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The other side of the bars

Date: 02/11/2003
Words: 687
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Television
Page: 8
FOR YEARS, she was one of the most feared villains on television, a ruthless, sadistic prison warder known as The Freak.

In the cult Australian drama Prisoner, Maggie Kirkpatrick's character Joan "Freak' Ferguson would stalk the corridors of the all-female Wentworth Detention Centre, terrorising the inmates.

And now, nearly two decades after that role ended, Maggie's back in jail - but this time with a twist.

"It's been 17 years since Prisoner finished and I've not played any role that was remotely like a prison person in all that time," Kirkpatrick said. "And now here I am back behind bars."

Don't expect to see her in a warder's uniform, however, for her guest role in Home And Away starting this week, she's on the other side of the law as an inmate - "The Guvnor".

She's the top dog of the women's prison where Tammin Sursok's character Dani Sutherland is sent after being convicted of killing Kane Phillips and she takes the new arrival under her wing offering to help her with her appeal.

"She's a legal person who's been wrongfully incarcerated," Kirkpatrick said. "She was a magistrate in the children's court who uncovered in her line of work a pedophile ring

- stop me if you heard this before - consisting of judges, lawyers and politicians.

"When she tried to expose them, they set her up and she's in jail."

She might be the resident tough, but The Guvnor's more likely to be seen wandering with a legal text book than a homemade knife. Her cell is home to a mini-library, her computer and there's a Streeton print

on the wall. "She's tough,

but it's brains not brawn," Kirkpatrick said.

As you would expect, Kirkpatrick said she's been having a ball playing such an over-the-top character.

"It was great fun! We filmed up at the old Maitland jail which has such an enormous history - Tammin is convinced there's a ghost in one of the cells - and I just had the best time," Kirkpatrick said.

"To go into a series that is so established is always a bit of a hard call for an actor, but this was taken away from [Home And Away's regular setting] Summer Bay so that made for less pressure on me, rather than having to fit in with the Summer Bay way of life.

"Then we had all these insane extras from Newcastle, which had me a bit worried because I was a Newcastle girl, but they were great fun, they were such a motley lot they really made the inmates of the old Prisoner days look like Melrose Place."

Kirkpatrick said she tried not to think too hard about the Prisoner days and to create an entirely new character for the role, but some of her new colleagues kept reminding her.

"A lot of the extras couldn't seem to get over the fact it was me and it was a prison situation," she said. "But I did love it and when I was offered the role I thought I'd have a play around with it, give the writers what they want and then come up with some other ideas to make it a bit different."

For Tammin Sursok the experience in jail was "quite realistic". "We were filming next to [convicted backpacker killer] Ivan Milat's old cell I think," she said. "There's a lot of sadness in that place and it's definitely something I'll always remember."

The change of pace, although grim, was just what Sursok wanted for Dani, who had become known as one of the more solid, dependable characters.

"I said [to the producers] I know I've been established with all my storylines, but I really want to be able to push myself and really work with something ... they said 'OK, well you're going to jail'.

"I asked for something new and I definitely got it."

And as for The Guvnor, don't be surprised if she shows up again in Summer Bay some time in the future.

"I'm angling to come back," Kirkpatrick said. "I'd love them to have me back!"

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