Roslyn studied music during her childhood but started her professional life working as a primary school teacher in Sydney. Deciding to become an actress, Roslyn trained at the National Institute for Dramatic Art. She is probably best remembered as one of the most outrageous characters ever to appear in the cult TV drama “Prisoner”, playing Laura Gardiner, a shy librarian by day but a tough-talking prostitute, working under the name Brandy Carter, by night. Here she talks about her decade spanning career and what is up next.
1. Where in Australia did you grow up? Can you tell us a bit about your childhood?
I was born in a tiny country town called Gulgong, about 150 miles straight west of Sydney. We soon moved to the slightly larger town of Mudgee, (home of Craigmore Winery), where my dad and mom ran a grocery store for the first 4-5 years of my life. I have very few memories from this time: A big black dog and a pet cockatoo in my backyard, being given a plaster cast of a Santa statue by Santa at what must have been preschool and swinging on the roosting swings in the chicken coop with my older sister.
It was my Mom’s dream to come to Sydney which we did when I was 5. Sadly she passed away very unexpectedly not long after we arrived leaving our grieving dad with a newborn. He then opened a small accommodation lodge on Bondi Beach with his dad, whose wife had also passed. They call it Thelellen (both their wives names – Thelma and Ellen). With 3 little girls under 8 (one only a few months old) plus a new business Dad sent us two older girls to boarding school. So my first 7 years of school were spent with the nuns. I saw my first movie at boarding school (the Song of Bernadette and wanted to become a nun!!!) Lol! Then I went to the tivoli to see Peter Pan and I wanted to be that girl flying across the stage dressed as a boy! It took awhile for me to get there though! We would go home on weekends and holidays when we would be put to work serving the breakfasts or cleaning the rooms before we could hit the beach – an easy walk and a place I loved!. Dad bought a projector so we could watch old cartoons. I remember we had one of the first versions of Mickey Mouse (unrecognizable today!) My sister and I would create movie events for all the kids in the street. I think we even charged!! Lol! We were also the first people on the street with television, when I was around 5-6. Because Mom was a jazz pianist, dad wanted us all to learn piano which I started at 5 also. Later I taught myself guitar. And learned to play cello for the school orchestra. So I was always surrounded by people…at school (60 in a dorm) or home, always a bedroom share with 1 or 2 others and lots of guests!!!. When I was 12 my father remarried so we came home and went to school nearby. My stepmother went on to have 7 children and that made ten of us! In high school I started singing in an all girl folk group. We did weddings and folks clubs, pubs and wine bars and backup vocal for some celebs here and there. Dad was a larger than life gregarious man but very strict with his kids. So childhood was a mixed bag of hard work, tolerance, lots of sharing stuff, peeling off sunburn, monthly birthday parties, babysitting and vying for attention in the rabble of it all!
2. You started your professional life as a primary school teacher in Sydney. What led you to the decision to pursue education?
I enjoyed acting in high school but could not seriously consider it as a career option as I believed (to my absolute horror today!) that it was only for people who weren’t smart enough to do anything else!!!! YIKES!!! And I was smart so I should become a teacher. Which I did! I taught 6-7 year olds (I thought that would allow my gifts in the arts to be put to good use.) Then I moved to ESL teaching (fewer students in the class!!) Teaching has been a great tool to have along the way and continues to this day. I think I always knew I would be a teacher… it’s kinda in my DNA …like acting!
3. In what ways did that experience prepare you to enter the world of acting?
When you’re teaching 6-7 year olds you’re acting much of the time.. like pretending to be cross when all you really want to do is burst out laughing at what they have done or said… but you know if you do that you will lose them completely (I know this from experience ;-). Teaching is harder.. You have an audience in both but one usually hopefully wants to be there , the other usually …not so much!!! So discipline becomes an art. I guess it made me very aware of where the audience is at though. You have to read them at all times.. Are they engaged, are they listening, are they bored..? So I think in that way it prepared me for theater work!
4. Was there a moment you recall that led you to train at the National Institute for Dramatic Arts?
Well I had left full time teaching at 25 to try and make a career of singing and started my first acting class to help with the singing. I took weekly evening classes with a woman named Betty Williams who also taught at NIDA. From day one I knew I was home. She asked questions constantly about the psychology of the characters and that’s what drew me in. I knew I was a natural performer but I had no idea acting was delving into the psychology of human behaviour which had always fascinated me. From that moment I knew what my career was going to be! Not, as I said, that teaching ever went away. It has been my saviour through the tough times. I started teaching acting in the 80’s at the Actors Center plus having my own classes at home. Courses ran consistently in Australia through word of mouth, no advertising ever. It’s the regular money when the acting is not there and I am still currently teaching…you guessed it …the Psychology of Performance (a course I introduced to the school 10 years ago) at NYFA https://www.nyfa.edu/ here in LA.
