Deborah Mailman on Total Control’s Alex Irving: ‘Struggling with her responsibilities’

Deborah Mailman

Border closures meant filming this season moved from Winton to Broken Hill

Deborah Mailman’s character, the member for Freeman Alex Irving, is quite different to the political novice we met in season one of the Blackfella Films’ series Total Control. The new season starts this weekend on ABC and iview.

“She is feeling the frustration of not being able to really achieve what she wants for her electorate,” Mailman told Mediaweek. “This time around she feels she can’t win with either political party so she decides to run as an independent.

“Her character faces almost an impossible task.”

Mailman said Alex is driven though by optimism that she can make a difference.

Deborah Mailman

“The second series opens up regional Australia a little more and the issues that impact people in country towns. There is a lot of emotional stress and the writers have taken her almost to breaking point.

“Alex suffers a lot more personal attacks and she is struggling with the weight of her responsibilities.”

Mailman said her memory of season one was that it was both hard work and a wonderful experience. “The joy of being given a character such as Alex allows an actor to really flex their muscles. The writers gave me so much to work with. I loved the rage she had on the surface and for her to be so unapologetic.

“In season two Alex uses her negotiations skills a little more as she realises she can’t afford to create too many enemies. She must find friends and make alliances in this world and become less of a one-woman show. She is trying to be better and listening to people understanding what common ground her and the other independents have.”

One of the big attractions for viewers of Total Control is watching Mailman and Rachel Griffith acting – individually and in scenes when they are together.

Mailman: “At the beginning of the series you won’t see much of Alex and Rachel together. The scene I was waiting for in the script is when they finally do get together. They do have a conversation they should have had in season one. It was one of my favourite scenes to film with Rachel. They let loose and really tell each other what they were thinking.

“They have to start working together again. Alex can’t avoid the fact that Rachel Anderson is here to stay. From episode three onwards you might see these women gravitating towards each other again.”

Another reason to watch Total Control again is Wayne Blair as “political lifer” Paul Murphy. As well as taking on a role, he directed the whole series. “He wants it all,” laughed Mailman about one of her dearest friends. “He is both fabulous in the role of Paul Murphy and as a director. He was very good at hiding any pressure, if he was feeling it, of holding down both roles. I have now known him for so long that we work so well together. It was good seeing the business side of Wayne Blair coming out when he was behind the camera.”

“He wants it all!” Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair

Border closures meant that for season two of the series they couldn’t film at Winton is Queensland. “We ended up filming in Broken Hill,” explained Mailman, just one of the impacts Covid-19 had on the series.

“The producers have done a good job of matching the landscapes. We had a great time filming in Broken Hill and had good support from the locals. We also were able to go back to Canberra for a week.”

Mailman is hopeful for a season three of Total Control, with the producers expecting to hear soon about the likelihood of that happening.

Mailman also keeps busy on the board of Screen Australia, giving her a look at the industry she hasn’t had previously. “You get an overview of the industry and its various components, something you just don’t get as an actor.”

Although Mailman supports a number of causes, she draws the line at calling herself an activist. “I feel an activist is somebody who is probably far more active than I have ever been. When I am called upon to do something I will do it, but I don’t really take the initiative.”

One change Mailman has lobbied for is stronger quotas for Australian content on screens. “A lot of us are really passionate about having Australian stories told, especially now with giant streaming services entering the market.”

Deborah Mailman: Broken Hill karaoke star

Mailman loved working with the cast of Total Control, with season two featuring colleagues from season one plus newcomers.

Wes Patten is always a joy to work with as I play his mother. New cast members this time include Steph Tisdell, Alex Dimitriades, Harry Greenwoods, Rob Carlton and Colin Friels. They all inject a level of skill into the production.”

One memorable night on location stands out in Mailman’s memory.

“We did some karaoke in Broken Hill at The Palace, one of the best nights I have had for some time.”

Mailman’s songs that night – The Divinyls’ Boys in Town and Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.

See also: Andrew Mercado on Total Control

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