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EXCLUSIVE: Asher Keddie embracing her power at 50

Now entering her next decade, she shares her path from insecurity to feeling empowered.

When Asher Keddie began filming her latest television project, Fake – in which she both stars and produces – something unusual happened.

It wasn’t her first producing role – that had happened the previous year with mega-hit Binge series Strife. Nor was she a stranger to being the central character in a show that demanded long hours on set: Offspring (which ran from 2010-2017) had seen to that.

She was used to juggling constant travel with kids, home, husband and the minutiae of maintaining all aspects of life beyond the set on a multitude of jobs. But for the first time, Asher found herself uttering three words that she’d never thought would leave her lips: “I need help”.

For decades she’d bare-knuckled her way through the demands on her time and attention, and felt proud of herself for doing so. Like many women, she’d felt there would be a sense of shame in asking for external help to lighten her load – especially when it came to her home life.

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan

“But I stretched myself too thin,” she tells The Weekly of her tipping point. “I got to the point where it was getting silly trying to manage everything, and the pressure on us [as a family] was too much and just not necessary.

“So, I finally got some help at the end of last year and I have to say it’s been a game changer – to have someone assist myself and [husband] Vincent, and the family as a whole. I’m breathing a bit more and feeling so much more energised by what’s ahead.

“This year is feeling like there’s more room for everybody to enjoy each other and less running around. Vincent [Fantauzzo, an artist] can still work the hours he wants to.

“I feel lucky that it doesn’t have to be a strain to want to work but also be with your children and each other. We’re doing really well now, which is good.”

So why hadn’t she done this earlier?

“There was that feeling, that sense of ‘you’re falling short’,” she explains, “and nobody enjoys that feeling. But there’s no shame in asking for help. I just didn’t want to do it when the kids [Luca, 14, and Valentino, nine] were really little because I wanted to be able to do it all. But with a pair of extra hands and another brain helping us out, actually I can do so much more.”

This is just one of many mental shifts Asher is discovering as she enters a new decade of her life; and the changes she is making as a result are leaving her feeling equal parts more at ease and powerful.
As she prepares to turn 50 on July 31, she reflects: “I’m up for life in a way that I never have been. I feel like the most interesting stories are coming my way at the moment – as an older woman – certainly more interesting things than when I was in my 20s and 30s. Ageism is not present for me, I’m rejecting it. I’m feeling much more vital.

“Now the stories that I want to hear about are available, and I have the knowledge and experience and power to make them. I feel excited about the people I’m working with and the possibilities of the next 10 years. I don’t feel any trepidation or worry, which is such a relief actually.”

It’s an interesting observation.

offspring – season 4

Since first stepping onto a professional TV set at the age of nine, Asher has always appeared completely in control and confident in her ability. Speaking to several of her frequent collaborators in advance of writing this story, we hear words like “uncompromising”, “disciplined”, “direct”, “fiercely intelligent”, “resolute” and “questing” used to describe the actress on and off set.

Certainly, watching her confidently take charge at our photo shoot – quickly making decisions about outfits, poses, locations and more – it’s hard to imagine Asher as someone who ever doubted her ability or felt worried about her choices. But she suffered from what she’s dubbed “crippling shyness” as a teenager. And in her 20s and early 30s she struggled with imposter syndrome on set, as well as low self-esteem.

“Of course, that’s growing up, isn’t it?” she muses. “You hope you reach a point one day where you actually feel comfortable in your own skin. I do now and I’m pleased about that, but growing up, and through my 20s in particular, there were times when I felt I perhaps needed to act or behave a certain way so I seemed to be intelligent and attractive.

“I do remember not always having that self-esteem. So then, choices that I made along the years, some of them I look back on now and think: ‘Gosh, if only you’d been able to recognise at that time that you were worthy of love and someone’s attention’. I could have saved myself a lot of grief.

“You spend more time when you’re younger trying to please other people. And this is the best thing about getting to this age, isn’t it? You get to the point where you go, ‘I don’t need to do that anymore’. And then life just becomes more enjoyable.”

LOS ANGELES – OCTOBER 5: The Last Frontier. A CBS made-for-TV movie miniseries. A widowed woman faces challenges in the Australian outback with her children. Pictured left to right, Beth Buchanan (as Zoe Hannon); Jack Thompson (as Nick Stenning); Asher Keddie (as Emma Hannon); Linda Evans (as Kate Adamson Hannon); Peter Billingsley (as Marty Adamson) and Meredith Salenger (as Tina Adamson). Originally broadcast October 5, 1986. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Fake director Emma Freeman can attest to this shift in the woman she’s shared plenty of life’s milestones with over the past two decades. The pair met in 2007, when season two of hit series Love My Way was going into production. It was one of Emma’s first jobs and she vividly remembers the initial read-through. She watched the cool blonde at the table, surrounded by some of Australia’s best actors, and thought,

“I’m intimidated by her”.

So she was surprised to learn that the woman who would not only go on to become a frequent collaborator – reuniting on Offspring and Stateless (2020) – but also a close friend, was far from at ease in her own skin.

“It’s wonderful to see her grow and evolve,” Emma tells The Weekly, “to refine her intuition and her personal power. We’ve gone through a lot together. We’ve gone from our single years to our marriage years to now kids, so hopefully we’ll end up in the same retirement village.”