But back to your question… that specific moment….I had been with an agent for a year and had done a lot of commercials… I was the commercial queen! But only getting background work or one liners in series and films. And a good friend who had also been studying with Betty Willams at the beginning had gone to NIDA and was now getting offered really good roles. So I could see what I had to do. At 29 after 4 years of acting classes once a week. I decided to bite the bullet and head back to school again for another three years. NIDA auditions 2000+ actors around the country and takes only 25 a year. I was one of the lucky ones that year!
5. What was one of the most memorable experiences training at that school?
Oh, so many but I think one of the best experiences that continued to influence me well into my career was the time we were given 6 weeks to do whatever we wanted to do…some chose to create something of their own, others chose to do a play they particularly loved etc. I said to myself “what scares me most, so I can get past it?”….and the answer came… learning big chunks of dialogue! So I chose to do a one woman show. I found a wonderful playwright called Barry Dickens had written one, called Bridle Suit, about an Australian country woman who had been jilted on her wedding night and had gone a little crazy and still had the rat eaten wedding cake under the bed. It was a most exhilarating experience and gave me the confidence to attempt that out in the real world not once but twice with two different solo performances that have been performed all over the world. One I toured throughout Scotland back in 1997 after the Edinburgh festival.
6. In 1983 you got the role of Brandy Carter in the very successful Australian TV show, Prisoner. Can you tell us about how you landed the part?
Yes this was my first major job out of NIDA. Prisoner at that time was very successful. It was an all female prison – the early Orange is the New Black – and like here in the US there weren’t as many good roles for women as there were for men generally so all actresses in town wanted to get on the show. So I was thrilled when my agent called with the audition. The role was a woman with multiple personality syndrome so the audition was quite gruelling but fairly fresh out of NIDA and full of the confidence of a new fledgling, I dove straight into the craziness of it and won the role.
7. What was the experience like of becoming an iconic character for a hit TV show almost overnight?
It was fun doing my first interviews for TV Magazines and newspapers. But the culture of celebrity didn’t exist at that time in Australia (nothing like here) so it was just nice to share it with friends and family. It did afford me some good subsequent auditions though! Prisoner still has a wonderful cult following particularly in the gay community and I still have many fans on FB especially from the UK but from all over the world really. I think they were one of the first to have celebrity events where they invited as many of the cast as they could along with fans for a chatfest or a dinner. They are still happening to this day and many of the fans who write to me on FB are as young as 16-17 and can tell me all the characters on the show! They know more about my character(s) than I do!! So it has a whole new generation of followers!
8. You were in a number of Australian TV shows throughout the 80’s and 90’s like Home and Away, Mother and Son, A Country Practice and Neighbours. What was the entertainment scene like in Australia during this time period?
It was very active. The rules of how much TV had to be produced in Australia had changed (after years of a lot of US television) so there was a lot of production. And I was lucky enough to have quite a few good roles, some recurring, some leads in mini series and some great guest roles. And of course commercials were always there for me!
9. When did you decide to come to America? What led to that decision?
Well this is a big question. I had always been attracted to America as a child.. mainly because of TV and wanting to see all those beautiful landscapes we would see in the westerns and of course Hollywood etc. It was very attractive to us. But as I grew older reality set in. In my 30’s I actually started a very deep and disciplined spiritual path and really wanted to change the world. Acting became simply my way of earning a living, that I was lucky to have, as it was what I loved to do. I Had always felt also that I was a global citizen rather than from any particular country. The pull to get off ‘the island’ had been strong for a while. But the catalyst really was when I did a leadership course which helped you identify your life’s purpose. I wanted to change the world through this business I was in and loved and in order to do that I should be at the heart of this business – Hollywood! I had lived in LA back in the 80’s for 6 months and travelled through a few times in the early 90’s. So with big dreams of running seminars on leadership for Hollywood I left ‘the island’.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and that I would need to have acting as my backup so I did a soft landing in Vancouver, Canada where I knew folks. I thought I would get some work under my belt in the American accent then head south. But I quickly realized the only roles in Canada were small co-stars as most of the talent came up from LA. This was the place I did finally get my first one women show up though!
My first few years in LA were not fun at all. Couldn’t get an agent for acting and quickly realized if there is anything close to being an actor in Hollywood in terms of difficulty getting work because there are so many doing the same thing…. It’s running seminars!!! So I ended up doing lots of different random jobs (including selling Chinese advertising to Chinese TV stations!!!!) In 2000 I was invited back to Australia to do an acting gig and that was it: I realized my strength and joy was in acting and I must put everything into pursuing that area on my return. My first big job was a spokesperson for a precious metals company that helped support me for the next 13 years!
It’s been a bumpy ride.. But happy where I’ve landed. And while my big dream of changing the world through Hollywood may not have come to fruition the way I thought it would I am still pursuing it in my own small way.
