Underbelly: articles

Destined for acting

IF YOU'RE flicking through the channels on a Wednesday night you might see the same faces on several networks.

Melbourne actor Kat Stewart is in Underbelly on Channel 9 — playing tough-talking gangster's wife Roberta Williams — and she's also a regular on Shaun Micallef's SBS comedy program Newstopia.

But, if you're a big fan of Australian television, you would already know the face.

Stewart played Duncan Freeman's troubled girlfriend Claire on the first season of City Homicide and scientist Rachel Mann in the BBC series Supernova as well as filling roles on Last Man Standing, Blue Heelers and Kick.

Looking at her CV it would seem that Stewart was always destined for a career in front of the camera, but the Victorian actor did everything she could to avoid the profession.

"I wanted to be an actor since about grade two, but I didn't think it was a realistic career, I kept thinking it was just a phase and that I should do something more stable," she says.

"So I did an arts degree and a marketing degree, but I was still doing plays with the theatre society at university, and then I worked as a publicist (for Penguin Books) for a couple of years."

Once in the workforce Stewart signed up for a course at the National Theatre Drama School, hoping she would grow out of acting or discover she lacked talent, but the opposite happened and she "just loved it more and more".

Stewart had to make the decision about her future when she was meant to work at the Adelaide Writers' Festival on the same day her second-year play was due to open.

"It was a hard decision but I've never looked back, and I have been working more or less full-time as an actor for the past couple of years," she says. "It took me a while to realise that you should do work that makes you happy."

Stewart's Underbelly role, which sees her playing one of the few significant female characters in a story about the men who ran Melbourne's drug scene, is certainly making her happy at the moment.

"It's incredible and in some of the group scenes I was looking around thinking 'this is the best gig of all time'," she says.

"The scripts were the most exciting TV scripts that I've got my hands on, that I have ever seen let alone performed, and you almost couldn't write characters like these people.

"These were stories that touched our lives while it was happening. It's living on the edge, it's life and death and sex and drugs and tragedy, and it's amazing."

The real Roberta Williams has been critical of Underbelly saying the series "swayed between being hurtful and comical" and portrayed her as a "drug-taking ho".

Williams visited the Underbelly set when the cast and crew were filming in Melbourne last winter, but it happened on a day Stewart wasn't working.

"I did hear that she came, but she lived in the area that we were filming, so I think it was a coincidence," Stewart says.

"I didn't get to meet her, we never crossed paths, but it was tricky and it was hard to know what to do.

"I decided not to go with an impersonation so (meeting Roberta) might have made my job more complicated.

"My job as an actor, with any character I play, is to see the work from their point of view and I was working from her side. But, saying that, I didn't write the script. I only have empathy for her and I tried to do my best."

By Sarah Nicholson
March 11, 2008
The Courier-Mail