IT SEEMS Robin Tunney just can't escape the Australian colonisation of Hollywood. She played opposite Anthony LaPaglia in her first film, Empire Records (1995), while sharing the screen with Simon Baker in her latest role in television's The Mentalist. She has worked with Joel Edgerton and Dominic Purcell; for eight years she was in a relationship with Andrew Dominik, the once-Melbourne-based director of Chopper; and counts Ben Mendelsohn, who stayed in her house while promoting Animal Kingdom, as a very dear old friend.
The Mentalist's Robin Tunney has worked hard to develop her role.
|The eyes have it: Robin Tunney's goal of ''old-lady'' |
roles is some distance off, we venture.
''You guys are everywhere; you're taking over the world,'' Tunney says with evident affection on the phone from Los Angeles.
Not that she minds one little bit.
''What you see is what you get,'' she says of her co-star Baker, who plays the charming though erratic psychic, Patrick Jane, in the runaway successful crime series The Mentalist.''Australians aren't people to throw compliments around too lightly,'' Tunney says. ''When he says, 'Good job', he really means it. He has a sense of humour about himself. He's not fragile. You can take the piss out of him and pull jokes on him any time and he'll roll with it.''
The Chicago-born Tunney has rarely been out of work since Empire Records and The Craft (1996) brought her to notice but TV rather than film has been the bedrock of her career.
''I think a lot of the better roles for women have shifted to TV,'' she says. ''It's hard out there. [Unless] you're one of 10 women [such as] Kate Winslet and Vera Farmiga, there's a very short list of women working in movies.
''My long-term plan is to not get any plastic surgery and maybe I'll get some old-lady roles!''
Luck has also played a part. ''I've never been someone who would get desperate to work when I wasn't,'' she says. ''To be honest, there's a lot of common roles that I'm just not good at. I've tried to play the grieving wife or the supportive, weepy wife at home and it just doesn't suit me. That's the role that's usually written in suspense thrillers but it's not me. I don't think there's a great amount of interesting roles.''
Initially, that could have been the fate of The Mentalist's Teresa Lisbon. Tunney admits she had serious reservations when she first read the show's script before Jane's role was cast.
''In the pilot there was a power struggle between Jane and Lisbon and immediately I thought, 'This isn't going to work episode after episode; I can't constantly be telling him, you can't go above my head.' Because the show is called The Mentalist, he's going to be right and getting invested in those arguments isn't going to work.
''On the page they were hard-wired completely differently and there was this struggle but that changed by virtue of casting.''
A distinctive merit of series TV, Tunney says, is the opportunity it gives writers to play to actors' strengths and to develop storylines and character relationships accordingly. ''When you do a film it's set in stone - there's a beginning, middle and end and you know what your role is,'' she says.
''On TV, you have to go out and perform week after week and if it stops working, they stop writing for it. If Simon and I didn't have chemistry, they'd stop writing it. Which is kind of fun because you feel you're always having to prove yourself.''
The fourth and latest season of The Mentalist, which began on Monday, sees Lisbon questioning Jane's sanity as he resumes his quest to find Red John, the elusive serial killer who took the life of his wife and daughter; and dealing once again with her troubled past.
Her misfit brother (played by Henry Thomas) emerges from nowhere and becomes a reminder of why she is so good at cleaning up other people's messes.
Lisbon's mother died when the character was 14 and she was subsequently forced into becoming the caretaker of her three younger brothers.
''She didn't really have a youth,'' Tunney says, ''she grew up quickly.
''She's familiar with chaos and grew up in a house where she didn't feel safe.''
Unable to trust anyone, she's ''not had a serious relationship, or any kind of relationship, for that matter''.
Tunney jokes that no one is more interested in knowing whether Lisbon and Jane are going to act upon their mutual attraction than her own parents.
''Oh, does my mother think he's handsome,'' she purrs. ''My father way prefers him to me.''
Though fans love arguing about whether Jane and Lisbon will take their relationship to the next level, Tunney knows that it is a minefield and potential show-killer: ''We're over dead bodies all the time. What do you do - do you have a mentalist junior who solves crimes with us in a pram?''
On the verge of 40, Tunney accepts that there is a lot of pressure on actresses to conform to a particular look and dress. The internet has not helped. ''It's very hard to not Google yourself,'' she says. ''Everyone is going to have an opinion about how you look. I think that's really confusing for women.''
Having taken up the acting profession in the 1990s, at a time when ''Juliette Lewis was the coolest actor on the scene and downplaying your looks and sexuality was cool'', Tunney says she has no insecurity about her image.
''I'm somebody who's been blessed with good genes; I eat pasta and have dessert and do exercise but never had to do anything extreme. I've never felt the pressure other women have felt. I've gotten lucky.''
The Mentalist is on Monday at 8.30pm on Nine.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Special thanks to: Alejandra from The Mentalist: Foro en Español and Mary from Robin's Green Shades