From the moment Sydney born Jessica McNamee became part of the Home & Away soap family, her presence and talent was obvious.
Appearing in the hit Australian driller-killer horror, The Loved Ones, was a diverse achievement before Packed to the Rafters and a move to Los Angeles. Soon came a role in chick-flick, The Vow (2012), opposite Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams.
Thankfully she still glowed in the debacle, Chips (2017), leading to a major role as Aussie tennis champion Margaret Court in true story, Battle Of The Sexes, also starring Steve Carell and Oscar winner Emma Stone. On a whirlwind visit for a best friend’s wedding down under, we managed a glorious chat about the new film, working in Hollywood, her views on the struggle for equality in tinseltown and beyond.
Shane A. Bassett – Hey Jess!
Jessica McNamee – One of my best friends lives in Newcastle and others in Bateau Bay (Central Coast), you’re in a wonderful part of the world Shane. We actually have a place up at Avoca so there you go, we’re occasional neigbours.
Were you a tennis player or aficionado before landing the role?
JM – Huge tennis fan, grew up watching it with family who are also decent players. I kind of missed the boat there as I went to the US, so it was actually really amazing for me to brush up on my skills. Certainly now I’m more of a challenger at our friendly matches.
Was playing tennis part of the audition process?
JM – Yes it was. My last step before booking the movie, I had to go out with the real Lornie Kuhle (best friend of Bobby Riggs) to have a hit together and be convincing. Post that, there was eight weeks of training an hour a day to look like a pro. I can’t take all the credit, on screen we had wonderful tennis-doubles
A lot of Australian talent lives in LA. Was it hard to get the part?
JM – As soon as I saw the script, I knew I wanted to be involved. I just auditioned, simple as that like everyone else, but took around two months to get through the various acting to athletic steps.
Had you met Margaret Court before or during the time of portraying her?
JM – Not yet, I really hope to. I’m heading down to the next Australian Open with Billie Jean King and her partner so will be hoping to cross paths with Margaret as well.
Your co-stars are terrific performers. What can you tell me about their mannerisms on set and how you felt working around them?
JM – So professional, wonderful people. On set was a good time but everyone stayed particular to their performance taking our jobs seriously. The most amusing came when doing tennis scenes, none of us were pro’s obviously. Simply a lovely group of socialites having fun around the court really.
As a retro era film, how into character did you get? No mobile phones, did you stay in costume including that magnificent wig?
JM – Great question Shane, phones stayed in trailers. An element of us stepping into costume we felt and acted transformed. My wig made me feel unique, even at times we were back in 1973. Attention to detail was a step back in time.
The wig completely suited you complimenting the dimensions of your face.
JM (laughs): It looked real, thank you. I was identical to my mum, even sent dad a picture wearing it. He just said, ‘You’re your mother!’ There was never anytime however I thought I should cut my own hair similar (laughs). Sometimes I’d freak myself out catching a reflection. I was kind of thrown in the deep-end a couple of times meeting cast members for the first time, then taking it off in front of Emma and Steve in the trailer. They both were shocked yelling, ‘it’s a wig!’
What film was the game changer for you to be noticed by Hollywood?
JM – I’ve been luckily constantly working here which I appreciate but moving overseas for The Vow (2012), a fairly big hit. This film is probably the biggest though in terms of cast and definitely the one that will be spoken about most. It’s a departure for characters I often play such as ‘girl next door’. Being Margaret was solid or ballsy for me, absolute fun.
The Loved Ones (2009) is the only horror film you have done. Do you want to do more?
JM – Well Shane, I’ve got Meg (coming soon), big budget action filmed in New Zealand concerning sharks. The Neighbour is a thriller with scary elements, but I enjoyed being Mia in The Loved Ones. Prefer to keep things adverse although with few choices for females, it can be difficult.
The film covers relevant current issues. What is your take on equality for women in Hollywood? Have you always been looked after equally to your male counterparts?
JM – No, not at all. I was on a show so when it first came out, I was being paid much less than the male cast / male writers and really struggle to fight to not get my clothes off or propose storylines. It was even hard to battle not to be just a female in a show to service male characters. It’s across the board, statistics are awful in Hollywood for this. In 2016 for instance, only 6% of Hollywood films were directed by women, not good enough. A couple of years later, funding projects or female stories or roles as often as I’d like.
Do you think this is why, lately, women are creating their own content?
JM – Indeed, Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon are two examples. Creating films or series’ for women, using prominent women cast or writers and so on. Important we are represented as mostly we are not. The way forward is to keep pushing, talking. It’s amazing for talent like Jennifer Lawrence as a top earner willing to take a risk to reveal inequality. When those people stand up, it trickles down to help all of us in this industry.
Battle of The Sexes may be educational to many.
JM – Relevant now more than ever. It’s crazy this took place forty years ago and not much has changed. People will watch it while thinking, I can’t believe that’s how we spoke to women or earn 1/8th of what men would earn. This day and age, it’s still happening all the time. We are still only earning on average 75c to the male $1. We are still dealing with misogyny. Someone like Donald Trump speaks about women in a derogatory… we haven’t come far at all. Equality is rife, it’s important to me our country is having this marriage vote. It seems we are so far behind. For our movie, the difference of then vs now, is not that much.
Would you like to write / direct sometime?
JM – Yes I do write. And directed a little, a friends video, recently. I’m excited to write more moving forward. More interested in creating the content, producing rather than directing at this stage. The older I get, passion burns for the inequality that exists. Particularly, our industry is worse than many. I feel responsibility, not just be angry, do something.
Shane A. Bassett