IT’S Australia as Ann Dowd never imagined she’d see it — dangling from a rope in a basalt quarry at Bombo on the South Coast.
But as anyone familiar with the work of American actress knows, there’s little the Emmy Award winning actress won’t do for a role she believes in and she believes completely in the character of Sister Margarita, the catholic nun she will play in a new four-part television drama series Lambs of God, currently shooting in Sydney for Foxtel.
During a break in production at Fox Studios on Friday, Dowd — best known to television audiences as the terrifying and cruel overseer of enslaved women, Aunt Lydia, in The Handmaid’s Tale — sang the praises of the Australian cast and crew who are now six weeks into a 10-week shoot under the watchful eye of acclaimed Australian cinematographer Don McAlpine (The Dressmaker, The Chronicles of Narnia), who has taken up the camera for his first foray into television at age 84.
“I’m astounded by the beauty of Sydney,” the actress said of her first visit to the Harbour City.
“I think Sydney is spectacular. I can’t get over it. I mean the first day I arrived I literally went down the street and there was an ocean, the largest thing I’ve ever seen.
“Now I’ve seen the ocean, but I haven’t seen the Australian ocean and the cliffs and the beauty. Just stunning.”
Dowd stars alongside Essie Davis and British actress Jessica Barden in Lambs of God, which is based on the gothic novel by Australian writer Marele Day and tells the story of three nuns living forgotten in a convent on an isolated island when an unwelcome priest, played by Sam Reid, arrives and discovers them.
Playing a woman of God is a bit of a departure for Dowd, now on screen as a satanic medium in the horror film Hereditary, opposite Toni Collette, and who at 62 has cornered the market on evil film zealots.
Warm and delightful in the flesh, Dowd understands the courage and commitment of the characters she plays.
“The notion of devotion to God and what that could possibly mean if it’s real, I’ve been exposed to since I was a child,” she said, explaining she was educated at Catholic schools. “The nuns that I was surrounded by in large part mostly were very well educated, very smart. I have some very, very beautiful memories. I have two aunts who are Catholic sisters. One has just died … my aunt Beth remains.”
The Lambs of God character Margarita initially confounded her.
“At first I thought (Margarita was) frightened and that didn’t appeal to me, but then I realised those who are frightened and persevere in their lives are warriors really and survivors and they have phenomenal strength and as soon as I realised that I was very happy to join her and get to know her a little bit.”
The Foxtel series, produced by Lingo Pictures, has received a $550,000 injection from the State Government’s Made in NSW production fund, and a further $100,000 from its Regional Filming Fund.
On meeting Arts Minister Don Harwin on Friday, Dowd instinctively took an ambassadorial role, generously thanking the minister for his government’s support of the arts.
“It’s so important to support (the industry),” she said emphatically, winning over a minister who is a professed The Handmaid’s Tale fan, and whose mandate is to attract the lion’s share of international film and television production to NSW over other states.
The Made in NSW fund will see the government invest $10 million a year for four years in local production. To date it has generated $412 million in revenue for the state and created 11,000 jobs.
June 24, 2018 www.dailytelegraph.com.au