Sgt Bianca Grieve - Capturing The Heart Of Janet King
We spoke with Anita Hegh about the developing relationship between her tough federal cop and the leading lesbian lawyer.
Via ABC TV
It is always such a pleasure to talk to renowned Australian theater performer, Anita Hegh, the charming and amiable actress who plays Federal Sergeant Bianca Grieve opposite Marta Dusseldorp’s Janet King, in the popular Australian political thriller / law series of the same name. She was recently very generous with her time during rehearsal for an upcoming play, and we had a long chat about her future projects, as well as, of course, all things Janet and Bianca.
“Right now we’ve just opened Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine for the Sydney Theatre Company. It’s the third play I’ve done of hers, and I’m a big fan, so I’m very excited!” Hegh enthuses. “It was written in the ‘70s, although we’re putting it in more of a modern context, and it originally looked at the parallels between racial and sexual oppression, starting in colonial Africa in the 1800s, then cutting to the ‘70s. Ours skips forward to the present and looks at the parallels and the changes that have happened in terms of acceptance to do with sexuality. It’s a really fascinating piece of work.”
Soon, however, Hegh will go into rehearsals for The Father, playing opposite Australian theater royalty, John Bell, founder of Bell Shakespeare. “I’ll be performing one at night and rehearsing another one in the day, so you gotta be match-fit for that,” she says laughing. “But I just love the theater, it’s great.”
With a sporting reference flowing from her mouth, it was a great segue to leap into a discussion about Janet King, being that this season is all about corruption and gambling in sport. I suggest that there was certainly no hesitation in letting viewers know exactly where Janet and Bianca stand as a couple in episode one. “The idea is that they’ve had these couple of years apart, and we played it as though Bianca has gone over to Fiji to visit Janet while she was over there working. But really, it’s still at that tentative stage of where are we? What does it look like to the outside world?” she explains.
“Then they have that time away in Melbourne (the show is set in Sydney), and for Bianca it comes down to trying to find time to spend with Janet, which is almost impossible, because she’s the busiest woman in the world,” she laughs. “So Bianca’s there just to get whatever time she can. It’s convenient to be working with her,” she says with great emphasis. “And work is always the priority, trying to keep that as professional as possible. But it’s interesting to see them as a couple trying to define what their relationship is in terms of work, family and other things.”
Both characters are incredibly career-driven, and keeping their professional integrity would be of utmost importance to both. They’re also mature women at the top of their game, not younger people trying to establish their careers and define their own identities. “That’s right. And they’ve been in love before, you know, it’s not like it’s the first time.” says Hegh.
There was a lot of conjecture and questioning between series about what possible roles could place the characters where a working relationship was possible like they had in the last season, so that Bianca wasn’t reduced to mere sidekick or love interest. The producers / writers found that vehicle with a National Crime Commission, that has far-reaching investigative powers, making it the perfect ground to put a cop and a lawyer working side by side together. One of the beauties of Janet King is how they evolve the characters and the stories into different areas so that it remains fresh. “There’s so much freedom in the NCC for them, and it’s fantastic for Janet, because Bianca knows how ambitious Janet is, and that this is the kind of work she needs to feel happy and good in her life. So Bianca is able to help facilitate that and work with her, and it’s a way of keeping her close without eating into her personal life,” she laughs. “But Bianca is already working there when Janet accepts this particular job. She’s got other stuff she could be doing, but that’s where she’s chosen to be.”
So, there are obviously reasons why Janet chose the NCC, it can’t be all one way traffic from Bianca. “True. Bianca’s role last series was almost more as a personal guard for Janet… but she certainly manipulated that to get close to her!” she says laughing cheekily. “I mean she was quite, quite sneaky! It’s the things you do for the hot lady you’re after! And Bianca sees a side of Janet that perhaps others don’t. She has so many quirky little things she does that are just adorable. She’s this high status woman, but every now and then she has these little moments that are quite subtle, but very funny.”
The first episode certainly didn’t appear to demonstrate any hesitancy in displaying their relationship status, dropping them straight into the bath for a very intimate scene in their ‘working’ weekend away. I wondered whether the bath water got super cold during the shoot? Hegh laughs heartily, “You know what? It actually didn’t. We did that in a couple of hours one afternoon. It was really easy and fun and they made sure the water was warm. It was fine. The great thing about that is it’s only bathwater so they can top that up, unlike when you’ve got to film a scene in a lake, or at the beach at 5 in the morning, and there’s not much you can do about temperature control then!”
It was rather confusing, however, to get to the second episode in this series, and see Janet giving Bianca a bit of the cold shoulder towards the end. “There are a lot of things that Janet’s exploring, where she’s now asking herself if she’s ready for all this… and Bianca is there,” she says with a laugh. “She’s just there going, ‘whatever you want, whenever you want, I’m here!’ But Bianca’s not going to push Janet or issue an ultimatum; she’s going to leave that to the last resort because she doesn’t want the horse to bolt. And I think if Bianca did that, Janet would cut and run. So she’s holding in there and holding in there, but you can see that it’s wearing Bianca a bit, and you can see that she isn’t the ‘bouncy happy’ Bianca that she was at the beginning. But perhaps Bianca may have to do for Janet what Janet can’t do for herself, in terms of challenging what the future may be for that relationship. But there are lots of ups and downs along the way, and it’s complicated, like relationships are.”
One thing that the LGBTI community really appreciates about Janet King is the non-gratuitous nature of the relationship, it’s just presented so matter-of-factly. When I suggest this, Hegh is very enthusiastic in her response, “Yeah, yeah, yeah! We love that too, and see it as so important!” And even keeping the relationship under wraps, it’s clear the ‘under wraps’ is because they work together, rather than anything sinister. “Marta and I were talking about that, saying everyone would know. There are little moments you see with them together and there are those little things, like a coffee being shared, and… well everyone in that office would know.”
As we come to the end, I wonder why we have spent so much time talking about Janet, rather than Bianca. “Well, it’s Janet’s show, really isn’t it? But there’s more humour there this time around, which is good for the both of them. There needed to be some little bits of sunshine coming in there,” Hegh muses. “And for Bianca, it’s really about the emotional journey that’s there to be read, other than the work-related scenes.” Is there any possibility we may see Australia’s first same-sex marriage on a homegrown mainstream prime-team drama? “Well, we can only hope! That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? Janet King could lead the way… ‘Hello people, let’s make this happen!’”
I’m down with that Anita!