Ushered into the Sydney hotel room where Greta Scacchi is spending a few hours
receiving the press, I am greeted by a surprised smile: "I remember you!" she
exclaims, clearly not having remembered my name, but recognising my face. Considering ten
years have passed between meetings, I am surprised: it's one thing me remembering a
midnight interview with Greta Scacchi on the island of Phuket while she was filming Turtle
Beach, but it's quite another for her to remember it. "Was I moaning and
complaining?" she asks, still smiling at the memory.
Perhaps that was it; she had been having a bad day and bad night shoot, and it - rather
than me - stuck in her memory, and was jogged by my face. Maybe I have a jogging face. In
any event, it broke the ice and Scacchi - in blue jeans and a casual top - plonked herself
on the floor on her knees, legs apart and elbows leaning on the posh little glass coffee
table for support. I sat on the two seater opposite her, Sydney's Hyde Park going autumnal
through the windows behind me.
It is nearly lunch time, and soon she would order room service (Thai tom yum soup to
start . . .) before packing up and heading off to start rehearsals for the ABC TV mini
series, The Farm (playing an Australian farmer's wife) with director Kate Woods, who had
directed her in Looking for Alibrandi, Scacchi's first Australian film for a while. But
the professional reunification was a coincidence - although Scacchi says she was prompted
to take the job when she heard Woods was to direct. "She's very ambitious to have the
highest standards and get the best results. Working with her on Alibrandi, she had so much
detail, with such planning. It's rare to find directors who've visualised so much and
worked out the way to tell the story."
"I am always fascinated by these transmutations of
Looking for Alibrandi first attracted Scacchi on its publication as a book. "I should
have read the book," she says, "I had bought it when it was published and was
carrying round with me all over the place. Of course I'd been interested because it is an
Italian - Australian story."
Although it struck a chord with her, it was not those personal issues that prompted her
to buy the book. "I am always fascinated by these transmutations of culture . . . I
was so intrigued when we were researching for the show, Waterfront, and working with all
those actors who are from the Italian community in Melbourne. Their grandparents came from
Italy - and they were still speaking Italian. Here in Australia, people can keep their
national identity, they don't have ditch it."
Her own circumstances are very different, she hastens to point out. "My family
connection is North Italian, these were Sicilians and although I shot a film in Sicily
once I still probably wouldn't connect so closely with that. And they make their tomato
sauce in a completely different way," she says smiling, in a reference to the tomato
squashing scene in Looking for Alibrandi.
As we talk about nationality and culture - subjects which fascinate her for personal
reasons - Scacchi reveals her thoughtful side, and also something of her curious
cross-cultural background. "I carry an Italian passport and an Australian passport. I
don't have a British one… " She feels more "comfortable" since getting
her Australian passport, which she did six years ago, "as soon as Italy and Australia
had an agreement about dual nationality." She had always had an Italian passport -
her father was Italian, mother English - and had always assumed she would get a British
passport when she turned 18, "because I'd been on my mother's British passport."
"I was sooooo pissed off!"
But while her application for British citizenship was being processed at the Home
Office, Margaret Thatcher came to power, "and she decided that all females born
abroad of a foreign father could never become British," she explains in her quiet,
neutral-English voice, calmly, but clearly with some feeling. "I was sooooo pissed
off! I appealed and all they were interest in was the nationality of my father's father
and his father . . .and if there was nay sign of Englishness on my paternal side, to merit
me getting a British passport. The fact that my mother was English of Viking stock going
back generations, made no difference to Thatcher England! So when I snatched my passport
back from them and thought, bugger you, who wants to be British anyway….I found that
I liked that status. And I've never applied again. I'm not interested." That said,
Scacchi is based in England, although she comes to Australia "a lot." And the
irony is that with the EEC, her Italian passport gives her free access to Britain - more
so than her Australian passport, which, if she used it for travel to Britain, would
require a visa.
But all of this talk of a passport is nothing more than Scacchi's perception of the
usefulness of having as many travel documents as possible. They have little to do with the
feeling of belonging or a sense of national patriotism. She was four when her mother took
young Greta to England, but she finished her schooling, from age 15, in Perth. "Most
of my growing identity was in England, so that's probably the biggest part of me. But I
feel I can disown it at a whim, and I like that."
My mother influenced me - it was summer holidays with my dad, who was a cad and a
bounder, so his influence was very transient. But when I'm in Italy I feel like a
foreigner; and when I'm in England I feel like a foreigner. Partly when it's convenient
for me - like 'Thatcher's not mine…I'm Italian, you can't blame me for her!' And all
those childhood years I always felt . . . different. That's probably quite a snobbish
thing to feel…."
"a different part of me"
And as early as eight, Scacchi recognised that cultures were more than just different
languages. "I noticed then that when I was in Italy on a visit, it wasn't just the
words that were different - it was the thoughts that were different, the mentality. I
didn't just say things differently in Italian, I was expressing myself in a different way,
and it was a different part of me. I identified that a different part of me came to the
But when she arrived in Australia at 15, Scacchi for the first time didn't feel like a
foreigner - yet she was in the strangest land in her life to that point. "I feel it's
full of variety and slip into that. There's such a range of cultural identities that I no
longer feel I'm an outsider; I can be one of them."