Ahead of her role in the new ABC drama The Newsreader, Anna Torv speaks about growing up on the Gold Coast, social media, regularly basing herself in LA for more than a decade – and coming back home.
By Genevieve Quigley
JULY 11, 2021
In her latest role for the ABC drama The Newsreader, actor Anna Torv
is transported back to 1986 as she portrays a glamorous newsreader with ambitions as big as her shoulder pads. But in real life, Anna’s time travel happened months before filming. Returning from Los Angeles to the Gold Coast in early 2020 as the first waves of COVID-19 were creating worldwide ripples, she was taken back to the mid-’80s.
“I grew up on the Gold Coast: we moved there in ’85 or maybe ’86,” she recalls. “When I got back last year, the country was in a bit of a lockdown, and it was reminiscent of what the Coast was like back then. There were families at the beach and outdoors. People were on bikes with their kids and surfing. It was really quite beautiful.”
Anna, 42, had been calling Los Angeles home, on and off, for more than a decade since scoring a lead role on the popular sci-fi TV series Fringe, which ran from 2008 to 2013. She’d only recently wrapped another job, playing an FBI consultant in the US crime drama Mindhunter, when the call went out for Australians to return home.
“I just booked a flight straight away,” she says. What followed was like a scene from Fringe. “I got on the plane and there was nobody on the flight. Like, no one. It was completely empty.”
Within months of being home, Anna knew that this wasn’t going to be a short visit. She had been considering returning for a while, but COVID became the catalyst to make it happen.
“I am here now,” she says firmly, speaking via phone from Melbourne.
“I gave up my house in LA. I had to do that all remotely. When I left, I didn’t think I’d be making all those decisions from here. But after a few months,
I went, ‘You know what, just stop straddling.’ I would have done that in the next few years but this was just a big kick in the arse.”
It was in Mudgeeraba, in the Gold Coast hinterland, where Anna first discovered her love of theatre, leading to performances in school productions and in festivals on the Gold Coast.
Some may assume Anna’s aspirations for a career in showbiz came from her father’s side. Her paternal aunt, Anna Murdoch Mann, was married to media mogul Rupert Murdoch for 31 years and her cousins are Elisabeth, Lachlan and James Murdoch. Not only does Anna share her aunt’s maiden name, there is a striking resemblance between the two classically beautiful women.
But Anna explains that her ambitions were influenced by her mother’s side of the family, hailing from Chinchilla in western Queensland. Her grandmother was the president of the arts council there, and would regularly host local theatre. “So I was exposed to it from a young age,” Anna recalls.
At just 17, Anna made the huge leap from the quiet Gold Coast hinterland to the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in bustling Sydney.
“It felt like a big step but not really,” she says, somewhat paradoxically. “You’re still so selfish at that point. The world is really your world. So what you don’t know, you don’t know. It was a bit of a shock, not the drama school, but the people in the city. But you work it all out.”
She did indeed “work it all out”. Graduating from NIDA, Anna had roles here on hit TV series such as The Secret Life of Us and Young Lions, before spending years working in London.
It was while she was back in Australia in 2007, filming the blockbuster TV miniseries The Pacific, that she sent off an audition tape for Fringe and landed the gig by beating more than 300 other actors. She would go on to film 100 episodes over the next five years.
“The expectation when you sign on to something like that is that you’ll do a pilot and they rarely get picked up,” she explains. “You do a season and it rarely goes to two. Then all of a sudden it’s five years later. You would work 18 hours a day every day of the week for eight or nine months of the year. I don’t know how people manage to do projects in between because all I would do is curl up in the foetal position, take a breath and then go again.”
The success of the show and the cult following it gathered would also give Anna her first taste of fame on a grand scale, an aspect of the job that she doesn’t actively nurture. She’s conspicuously absent on all social media, though she does acknowledge its merits. “It’s done some fantastic and beautiful things for a lot of people in the world, particularly artists,” she says.
“All of the sudden there’s this free forum where you can express and promote if you’re a musician or an artist who has a show on.”
Anna rarely opens up about her personal life – she married Fringe co-star Mark Valley in December 2008 before divorcing after a year – and views her abstinence from social media as a way of keeping a distinct line between private and public personas.
“I don’t want it to seem like I’m judging people who do it, really I am not, because I get it and I understand it,” she clarifies. “But I do think you can’t put what you’re eating for breakfast on the internet and then be upset when people are invading your space. If you just don’t do it, then you are given an element of respect and they don’t talk about it.”
For Anna, inviting the public into her personal space would not be conducive to her acting, either. “I’m always surprised that actors are so open with their lives,” she says. “You want people to believe what you’re putting on-screen and you don’t want them to be constantly seeing you. I’m always a bit confused by that.
“You’ve got A-list stars putting their breakfast on there, or ‘Here’s me with my baby’ or ‘I’ve just given birth.’ I just don’t understand, but that’s me – and again, no judgment. But I get to do my own thing, and just talk to the press about shows that I’m doing.”
Which brings us back to the purpose of our chat: The Newsreader. The
series is set in the pressure-cooker environment of a commercial TV newsroom. Anna’s character, Helen, is a “difficult” star newsreader craving credibility who teams up with Dale Jennings (Sam Reid), a hard-working reporter desperate to become a newsreader. Together they cover huge news events, including the Challenger space shuttle explosion and the AIDS crisis, all against the backdrop of their personal struggles.
The series is created by Michael Lucas of Offspring fame and directed by Emma Freeman, whom Anna worked with on The Secret Life of Us and 2016’s Secret City. By authentically re-creating the era and its attitudes, The Newsreader casts light on then-topical social issues such as homophobia, sexism and sexual harassment.
Watching it through a 2021 lens, the first reaction may be to pat ourselves on the back for how far we’ve come in 35 years – but have we really?
“Yes, this is set in the 1980s, and if you transported the story to today there would be quite a few things that are different, but the kernels of it … no,” answers Anna matter-of-factly. “No, in terms of sexism. No, prior to #MeToo. Even today, no.”
Just as her return home last year reminded Anna of the beauty of a simpler time, The Newsreader reminds viewers of a darkness that still exists despite nostalgia’s rose-tinted glasses.
“It’s easy to think we’ve moved forward in leaps and bounds, but no, we haven’t.”
Photography by GK photography. Styling by Melissa Boyle. Hair and make-up
by Karen Burton.
The Newsreader premieres on August 15 at 8.30pm on ABC TV and ABC iView.
Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald