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Alexandra Davies

Having a mental illness need not limit an actor’s potential, All Saints star Alexandra Davies tells Penelope Cross.

An emotional rescue

SHE is one of the brightest new stars on television, but for All Saints ambo Alexandra Davies, acting was far from the most practical career choice.

The unpredictable profession with a side order of stress is not ideal for a person with depression and panic disorder.

“My counsellor says to me all the time: ‘For someone who has this kind of disposition, you’ve certainly chosen an interesting career!’, ” Davies says, laughing.

“But the funny thing is, I cannot see myself doing anything else. I’m so passionate about storytelling and entertaining.”

Davies, who plays All Saints paramedic Cate McMasters, has been dealing with anxiety since she was a child.

“I had my first panic attack when I was 15,” she says. “I was very anxious as a young girl around the time my parents got divorced and I had really bad sleeping problems.

“I was too afraid to tell Mum that I couldn’t go to sleep so I used to get up and hide behind the sofa in the lounge room, knowing Mum would come through before she went to bed to draw the curtains. I’d give her the most awful fright!”

But while the 27-year-old now controls her illness with a combination of hard work and antidepressants, the past few years have been tumultuous.

Ironically, her personal life was at a low point in 2001 and 2002, when she scored big breaks career-wise—lead roles in two short-lived Channel 9 shows, Flat Chat opposite Jean Kittson and Young Lions alongside Alex Dimitriades.

The lowest point came when, after a fight with her then boyfriend in February 2001, Davies cut up her left arm with a kitchen knife.

“We weren’t right together—it was a very volatile relationship,” she says. “I copped a lot of verbal abuse and my self-esteem absolutely plummeted.”

While Davies now describes the incident as a trigger, a year passed before she sought help.

During her time on Young Lions, for which she scored a Logie nomination for most popular new female talent, Davies was depressed, crying and having panic attacks daily.

But to the outside world she appeared fine. “I’ve always been the class clown—the cheery one,” she says.

It wasn’t until January 2003—a few months after she had finished filming Young Lions—that Davies reached out to her mother.

“I called my mum up and said I don’t know why I’m crying all the time,” she says. “I felt so guilty about it—I have great family and friends, my own home.”

Davies started seeing a counsellor soon afterwards and was diagnosed with severe depression and panic disorder.

“I’m on medication to help level me out but you also have to do the work,” she says. “I knew it was going to be a long and hard road to recovery. You have to learn to take responsibility yourself for having the life that you want.”

Davies hopes that being so vocal about her illness will help create awareness in the community.

“With mental illness, people will often try and tell you to snap out of it because they probably still can’t see anything that’s wrong with you,” she says.

Despite her illness, her career with All Saints and Channel 7 seems to be on the up and up. With Georgie Parker not sure of staying with the series for the whole of 2006, there is room for Cate to be a more central figure.

“Until the end of the year, I’ve been written into the show a lot more and I have some really great storylines,” Davies says.

Cate is more high-profile as she has taken on shifts as a nurse at the hospital to earn some extra cash. “They’re tossing up at the moment whether to keep me on as an ambo or a nurse,” Davies says.

“I love being an ambo—it means you get all the location stuff, which is great. But you get the catering on set too, and I do love my food!”

 All Saints, Tuesday, Seven 8.30pm

By Penelope Cross
October 21, 2004
The Courier Mail