10. How did you come to meet Chris and join CRM?
This story has been told many times but here it is in writing now…. In 2009 I had flown back to Australia to work on a film called Suing the Devil. It was a faith film about a man who decided to sue Satan in court… a courtroom drama! I played the Judge and Malcom McDowell (also a client of Chris’) played Satan. Coming into the green room from set one day I noticed, as I sat, this very good looking dynamic guy talking to a few of the folks. He had an American accent that I hadn’t heard for a while so I was interested to know who he was. When I found out I was even more interested … Wow! A manager who actually cares enough to fly to another country to make sure everything is OK on set… nice…. I want this man to manage me!! He came to set several times so we got to chat a little but not a lot. But the seed was planted… could this be my next manager? I didn’t think it was the time or the place to ask that question so thought I’d leave it till we returned to LA.
It took a few months for me to pluck up the courage to even make a call. And when I finally did he actually answered his phone…another tick! So hard to get straight through to agents and managers in this town! He suggested we meet as Priscillas for coffee. We sat and chatted for, I think, more than 3 hours, laughing over some of the hilarious things that had happened on the film Malcolm and I had just done. It was such a warm friendship that I didn’t want to spoil it by asking for representation. I thought maybe I’d follow up with that in another time maybe by email. But as we were leaving he turned and said to me “ You know I’m working on a film that I think you would be perfect for”. To which I responded, “well if you’re working on a film I am perfect for then you really should be managing me!!” His retort, “And that is our next coffee”. The rest is history. He changed the trajectory of my career!
11. You’ve had a very successful go of it this past decade with appearances on shows like Lucifer, American Crime Story, Agent X, and Hello Ladies. Is it rewarding to have your career continue to grow?
Well such a silly question really. Who wouldn’t be happy that their career is going well!!! Lol!! In fact in my 60’s I’ve had more success than the entire time I’ve been in the country. (26 years) Which is amazing given Hollywood is not really friendly to over 40’s women and usually one’s career starts to peter out as you get older, but mine, touch wood, is heading in the right direction. YAY!!
12. What has been some of the best experiences working with such top talent in these shows?
In American Crime Story: The People Vs OJ Simpson I was lucky enough to be in that courtroom every time they had a court scene, so got to see how the A listers worked up close and personal and one of the things that I really noticed: I can’t remember one scene where they had to stop or retake a scene because someone fluffed their lines or couldn’t remember them. And some of those lawyer courtroom monologues were tough and they had them EVERY DAY! That blew me away. A testament to the dedication and work they put in behind the scenes. But I think my loveliest and most affirming experience was actually working with Charlize Theron and director Jay Roach on Bombshell. It was probably the most high profile feature I’d worked on since coming here and I had two small but really nice little scenes with Charlize… but the whole experience was as I remembered being treated back home in Australia when I was playing leads. I had a very small part but was treated with such respect and care by everyone from wardrobe to makeup to food (so good!)etc. but especially by Charlize (who was also producing) and lovely Jay (so humble, kind, simply delightful man) I remember after finishing the scenes both of them individually came up and thanked me for giving them so much in such a small scene (what a reaffirming experience). Of course as happens when they need to cut a film it’s usually the smaller linking scenes that go. So while I have no remembrance of this beautiful experience on film….it is etched in my heart.
13. In 2011 you were in a film with Malcolm McDowell called Suing the Devil. In 2019 you were with Malcolm in the 2019 Film Bombshell. Are you friends?
We worked together in almost all of the scenes in Suing the Devil but I didn’t actually get to work with him in Bombshell as my two scenes were with Charlize Theron and he was not in on that day. But in terms of friendship…we are not friends as in, we get together for coffee or a drink often, but when we do meet around the traps we pick up just where we left off. There is an unspoken connection there. He’s one of those people I feel like I have known in other lifetimes…. in a good way. 😉
14. What’s up next for you? Any projects coming up?
There was a beautiful feature I was due to start filming literally the day LA went into lockdown and all filming permits were withdrawn. 🙁 So hopefully that will be back soon. For the past year on and off I’ve also been working on a four part docu drama about the terrible murder of publicist Ronni Chasen in 2010 and that still has a few days of shooting to go. I play Ronni.
And a wonderful female Indian director I did a very moving short with years ago on Alzhiemers has written a fabulous comedy (a feature) and actually wrote a part specifically for me as an Australian woman who has been to India many times (I’ve been there 25 times!). They had the money just before covid…but we’ll have to wait and see when it comes back! So a few things in the pipeline when production can really get going again!
15. Your career has spanned many decades of steady work and great roles. What advice would you give to a younger actress that wants to have an acting career that spans many decades.
Never give up…it could come later in life for you! Always see auditions as your chance to play one more time so you don’t get frustrated and bitter at the constant rejection!!! lol!. Have a complimentary job that allows you the flexibility needed but that you also love so you don’t become desperate. They can feel it when you walk into the room. Do comedy classes if it is not your forte. There are more roles for older actors if they are good at comedy. Always keep up with technology and Social Media. It’s not going away!