; that’s anybody who walks around in the world where people may recognise them or see them, you’re different with the people you are intimate with and trust.”

For Helen, Dale is that special person, but in season two we see their relationship under the microscope and take some surprising turns. “I think Dale is perfect for her and you can’t discount the fact that the friendship started from a true intimacy and vulnerability. It comes from a place where they both see each other at their worst and it’s okay, that was what the first season was really. See me! See me without the guard and see me without the veil and see me without the mask… that’s what we all strive for.

“Dale did cheat on her though and she’s forgiven him, but it’s a hard thing to swallow and I didn’t think that was going to hit Helen as much as it did.”

In Series Two, Helen and Dale are now established as TV’s ‘Golden Couple of News’, perfectly matched on-screen and off. But behind the scenes, cracks are starting to show with seismic changes about to hit the nation, the media industry and Helen’s private life.

For Anna Torv, Helen Norville is “an absolute joy to play” but it’s the whole team that makes this show really special. Her co-stars Sam Reid and William McInnes, director Emma Freeman and the whole team clicked right from the get go, which is rare.

“Sometimes you do and sometimes you really don’t; you never know when it’s going to happen – but this was just a perfect little group,” Anna says.

The Fringe actress sitting on a chair.

Who is Anna Torv?

As a little girl growing up in the hinterland of NSW’s Gold Coast with her younger brother Dylan and single mum Susan, Anna Torv would perform little monologues from books at home and at local eisteddfods. “I still have the home videos,” she smiles. “And it’s funny because I look back – and I’m in my mid-40s now – and I still cringe a little bit at how precocious I was. Yes, I’m quite mortified. But I was totally unafraid.”

At school Anna was cast in musicals, and in her spare time she joined the local amateur Spotlight Theatre, but it was all just for fun. Anna never dreamed she could pursue a career in acting. “It just wasn’t something I thought was possible” she tells me.

Then at Benowa State High School, she took a TAFE acting program and suddenly her horizons opened. Her teacher immediately saw something in Anna and encouraged her to apply to national drama schools. Anna was surprised but prepared to give it a go. “Mum was super supportive. She had done amateur theatre; my grandmother was from Chinchilla and she had run the little local arts council there, so it was a familiar thing, theatre, but not as a job.”

“My teacher helped prep my stuff and I auditioned for Queensland Theatre and for NIDA [the National Institute of Dramatic Art, the nation’s most prestigious acting school] and then luckily I got in,” says Anna. 

This was her big break. She packed her bags for Sydney and savoured every moment. “I was just broke at drama school, but I loved it. I was probably one of the lucky ones and got some pretty great parts. I feel like it really did teach me a lot.  And I still use technique that I learned there.”

For Anna, NIDA also gave her a sense of belonging for the first time. “Mum was always moving house and I went to so many different schools – I’ve never even been to a school reunion. But I feel really proud to be part of NIDA.”

After graduation, Anna got a job straight away in a play at The Stables Theatre in Sydney’s King’s Cross, and to pay the bills starred in a few commercials – a Nestle ad, a Cup-A-Soup ad and a great one for Dulux paint.

Then she was cast as Ophelia in the Bell Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet which toured the nation including playing at the Sydney Opera House.

In a whirl of success, Anna Torv went to London where for the most part she struggled. “I found London really hard. I got really close to a couple of things and then it was always ‘your accent’,” she recalls.

“I’d gone off on the smell of an oil rag and I didn’t have much cash. It was pretty humbling, to be honest, because I’d done a couple of big parts in Australia and I ended up playing an ICU nurse in Frankenstein.  You forget – it’s tough coming up. Everyone was pretty rude. I had one line and the cast didn’t even look me in the eye. I thought ‘far out, this is a really different experience’.”

Then on the same day she was filming “the stupid ICU nurse,” she heard she’d landed a part in hit TV series Mistresses. The part was small, but it was a relief. She also tested for TV miniseries The Pacific, a role she won and filmed back in Australia.

What happened next changed her life. “I’d done a network test for a show that hadn’t happened and from that test was asked to audition for a new science fiction TV series called Fringe.” Anna was cast as the lead – FBI agent Olivia Dunham – and the rest is history. “It all happened pretty quickly. We shot the pilot in Toronto and then filmed the first season in New York and ended up doing five years – four in Vancouver – which is a bloody long time.”

Anna’s nomadic lifestyle moving from city to city is the price she has paid for a successful career. “I was married for a bit but not really very long. He was all over the place as well. You just get used to it,” she laughs.

Fortunately Anna Torv thrives on her own. “You do have to. You don’t realise how transient your life is. It’s so normal to pack up at a moment’s notice. You just have friends everywhere: LA, the UK, you just pick them up. I’ve got some beautiful and long-term friends but they’re always not where I am.”

Inevitably, work took Anna to Los Angeles where she settled down, became a mother and bought a house.

Anna Torv.

Why did Anna Torv quit LA?

As an Aussie, living through the election of Donald Trump was “fascinating” Anna says. “You live in your little [liberal] bubble and everyone was saying this is a joke. And then in the build-up to the election we were shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where there were a lot of Trump signs. We were working in a Red [Republican] state and I absolutely knew it wasn’t a joke. And when COVID came down there was a lot of tension in LA.”

Anna wasn’t working at this time and almost overnight her world was shutting down. “They closed the schools, which was eerie, and then they closed the universities, and then they said, ‘stay home!’. I had friends in the UK saying, ‘we’re going to go back to Australia’ and one in Australia telling me ‘they’re calling you home, you should just get on a plane’. So I said, ‘okay, I think I will’.”

Anna moved back to a suburb near where she grew up and is already feeling settled. “It’s an easier life and family is here,” she muses. “It’s less familiar because I’ve spent more of my adult life over there than I have here. But you just always love home. Your heart is here.”

And while there are still sexism battles to be fought in her industry, Anna Torv is pleased to say there are more roles than ever for women over 40. “I think if there was a time to get older on screen now is it. I feel I’m pretty lucky. I’m getting some pretty great opportunities,” she says.

“To be honest, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be”. 

Series two of The Newsreader starts on September 10 on ABC TV and ABC iview.

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