Back to IndieWire

TIFF ‘09 | Rachel Ward: “Always looking, always hopeful and totally thrilled”

TIFF ‘09 | Rachel Ward: "Always looking, always hopeful and totally thrilled"

“Based on a 1982 novel by Newton Thornburg,” Rachel Ward’s “Beautiful Kate” “begins with forty-year-old Ned Kendall (Ben Mendelsohn). At the behest of his dutiful sister Sally (Rachel Griffiths), Ned reluctantly returns to the isolated family homestead after a twenty-year absence because his cantankerous and bullying father, Bruce (Bryan Brown), is dying. Ned has dragged his twenty-one-year-old fiancée, Toni (Maeve Dermody), along to act as a lipstick-coated suit of armour and agent provocateur against his father. Incendiary memories of the past are what Ned must guard against, however, and in this he fails. Conflicting and painful recollections of his twin sister’s passing as a teenager and the subsequent death of his brother demand attention, but revisiting these traumas does little to calm the stormy waters between father and son. Guilt-ridden flashbacks fraught with emotional violence and taboo sexuality are set to haunt Ned until he can face his father head on. Each man has a lifetime of pain that only the other can help reconcile.” [Synopsis courtesy of TIFF]

indieWIRE gave Ward and others a free-form style interview to gather their thoughts on their careers individual projects.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews indieWIRE will be running with the filmmakers screening in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival’s Discovery program.


In my former life as an actress, I was the recipient of several International drama awards and nominations, which includes two Golden Globe nods. I starred in a number of International films throughout the last 20 years including “Against All Odds,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “After Dark My Sweet,” “How to Get Ahead in Advertising” and “The Umbrella Woman.” I am probably most well known for my portrayal of Meggie Cleary in one of the most successful mini-series of all time, “The Thorn Birds.”

Your Filmmaking Career and Process…

After moving to Australia in 1984 with my husband actor Bryan Brown and raising three children, I returned to school in Sydney, graduating in 1996 with a post graduate degree in communications, majoring in creative writing. Inspired by the number of Australian women who were working behind the camera I began writing film scripts with the view to directing. In the following years I made two 25 min shorts, “Blindman’s Bluff” and “The Big House,” and a short feature film “Martha’s New Coat” (50 mins). In 2005 I directed “Heart Attack” from Channel 9’s popular television show “Twisted Tales” starring Greta Saatchi.

All three of my shorts won many of Australia’s top awards including Critics Choice for both “Martha’s” and “The Big House.” They all sold commercially and screened in international festivals and competitions, such as Sundance and the Clemont Ferrand.

“Beautiful Kate”…

In 2008, I adapted and directed, “Beautiful Kate,” a novel by American author, Newton Thornburg. This is a novel that I had secretly coveted for many years. When the North American option, lapsed, I grabbed it. Relocating the story to work in Australian and updating the time frames, was a complicated process but coming up with a new ending (very internal in the book) and interweaving the past and present time frames was my greatest learning curve and it took many drafts to get it right (if ever!). I knew I was getting some where though, when the script started to attract Australia’s most talented performers Bryan Brown and Ben Mendelssohn and when Rachel Griffith signed on, The Works, our International sales agent, came on board and the funding fell in place. The whole film from pre-production, through filming to post was my most creatively fulfilling experience ever. I loved every minute and felt after many years in the business on the other side of the camera, that I might finally have found my most natural place. My only regret is that took so long to find the courage and conviction that, as a woman, I could helm a production. The Australian industry is extremely supportive of its female practitioners.

Your Influences…

Not surprisingly all my greatest influences are female film-makers from Jane Campion to Karin Adler (“Under the Skin”) to Caroline Link (“Nowhere in Africa”) to Christine Jeffs (“Rain,” “Sunshine Cleaning”). The success of their films with what I perceive as a uniquely female sensibility inspired and convinced me that there is a place for us in a very male dominated market.

The Future…

Well since the percentage of female directors working in North America is about 2% I won’t be hedging my bets that a career as a filmmaker awaits me there. I have the development rights to a hilarious book by British writer Maggie Gee called My Cleaner which Geoffrey Atherden (“Mother and Son”) is writing and which I hope to make as an Australian/British co-production. I am adapting a classic Australian novel (classified information). Always looking, always hopeful and totally thrilled to be showing my movie at the Toronto Film Festival. I have worked in Toronto many times as an actress, have attended the festival several times as a member of the public. Never dreamed that one day I would be part of it as a filmmaker.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox