Rachael Taylor isn't afraid to speak her mind, writes Jim Schembri.
THE challenge for Rachael Taylor is simple: survive the first few questions of our interview in one piece and she'll never have to prove her courage again.
She loves it. More than loves it. She eats it up. ''I like people that are not frightened to say what they think,'' she says. ''Yeah, go for it.''
Taylor is on a double-barrelled high right now. Proud of the success of Red Dog - which has now outperformed the original Mad Max - she's also talk-the-leg-off-an-iron-horse excited about her supporting role in Any Questions for Ben?, the new comedy film from Working Dog - the team that gave us The Castle (1997) and The Dish (2000). ''I'm really happy to be talking about this film,'' she chirps.
Yeah, we'll get to that.
Whatever you say about Taylor, you sure can't fault her for being a straight shooter. It's a cornerstone of her character. Example: mention The Darkest Hour, the recent Russian
sci-fi epic in which she starred, and the first thing out of her mouth is: ''Did you hate it?'' Forget us. Did she? ''Can I be really brutal and maybe don't ? oh, print it if you want ? but I think the first couple of acts of the film work reasonably well and the second couple of acts maybe work less well.'' As for Charlie's Angels, cancelled after four episodes: ''You know what? F---! It was not very good.''
"Actually ... look - and this is not me playing politics - I love the studio, I love (producer) Drew Barrymore, I love the girls, I loved the costumes, I loved the idea of revamping it - but for whatever the strange alchemy that film and television is, that pot just wouldn't bubble."
When Taylor told people about it, the feedback was ominous. "You know what? I caught it really early, which was really good for me. I remember when I booked the job, I thought it was a great idea to remake it. I imagined this camp remaking of women detectives and I thought, 'oh, this is gonna be cheeky and great'. Intellectually, the idea really pleased me, but I remember telling people. They'd say, 'hey, what are you doing next?' and I would say, 'I'm doing the remake of Charlie's Angels!' and people went 'uhh'. There wasn't that cultural (she makes an odd noise designed to approximate a zing). It wasn't there. There was no intrigue."
It's in this spirit we probe about the catastrophe with Matthew Newton. The topic is not only on the table, she welcomes it, partly because she's been blessed with a respectful media. ''People have been kind,'' she says. ''Let's get it out of the way.''
So much is on the record about the sequence of events in 2010 - the assaults, the restraining orders - and she's been asked about them a thousand times. But what's it like being inside a disaster over which you have no control? What thoughts course through your mind?
''No one's ever asked that,'' the 27-year-old says, surprised. ''My main thought was, 'You get back on course right now. Right now is the moment you get back on track and you don't deviate again.' ? I've got good men in my life. I've had very fortunate career moments and I've protected my career, I've invested in it. I said to myself ?'' She pauses. '''You get back on track immediately and you keep your head above water and you hold your head high.' It's dignity, dignity, dignity.''
Did panic ever strike about her career? She pauses again. ''No, no, no. It was like coming out of water. It always felt from that moment that actually my life went back into living colour.'' She interrupts the next question. ''Can I just clarify the 'living colours' thing? It wasn't because the attention was exciting - the attention was daunting - but my self-esteem suddenly flared back up and I went, 'I'm going to protect it.'''
Is she hyper-concious about the poison-tipped dart that celebrity can be?"No I'm not," she says with lightning-fast candour. "But I suddenly worried if maybe that was a question I should have asked myself a little more seriously because I don't take the idea of celebrity very seriously. I do think this cultural shift that we've had even in the last couple of years, suddenly everybody's become a bit silly. It's like, what am I going to do? Get in line behind Kim Kardashian? That's not my life. I have so much sense of separation. Having private issues made public made me realise the intense separation between the way it looks and the way it is. It doesn't cost me anything to separate the two.
If Taylor has airs she hides them well. While promoting the fine Australian drama Cedar Boys in 2009, she was fresh from Michael Bay's Transformers and acutely aware of how far she had to go as an actress. She still is. ''I couldn't try to pitch, like, serious, worthy actress at you,'' she says, her slight frame casually jackknifed on the couch. ''I don't think I'm going to fool anyone with any sort of artisty thing.''
That said, she credits herself with a ''funky brain'' and found making Any Questions for Ben? stimulating.
''I'm not a guarded person by nature but I'm pretty cerebrally driven,'' she says. ''Working with [director] Rob Sitch was an enormous catharsis for me because he's actually the first director to teach me how to let my brain muscle inform my emotional muscle. No one had ever taught me that before - that it was OK to analyse, to have a hyperactive brain, that intellect is not a dirty word for an artist.
