Much-loved Australian actress, Jessica Marais has played lead roles in two hugely successful television drama series and has recently returned to our screens in the much-anticipated Wrong Girl. I caught up with the rising star to discover what viewers can expect from her latest role.
Jessica Marais first came to our attention as Rachel Rafter on the popular Australian television drama Packed to the Rafters in 2008, a role that not only launched, but catapulted her acting career and put her firmly on the map as one of Australia’s brightest up and coming young screen actors.
Since then, the NIDA graduate has gone on to win a string of awards for her work and has recently returned to our screens as Lily, one of the lead characters in the new Network Ten series Wrong Girl.
“I was so lucky to get my break straight out of drama school,” says Jessica. “I was so excited that I was leaving NIDA to go directly to a job and I didn’t have that fear that a lot of actors face.
“Drama school is so intense every day for three years, so when students finish, it’s quite a shock to the system and then having to get out there and audition and face rejection is hard.”
Little did she know the new TV drama she had landed a lead role in would be the highest rating show to screen on the Seven network in 2008 and continue to be among the top five TV shows of the year throughout its five-year run.
I loved working in the US … but it’s just not practical for me right now. I am very happy working here in Australia at the moment.”
“I wasn’t prepared for the way it was going to change my life. Looking back, I had no awareness around that at all. I went into it thinking, ‘Great I can pay my bills!’
“I was so excited to be working with the likes of Mike Thompson and Michael Caton. Hugh Sheridan, who went through NIDA with me and is a dear friend of mine, was cast as my brother. I remember saying to him, ‘Great we are going to get three meals a day made for us and a regular paycheck and work together with awesome actors’, that’s about the extent to which I thought it through. I had no idea it was going to change my life in so many ways.”
Jessica won a Logie award for Most Popular New Female talent and the prestigious Graham Kennedy award for Most Outstanding New Talent in 2009 for her portrayal of Rachel Rafter.
It was also during this time that she became romantically involved with her onscreen love interest James Stewart. The couple, who were engaged for five years and have a four-year-old daughter together, parted amicably in May last year.
After a brief stint on US television, Jessica returned to Australia to play the role of Australian transgender entertainer and gay rights activist Carlotta in a television drama mini series, for which she received critical acclaim, before landing her next big role as Doctor Joan Miller on Channel Nine’s Love Child, which earned her the coveted Silver Logie Award for Best Actress in 2016.
I wasn’t prepared for the way it was going to change my life. Looking back, I had no awareness around that at all. I went into it thinking, ‘Great I can pay my bills!”
“I just loved working with the actors on Love Child,” says Jessica. “I have been lucky enough to keep working and learning – I am still learning new things every day.
“Last season, Matt Le Nevez was beautiful to work with, very considered and authentic, as was Jonathan LaPaglia and Mandy McElhinney. When you have great actors to work opposite it makes your job so much easier.”
Speaking from the set of her most recent venture, Wrong Girl, which went to air late last month, Jessica is excited to be cast as one of the lead roles playing Lily, the producer of a cooking segment on a morning television show who finds herself torn between two very different men.
Joining Jessica is a star-studded cast including Craig McLachlan, Kerry Armstrong, Hamish Blake and Madeleine West.
“It’s a phenomenal cast of really incredible actors,” says Jessica.
“Wrong Girl offers a real insight into the world of people who work in breakfast television. It’s really interesting and funny and quirky.
“We have been really lucky with Wrong Girl that we were able to have a rehearsal, which is a luxury in television that you don’t often get. I’m a huge fan of that, I think the longer you can sit with the character and script, the better.”
Based on the novel by Zoe Foster Blake, Jessica says the talented writer has been “incredibly supportive with the project”.
“Handing over Lily and the other characters to the actors to make them their own would be quite confronting for any writer. You have created them in your head and on paper and then you watch them reincarnated for television.”
So what does a day in the life of Jessica Marais look like these days and how does she juggle her career with the demands of motherhood?
“At the moment my day is – wake up, sit in the make-up chair, do 14 hours of filming where I don’t have five minutes to think, and then I come home, prepare my script for the next day, have dinner, go to bed and then get up the next day and do it all again.
“Sometimes if I am lucky I get to Skype with my daughter Scout and then as soon as I wrap it’s straight on a plane to Sydney where I can be Mum for a couple of days. At the moment we have been doing six days a week, so sometimes I only have Sunday with her but I try to make the most of that precious day.”
As for the future, Jessica says while she hasn’t ruled out working overseas again, home is where the heart is right now.
“I loved working in the US and I may do so again down the track, but it’s just not practical for me right now. I am very happy working here in Australia at the moment. I’m passionate about the projects I am currently working on and our Aussie industry.”
Stay tuned, something tells me it won’t be long before our golden girl joins the A-list of talented Aussie actors making their mark on the big screen.