For a performer who once launched herself from an upright piano onto a swinging trapeze
while holding 50 helium balloons, playing a challenging character – even one who goes
in fort a bit of S & M with whips – is not unusual. Emily Woof, best remembered
(by mainstream audiences who missed her helium balloon escapade) as the short tempered
wife of Robert Carlyle’s character in The Full Monty, will be equally well remembered
hereafter for her role as Karen Holten.
"Peter creates an atmosphere where exploration of a
role is allowed"
Holten was the woman in Percy Grainger’s life – apart from his mother, Rose,
that is – at least for a while. Woof, who co-stars in Passion, the biopic with
Richard Roxburgh as Percy, has also co-starred with another Australian – Toni
Collette – in Velvet Goldmine.
But this was the first time she worked in Australia, which worked in her favour.
"She was very much an outsider," says Woof, "and coming to Australia from
England was very useful -–I could draw on that same sensation. The first day on set I
felt a complete stranger…"
But Woof found working with Australian director Peter Duncan and American actor Barbara
Hershey a great pleasure. "Peter is very sensitive; a director who gives you room to
explore and find out out for yourself what you want to do with a scene. Some directors are
pushy and have a fixed view but Peter creates an atmosphere where exploration of a role is
allowed. I love that."
"He said, yes hit me. I like working with actors who
are intense…" on Richard Roxburgh
Woof is curled up in an armchair in the bar of the Savoy Hotel in Cannes as we talk
about her work in Passion and her acting in general. (She was in Cannes to help promote
Passion, which screened in the market.) The early afternoon barman has brought us mineral
water, and the sun is slanting its rays across the windows that open onto the elegant
architecture of the Carlton Hotel next door. Woof is quite petite, but with a layer of
strength beneath an outward vulnerability. She can flick from lighthearted joviality to
profound introspection in the space of a full stop.
Woof found Roxburgh just as approachable. "I felt we had a strong rapport as
actors and always felt I could do anything in a take and it’d be fine. Near the end I
whacked him quite a bit . . .but we’d talked about it and agreed. He said, yes hit
me. I like working with actors who are intense…"
Well, of course by then they had both indulged in a bit of S & M on the side,
tripping down to a suburban house in Coogee, where a dungeon awaited them, and a
professional dominatrix whipped them with 10 different whips – just to get an idea of
what it was all about, in readiness for filming similar scenes.
"It was like a big drug rush, adrenalin
pumping…like being in love. I was very excited, very alive." on
Glad they were to have done it, too. "I wanted to know what it was like," she
says. "It’s about sexual pleasure but it is absolutely centred on pain."
The most painful part was the whipping with a riding crop, "that really made me
But it also gave Woof an intense high afterwards. "When the whipping was finished
I couldn’t stop talking and running around. It was like a big drug rush, adrenalin
pumping…like being in love. I was very excited, very alive."
Yet, for all her willingness to be absorbed by acting professionally, Woof has a
strange ambivalence about it. "Which is a bit of a struggle….When I’m doing
it, it’s the most rewarding thing. But I write a lot and writing is very fulfilling
– acting can never have that…that sense of completion. Yet some roles and some
scenes are tremendous to do."
Woof, who wrote and devised her own shows (some with helium balloons and such), has
just finished her first screenplay, Revolver. "It’s parallel stories set in the
60s and 90s, based around The Beatles and obsessive love. It’s a dark romantic
drama," she says.
Seemingly relaxed but filled with latent energy that bubbles up at the smallest
trigger, Woof admits she's’ "pretty insatiable about doing things. I dance, I
write, I play guitar and write songs…I’m very lucky having a lot of
resources," as she puts it, ‘and foind it hard to do nothing…or even to
"I’m not great at being on my own."
But she’s lucky being in "a secure relationship that’s important to me.
I’m not great at being on my own." Despite that, she has "lots" of
fears, but as she points out, it only comes out in her writing. "Read my work…it
all comes out… I do have a melancholy side."