Tasmanian actor Essie Davis tries to be a good mom in the drama ‘Babyteeth’
You might not be familiar with her name. But you know her face. Yet you might not know that it’s her every time you see her on movie or TV screens. Her appearance - be it due to makeup or hair color or her character’s comportment - has changed from project to project as much as the sorts of parts she’s played.
Esther Davis, who has gone by the name Essie as long as she can remember, is a native of the Australian island state of Tasmania. Her chameleon-like presence has been a part of “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” (The Redpill named Maggie) and “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (Vermeer’s wife Catharina). In her first lead role, she was Amelia, the perplexed mother in “The Babadook,” and she was recently Ned Kelly’s ferocious mom in “True History of the Kelly Gang.” She also grabbed the attention of TV viewers on three episodes of “Game of Thrones” as Lady Crane, the actress playing a stage role of Cersei Lannister.
In her new film “Babyteeth,” she’s Anna, another perplexed mom, this time trying to cope with an unfocused husband, a possibly terminally ill daughter, and the troublemaking young man that comes into her daughter’s life.
Davis spoke by phone from Hobart, Tasmania, where she and her husband and two daughters are currently riding out the virus quarantine, “doing 30 years’ worth of house-clearing at our family home.”
Q: What movies or TV were you watching as a little girl in Hobart that made you want to act?
A: I had a pretty eclectic viewing life as a child. I watched tons of black & white movies because we only had three television stations and an old black & white television. We were a behind-the-times family (laughs). So, I watched tapes of Fred Astaire and Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart. Dad loved cowboy movies so we watched those, and we used to go to the drive-in, where I remember watching “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I knew then that I wanted to be an actor, and I had no doubt that I would do it.
Q: Wasn’t there a time when you also thought about a career in singing?
A: I always wanted to sing, and I did sing in a band in high school. And later I sang on Broadway in the Tom Stoppard play “Jumpers.” I still love singing, and I’ve always wanted to learn an instrument. I bought myself two guitars, but I have yet to sit down and learn.
Q: You’ve been very busy in recent years, and you were involved with “Babyteeth,” then it wasn’t going to happen, then you became involved again. What was the story there?
A: It was being done with a different director when I first read the script. I bawled my eyes out, then I read it again and bawled my eyes out, and I said I want to do it. But I was living in London, it was going to be made in Australia, and I didn’t want to commit to doing it there when I wasn’t sure how I would travel with my children. Then the director said he couldn’t do the film because it was so full of grief. So, he left and Shannon Murphy became the new director. She re-approached me and I read it again and I bawled my eyes out, then I read it again and bawled my eyes out. And I felt it was something I would actually want to see in the cinema, so I couldn’t not do it. It was too important and such a beautiful, profound story.
Q: Can you give me a brief introduction to your character Anna?
A: She’s a complicated woman. She’s an internationally renowned touring concert pianist whose young daughter has cancer, so she’s given up performing to look after her daughter, who has for now become healthy. I think Anna feels that if she makes magical sacrifices - such as giving up her music - that she can change the outcome of things, can create life.
Q: In the middle of all your film work, you landed a great part on “Game of Thrones.” How did that happen?
A: It was quite random. Dan (Weiss) and David (Benioff), the showrunners on “Game of Thrones,” especially David, were massive fans of “The Babadook.” I auditioned for the part of Catelyn Stark right at the beginning. And I was on hold for nine months. But someone else (Jennifer Ehle) got the part in the pilot, and then she was replaced by Michelle Fairley when the show was picked up. Then the part of Lady Crane came up, Richard E. Grant was going to be in those episodes, and I thought, “OK, let’s do it.” So, I auditioned again, got it, and Dan and David
were incredibly welcoming and supporting and gorgeous. And we had a great time.
“Babyteeth” opens on June 19 in selected cinemas and on most streaming platforms.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.