Back in the 1980s, hidden away in ITV’s late-night schedules, was an Australian drama that became a cult hit. Prisoner Cell Block H told the story of inmates locked away in an all-female prison. The storylines were dramatic, the fights between inmates and the screws were legendary and the sets – which looked like they were made from cardboard – were the source of much hilarity.
Now, almost 30 years after it was originally broadcast, Prisoner Cell Block H has been given a dust down and a huge revamp – Wentworth Prison is the new Australian drama set in an all-female prison and it’s attracting quite a buzz. We’ll follow Bea (Danielle Cormack) on her first day inside, as she gets to grips with the conditions, the gangs and the infighting. There’s violence, sex and lots of intrigue as Bea meets the ladies who rule the prison from the inside.
Kiwi actress Danielle Cormack, 42, has appeared in Xena: Warrior Princess and Shortland Street in the past, but here she tells us what it was like to play Bea, Wentworth Prison’s newest inmate.
Were you aware of Prisoner Cell Block H when you were growing up?
I grew up in New Zealand, but I was aware of it. It was on every afternoon so I’d get home from school, grab myself some milk and cookies and settle down to watch it, before the proper school programmes came on.
It looks flash, how different is it from the original Prisoner?
It’s a huge departure from Prisoner. I think if they’d have kept it like the old Prisoner it would feel like a comedy! All the characters have been reimagined but everything else is brand new. We delve more into the characters’ backgrounds in this version, and it’s much more violent. People were so passionate about the old Prisoner, but this is a whole different world – you forget about Prisoner after seeing Wentworth!
What about the sets, we used to love those old Prisoner sets that looked as though they were made from cardboard!
Trust me, the Wentworth walls are not wobbly!
You play Bea, what can you tell us about her?
Well, Bea is on remand for the attempted murder of her husband. We meet her on her first day in prison, so she’s at the bottom of the hierarchy. She’s scared, anxious and highly distressed. She’s got a daughter who’s her whole focus of getting out of prison. It’s not as easy as that – while she’s inside there are people who want to use her as a pawn and control her. There’s a whole load of storylines that have to do with manipulation and conflict with the other prisoners.
It was really interesting to speak with women in prison about how difficult it is to keep a family together and how to look after your children when you’re inside
You’re a mum to two children, so did you know what Bea must be feeling when she’s separated from her daughter?
I don’t tend to bring my personal life into work, and I’ve always found it easier to inhabit the world the writers have created for me and let my character bounce of the other characters. And it’s partly because I don’t want to tempt fate, and also I feel it’s a bit like Cheatsville.
Did you do any research for the role at all?
There were some women I met who were inside with their children, and some women who had left their family behind and didn’t want anything to do with them. It was really interesting to speak with them about how difficult it is to keep a family together and how to look after your children when you’re inside, especially when they turn into teenagers. Meeting those women was very helpful.
What was it like wearing the dowdy prison uniforms every day? Did you want to glam up after the end of each day of filming?
It’s soooo nice to turn up to work and wear a pair of trackie pants and a t-shirt. It’s so great. Don’t get me wrong – I do like a bit of slap on the face and a nice dress, but only for a couple of hours. I was very thankful for minimal time in make-up and comfy clothes!
How do you find time to relax being a mum and busy actress?
I live in Australia now – one of my children lives in New Zealand and the other lives in Australia with me. How do I relax? I don’t! Relax is a foreign word to me. What does that mean? I’m so used to being on the go all the time, so if someone could find a small part of my life where I could relax please ask them to get in touch!
Do you have a beauty regime that you follow?
I don’t have a car so I walk everywhere. My favourite regime this week is using 100 per cent coconut oil on my body. It’s amazing! It’s cheap, feels good and is all-natural.
Wentworth Prison: Wed 28 August, 10pm, Channel 5