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Rachel Griffiths on her kids' names, asylum seekers, and what makes her proud to be Australian.

 

Rachel Griffiths is a peculiar type of famous person. She’s proud, private and grounded. She’s enormously respected in Hollywood, but somehow she’s managed to stay real and Australian. Obviously, you remember Rachel’s breakout role in Muriel’s Wedding alongside Toni Collette. Since then, she’s played Brenda in HBO’s Six Feet Under and Sarah in Brothers and Sisters. And now? Well, she’s teaming up with Sportscraft to celebrate 100 years of fashion.

When Rachel was in Sydney to launch Sportscraft’s 100 year Anniversary Collection, we sat down and chatted about, well, everything. From the clothes she loves, to the way we treat asylum seekers, and why she gave her kids the most Australian names she could. Here she is, Ms Rachel Griffiths, front and centre.

Rachel Griffiths with her fellow Sportscraft ambassadors, Kylie Kwong, Nick Farr Jones, Gracie Otto, Samantha Harris, Anthony ‘Harries’ Carroll, Ita Buttrose and Michael Klim.

KL: Who are your favourite Australian designers?

RG: I wear the surf labels a lot. The most important item in my wardrobe is a wetsuit… which you kind of want to be sexy and functional. Collette Dinnigan for her endurance. I’ve always loved Saba for basics, I like Country Road for my kids, big fan of Seed, I think Seed’s a great Aussie label. I’m always looking for knits and flats, those schlepp-around mum oufits in the hurry of what we juggle. I love Scanlan for cocktail and function stuff.

KL: Beautiful list. What makes you feel patriotic? What makes you feel proud to be Australian when you’re representing us overseas?

RG: It’s always nice to feel as though we as a country are batting above our population in all fields – at the last Academy awards it was pretty exciting to see two designers in the costume design category. The depth of the design talent here.

KL: Do you ever feel ashamed of being Australian overseas?

RG: Never.

KL: Never? My sister moved overseas and she feels ashamed whenever people talk about the way we treat asylum seekers here. Does that ever make you feel ashamed? 

RG: To be honest, having spent time in England, I wouldn’t say Australia’s very different in our fear of incoming people, of how people come, and how they change the country. In America, there is zero asylum seeker hysteria but there are 11 million people who go there illegally, or undocumented immigrants. That debate there is often extremely rancourous and racist and fearful and lacking facts. It’s probably equally, you know, complicated in the solution. So I don’t think we’re actually exceptional, although some of us like to fan our exceptionalism and say we’re the only people that lock up people who arrive under those terms. I don’t think that is actually true, I don’t think we’re more fearful or more racist than any other country. I don’t think there are any countries who like not controlling who comes in their borders. I think it’s a human fear.

Whilst I’m extremely sympathetic to refugees and work with the charity that I’m involved in, Hagar, we work with cases who have suffered the worst human rights abuses, who seek asylum in this country. I don’t actually judge my fellow Australians for the fact that, you know, it raises some pretty primal feelings in people and it’s hard to keep the debate real and fair and truthful and non-hysterical from both sides.

KL: Let’s talk about the evolution of your career. You’ve been on Aussie TV, like your part in Rake, and then being so successful overseas. What’s the difference, working there and working here? 

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RG: Obviously, the budgets are really different. Post-production wise, American productions are more ambitious in terms of cast and cars, you know, blow-ups and scenery. They’re trying to achieve more on more money. Whereas, we know we can’t shut down the main part of Sydney and have 28 people in traffic while there’s a car chase. That can only be really done in America. Outside that, it’s working with creative professionals against the clock and that’s pretty true in both jurisdictions.

KL: Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life?

RG: Hopefully I’ll be dead and she’s not born yet.

KL: Your children’s names are the most Australian names I’ve ever heard – Banjo and Adelaide, especially. How did you choose them? 

RG: I was probably pretty homesick. There’s Banjo, Adelaide and then Clementine, which is not so Australian. Somebody told me that my children’s names sound like church bells ringing and I thought, “Oh that’s so true, there’s a tinker and a clang to them.” When we came up with Banjo, I think at the time we had Banjo for the boy, Matilda for a girl. I was probably the most homesick at that point. I’ve always loved Banjo Patterson as a storyteller. We just gave him a very solid middle name because someone told me you can switch the first two names if you want to, so we went with Patrick. Then, Matilda seemed a little too obvious. But then I met a make-up artist who had a little girl and called her Adelaide, so I went with that because it’s gorgeous.

And then Clementine, we really thought it was going to be a boy, so we thought it would be Elwood, which is the suburb that we lived in Melbourne.

KL: Oh I love that, that you were homesick when you named your kids.

RG: I also didn’t know how long I’d be away, and I wanted to put a stamp on them in time memorial to this country so they would never forget they’re Australian.

KL: You’ve managed to keep that privacy for your family that so many other celebrities don’t have.

RG: You know, it helps not marrying a famous person. I think when two famous people marry, the interest in the marriage goes to the power of ten. Once I got married, I became very dull. Apart from the paparazzi getting our new baby picture from the bushes, there’s nothing to see here folks, move on. I’ve got such a normal life in Melbourne, it’s very rare that anyone’s intrusive in that, which is lovely. I’m just not a magnet for that kind of hysteria. I think I’m not famous enough to lock my children up, it’s not really an issue for them.

KL: Your children must be very proud of you.

RG: Oh, I don’t know that they have to be proud of me, I certainly don’t ask them to be proud of me. But I’m very proud of them. I’m enjoying being able to make the Twilight concerts. But I can’t make the swimming carnivals! It’s cute though, this is such a juggling mother. I felt so guilty, I recorded a good luck message for my girl’s class for the swimming carnival. I’m just saying, To all of grade 3, to all of grade 5, just enjoy yourselves! I’m sure I’ll get recrimination for it, but I thought it was nice.