“Intimidating” is a word Asher says she’s heard bandied about a bit when people refer to her. Part of that, she believes, is down to the fact that – having grown up in what she dubs a “house full of feminists” – she’s always had a strong voice.

“I remember being reassured all the time that I was allowed to express myself, that I had a voice,” she reflects. “I was allowed to feel confident, and being ambitious about life wasn’t something to be ashamed of.”

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan

Perhaps it’s also that, according to Imogen Banks (a producer who Asher first worked with on Offspring and reunites with for Fake), “she has a nose for the truth. Like a little truffle pig, she kind of hunts it out”.

Hearing this descriptor, Asher throws her head back and bursts into laughter.

“She doesn’t hold back, does she?” she says. “But I love that description because it’s the truth. And I can be intense about getting to the truth. I want to connect with people in a way that is authentic and deep rather than on the surface. I’ve always been like that, it’s not something that happened later in life. I’ve always appeared intense.”

That intensity has served her well in her career. When Asher stepped onto her first TV set at age nine, she instantly knew she’d found the world she’d continue to live in for the rest of her life. It was a huge Disney series called Five Mile Creek, then filming its third season. Also in the cast that year was a 17-year-old Nicole Kidman.

“Those were the days when Australia and America were filming those big co-productions, big miniseries in the outback, and I was the lucky duck that got to go and do them,” she marvels of being plucked out of primary school to work on a star-packed TV set.

“They were very positive, very exciting and full experiences. There were probably times when I felt a little vulnerable … I was leading a very different life to my school friends. But I look back on those times and that was what made me fall in love with what I still get to do now.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – AUGUST 10: Vincent Fantauzzo and Asher Keddie attends the world premiere of “Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story” at the Forum for the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) on August 10, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Sam Tabone/Getty Images)

There was, of course, the risk she would feel ostracised by her peers. “I remember a couple of times where it felt a bit weird, or I felt self-conscious. In year seven, I remember feeling a bit ‘other’ in a way that I didn’t want to at that time.

“That’s always been a tussle for me,” she reflects. “I’ve always wanted to feel a bit ‘other’ and have a big life and be appreciated for the work that I do. But juxtaposing that, I’ve always felt reasonably shy about standing out. Part of me wishes it was all just private and I could enjoy the process, and then the other part of me wants everybody to know about it.”

She chuckles at this, admitting it’s a well-known conundrum that comes with the profession and not one she bothers herself with overly. It hasn’t affected her friendships, she adds. In fact, her closest girlfriends are those she met back in primary school.

Despite the multiple successes which have come her way since that first job, Asher has managed to avoid falling into the multitude of traps that can come with fame. She’s always put her home life first, and she’s been able to separate the tabloid headlines from the truth. Even during those peak years on Offspring, when the show was breaking ratings records, Emma recalls, “I never saw a shift in Asher. She’s the same person today as she was 20 years ago.”

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan

“She was living in the country, looking after these rescued racehorses while she was making Offspring,” Imogen adds, “driving for an hour each way. She’s her own person and she was just doing her own thing.”

American political trailblazer Madeleine Albright once famously said, “Women can have it all, just not all at the same time”. Asher might be one to break that rule.

Asking for help was the first step. Working with women who she’s found that simpatico with – Emma, Imogen and also producer Bruna Papandrea, who she’s about to reunite with for a second season of Strife – has also been key. Surrounding herself with people with whom she can speak her mind and dissect life’s problems is something Asher enjoys and also encourages in her kids.

“I don’t like intense arguments, but I do like to pull things apart with people,” she says. And she believes that attitude has been core to maintaining integrity at work and at home.

“Look, nobody draws breath in my house. It’s constant communication. Sometimes it’s a bit rowdy, but it’s great,” she says.

“And if there’s one thing Vincent and I have always discussed openly with the kids it’s that it’s really important and far more beneficial to our close relationships that we tell the truth. Because we all love each other and want to trust each other.

“I remind them all the time that they’re not going to get in trouble. You can talk to us, your mum and dad, about anything and you’re not going to be condemned for it. We can help you. We care about each other enough that we can deal with anything.”

Photography by Peter Brew-Bevan

Truth is a topic that is central to Asher’s latest project, Fake, a TV series based on the candid memoir by Stephanie Wood that’s soon to drop on Paramount+. Asher plays Birdie, a 40-something journalist who falls in love with a man who is far from who he seems. A strong and independent woman, Birdie is chasing the “happily ever after” many women are taught to seek from birth. And when she meets architect-turned-farmer Joe (played by David Wenham), she feels she’s found it, despite his constant disappearances, half-truths and outright lies. Explaining away the red flags – even when they scream – draws her further into his web. And Asher imbues the character with just the right mix of vulnerability, hope and smarts.

It’s gripping television and easy to see how she was drawn to the project – not just as an actor but also as a producer. She found certain scenes “triggering”, she tells us now. She could relate to the idea of pushing her own instincts down in order to keep someone else happy, and of lying to oneself to stay in a relationship which is far from healthy. Though those days were long ago.

“I don’t know of any young person who hasn’t made those sort of choices when they felt that they weren’t worthy,” Asher says, “and the hope is that this will be relatable in many ways.”

Fake premieres on Thursday, July 4 on Paramount+.

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