''This is, I think, the first time I watched a performance and - this actually may be a bit revealing - but it's the first time I watched a performance and felt like I wasn't protecting myself emotionally.''
Ben attacks the fallacy that plenty of free casual sex leads to happiness.
''I've got many thoughts on this,'' Taylor says, nearly springing off the couch. She mentions a discussion she saw on television about the access teens have to pornography.
''I do support a sex-positive attitude for young people. Use condoms, that's important. I love the idea that promiscuity can be healthy but it's got some dodgy crevasses. Ooh, that's a bad reference!'' she says in apology for the magnificent pun. ''But it's got some dangerous cavities there.'' Now she slaps herself. ''You know what I'm saying.''
''I think what's really dangerous about this culture of the dating free-for-all is that you develop an attitude to sex before you actually understand your sexual identity and [before] you understand intimacy. That, I think, can be quite unhealthy.
''Falling in love, romance, matters of the heart - when you fall in love, on some biochemical level you know there is a chance it won't work out. It's ingrained in us that if you take such an enormous risk on someone with your heart that it might not pay off. I gamble all my chips and I might actually lose everything.
''I understand why I've done it in my own life and why young people want to medicate that fear. The one thing that humbles all of us, those deep-seated human vulnerabilities, [is] the fact that a life is better when it's shared. I do believe that. I like turning to a buddy, or a female friend, or to my mum and going, 'F---, how was that? That was an experience, wasn't it?' It's tribal, almost. That's what being a human being is about. But there is an inherent risk, especially in this culture and the idea of connection.
''I don't have Facebook [nor is she on Twitter] but I could change my relationship status at the flick of a button. We've removed intimacy from us. We're so frightened of intimacy, we've invented all these ways to take intimacy out of the equation entirely.''
When asked to describe Taylor, the first word out of Ben co-star Daniel Henshall's mouth is "grounded". Kriv Stenders, her director on Red Dog, uses the same word, coupled with "unaffected". She's flattered by the latter, a little more reserved by the former."I reckon if you are unaffected in this business that's probably a good thing, and I do genuinely feel that way," she says. "I don't think I adjust my behaviour very much in dealing with this business."As for "grounded"..."That's funny," she says of the adjective. "I was a little more surprised by that one. I don't remember feeling enormously grounded at that time (making Red Dog with Stenders) but I found her grounding. She was grounded, and there's something about that land up there (in the Pilbara) that is very earthy. That sounds silly, but it is an anchoring place. What I liked about that particular character was that deep working-class (strength); you fall apart in your life very rarely. Very rarely do people truly drop their bundles, so I always tried to be measured with that in terms of the charactoer. Women are anchoring people."Stenders also makes an emphatic point about Taylor's beauty, that she has the type of face the camera loves, whatever angle she is filmed from. As a former model, that aspect of Taylor's on-screen appeal is beyond any sensible dispute, given that her casting in Transformers was not based entirely on her intrinsic understanding of intergalactic robotics. What is more intriguing is when, precisely, she realised that looks were only going to get her so far, that she needed more. "I was probably about 12," Taylor says without pause. "I watched girls at school - I was never the pretty girl at school - and I didn't see it paying off. Where was the pay off? People give you a little bit more time and they hold the door open, but there's no value in it for me. You want your work to have an inherent value to it, otherwise you should go and do something else. If I was just in this industry because I wanted other people to pat me on the back (for my looks) there would have been much smarter ways to go about it. I actually am trying to explore ideas of human truth and my own truth."One truth that has always held fast with Taylor is knowing her limits, testing those limits with different roles, then redefining what she can do on screen. It's a topic she positively leaps on."It's funny you bring up the word 'limitation' because I was thinking about this just recently, about limiting oneself, and the idea of limitation being positive versus being negative," she says. "Is it either of those things? I don't actually know the answer to it. But I like the idea."An inspiring word for me is to think of myself as limitless." She takes a thoughtful pause. "Now, in addition to that, you then actually have to erect some boundaries to keep yourself in a healthy direction and in a positive space doing the work you want to do and not giving everything to everyone and not it being a free-for-all, not 'people pleasing' - which I'm notorious for - and actually reigning yourself back in."But the idea of 'limitlessness', that you could actually have what you want, but you just have to put some parameters in place for those ideas. Then you're covered, then you can take care of yourself at the same time. People that really live limitlessly don't typically take care of themselves, so you've gotta put those kind of very boring, adult, grown-up things in place in order to think that way."
Any Questions for Ben? is now screening.