Maggie Kirkpatrick may have won the hearts of Aussies everywhere for her portrayal of Joan ‘The Freak’ Ferguson on popular TV show Prisoner, but the talented actress said it took a bit of work to convince her mum it was the right career path, admitting she never really thought she supported her acting and wondered when she’d get a “real job”.
While the 78-year-old has nothing but praise for her mother, describing her as a “rather strong woman” and “quite a force in my life for the better”, Maggie said when it came to her career she wasn’t exactly on the sidelines waving banners in support. Many Baby Boomers will likely recall how expressing emotions for parents often wasn’t the norm – and so the words of praise were few and far between.
Chatting to Starts at 60 following the release of her book ‘The Gloves Are Off’, Maggie explained: “As far as her supporting my career I never felt very much that she was, although I believe she was really very proud. Though never to me.” However, though the “congratulations” and “I’m so proud of you” weren’t present, the actress found out later on that her mum was always supporting her, she’d just kept it hidden.
Upon her mother’s passing a few years back, Maggie explained she had been sorting through belongings when she came across some items that proved, although she’d never said it, her mum was truly proud of her achievements. “When she passed and I was cleaning out her house I found a scrapbook and interviews and things like that,” the actress said.
Although Aussies have long commended Maggie for portraying such an evil character in Prisoner, the actress said it could have been a reason for her mother’s lack of praise throughout her life. As the grandmother explained, she and Joan are completely different people, and playing someone so villainous was probably difficult for her mother to accept. This could explain why her mum was always front and centre at the many musicals she performed in, including ‘Wicked’ and ‘Anything Goes’, but when the topic of Prisoner was brought up there was silence.
“Whenever possible she came to see shows I was in, she loved doing that and I don’t think she cared very much for Prisoner, we never discussed it very much,” Maggie said. “I think it was a bit odd for her. Most of her life I think she harboured the hope that one day I’d get a real job. It went on for too long, there was no turning back.”
For Maggie herself, playing Joan wasn’t a walk in the park either. It was a challenge, but one that the actress is glad she took. However, it has come with its difficulties as people struggle to seperate the character from real life.
“All actors like roles that stretch them and that are different, this [Joan] is the polar opposite to me, I would hope,” she explained to Starts at 60. “That’s what it’s all about, stretching yourself and challenging what talent you have.” She added: “I think there are now probably a lot of people around the world who are quite confused. The actor and the role are not one of the same, but that’s their problem.”
Now stepping away from the spotlight, Maggie said Prisoner is not the “be all and end all” and she has much better things in life to focus on such as family and friends. Like many over-60s, the prospect of getting old is hard to come to grips with – with the star claiming “I’m ageing disgracefully”, but her children and grandchildren are helping to keep her young.
“I see my daughter all the time, I see my granddaughter often and my grandson and his wife and my great-granddaughter are about four hours away,” she explained. “We’re fairly close people.” Meanwhile, the friendships she maintained throughout her working life are still going strong with the likes of Anne Phelan, Betty Bobbitt and Elspeth Valentine still considered close friends.
Although Maggie explained, as so often occurs when life gets in the way, they aren’t able to catch up as much as they’d like to, but the long phone calls have cemented them all as life-long friends. The star credits both her friends and family for their immense support over the years, as she battled through a widely publicised court case and problems with alcohol and drugs.
From being wrongfully perceived as an angry villain like her on-screen character, to having all eyes on her after being wrongfully accused of sexual assault, Maggie admitted that it hasn’t been easy. While being in the spotlight certainly has its benefits, it evidently led to one of the worst times of the 78-year-old’s life when in 2015 she was charged with child sexual assault against a 13-year-old girl in the 1980s. Maggie ended up appealing the case and won, with the charge consequently dropped but the pain of the case being spread across televisions and newspapers throughout Australia had already taken its toll.
During the period, many media outlets chose to use pictures of Maggie from Prisoner in reporting the case, with the actress describing their actions as completely “unspeakable”. Chatting to Starts at 60 about the difficult time, the grandmother said she struggles to trust anymore after being put on display in such a way by those she thought had her back.
“I had always had very good relations with the press and I found that unforgivable,” she explained. “It was Joan Ferguson who was on trial by the media and worst of all there was a segment on the news which featured a scene from Prisoner of Joan in handcuffs with two policemen that had nothing to do with Maggie Kirkpatrick.
“It was that sort of thing that really got up my nose and I have no trust in the media since. I am just wary of everything and wary of people as well. It’s my fault for having been such an open book all my life so that was then and this is now.”
The fact she was found guilty in the first place was as Maggie explained, “the greatest shock of all”, but thankfully she did have a team of support around her who were determined to see justice served. Thanking the young and old for rallying around her, the actress explained: “It was particularly painful for my family, but as I’ve said a number of times, without my family and my friends, and in particular my fans I don’t think I would have gotten through it.” Adding: “That was then, this is now.”
Maggie Kirkpatrick’s new book, The Gloves Are Off, is now available by New Holland Publishers for $32.99 from all good book retailers or online here.