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Australian Star Marta Dusseldorp: 'Compassion And Imagination Go Hand In Hand'


Marta Dusseldorp is a name that's almost as familiar in Australian households as Vegemite on toast. She stars in the hit shows "Jack Irish," "Crownies," "Janet King" and "A Place To Call Home," a series that Entertainment Weekly has called Australia's sexiest period soap.

It's set in 1950 small-town Australia, features great characters, great costumes, homophobia, xenophobia - all kinds of phobias - and scintillating secrets that burn to come out over a season.

Marta Dusseldorp plays nurse Sarah Adams in "A Place To Call Home," and she joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARTA DUSSELDORP: It's wonderful to be here, Scott.

SIMON: Sexiest period soap - how do you feel about that?

DUSSELDORP: Well, well, well - sure. I think George and Sarah have some steamy scenes, it's true. And there's a bit of young love in there, too. Yeah, sounds good to me.

SIMON: Help set the show for Americans who haven't seen it yet.

DUSSELDORP: It's set in the 1950s, post-war. And it starts with a woman standing on the bow of a ship. And she's coming home after being away for close on 30 years. She's coming home because her mother's not well. And very soon, you find out that she's changed her name because she's converted to Judaism. And her mother rejects her completely and throws her back out onto the street.

And luckily, on the ship, she's met this gorgeous man, Mr. George Bligh, and - well, a love affair has started. And - but it's unrequited love. They're not allowed to. So it's a little bit "Romeo And Juliet". And it's filled with the pain and shrapnel of the war and the changing of Australia in this time.

SIMON: We conveniently have a clip where your character, Sarah Adams, the nurse, confronts her mother after all this time.


KRIS MCQUADE: (As Grace Stevens) I suppose you want me to call you Sarah.

DUSSELDORP: (As Sarah Adams) That's my name now.

MCQUADE: (As Grace Stevens) Why don't you just leave?

DUSSELDORP: (As Sarah Adams) I have come halfway around the world for you. I'm not giving up that easily.

MCQUADE: (As Grace Stevens) Then we'll go to the church. And you'll go on your knees and ask him for forgiveness for what you've done. You'll repent, and I'll forgive you everything, every wrong.

DUSSELDORP: (As Sarah Adams) You can do that now.

MCQUADE: (As Grace Stevens) Let him into your heart again, then I can love you.

DUSSELDORP: (As Sarah Adams) This isn't about the church. I'm your child.

MCQUADE: (As Grace Stevens) You come here in my mourning to make me weak. Well, I'm not.

DUSSELDORP: (As Sarah Adams) Mom...

MCQUADE: (As Grace Stevens) I didn't ask you to come.

DUSSELDORP: (As Sarah Adams) ...Please.

MCQUADE: (As Grace Stevens) Take your Jew name and go. I have no daughter. Go.

SIMON: That's tough stuff.

DUSSELDORP: Yeah, that's the amazing Kris McQuade, the actress who plays my mother. Yeah, it was a really tough scene because she's so - she is relentless. She just grabs you with her eyes, and she won't let go. So - and I think - yeah, that is the reason it's called "A Place To Call Home" - because she has no home.

SIMON: Does 1950s Australia, which firstly, seemed a lot farther than - from the United States and Great Britain than it does now - how far does it seem to you? Is it another planet, or do you recognize parts of your life today in the Australia of the '50s?

DUSSELDORP: Not really, and I think that's a shame because there was a gracefulness. And people were more particular then. They didn't talk so much. I think that's OK. When I play Sarah, I try to stop talking so much. And that means listening more, which I think is one of the greatest qualities of a human being but also to reserve judgment. She reserves judgment. In the 1950s, there was a lot of judgment...

SIMON: Yeah. I mean, I was about to point out the - all the anti-Semitism, the racism...

DUSSELDORP: Absolutely.

SIMON: ...The xenophobia.

DUSSELDORP: I guess because I don't play that character, I don't understand that place. I don't need to understand it, thankfully. But my grandmother was very influential on me - both grandmothers. One was European, and one was a Australian. And they had a grace and stoicism that I really loved, and I feel them. When I play this show and I'm surrounded by the Tupperware (laughter), I can smell their perfume and their simplicity. And yet, they were incredibly strong women who were balancing all sorts of things. So that, I think, hasn't changed at all.

SIMON: What's satisfying to you about this profession?

DUSSELDORP: I think storytelling is important for maintaining cultural integrity, identity. I think identity leads to compassion, and compassion and imagination go hand in hand. And I think if you have an imagination, then you can understand how people who are less fortunate than you need your help and you can reach out to them. And I love connecting with the - especially in live theater, you connect with people. And to me, that's the most satisfying experience I've ever had in my life - is when I talk to people and I enrich their lives. I give them a chance to reflect on themselves, on who they are and their parents and their grandparents and their children. And that's what I'm here for - on the earth - is to be a human being with other human beings and so, yeah.

SIMON: Marta Dusseldorp. The fourth series of "A Place To Call Home" premieres on Acorn TV on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanks very much for being with us.

DUSSELDORP: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.