.Anna McGahan is a 27-year-old Australian, Logie-nominated actress best known for her portrayal as Nellie Cameron in 2011’s Underbelly: Razor and her role in House Husbands. She has written at length about her decision to not appear nude in any future productions. In this edited extract, she recounts how she was forced to pose nude while doing promotion for that character and how that changed her whole outlook on going nude for acting roles. The original version appears on her website, A Forbidden Room.
Last night, I went and saw a play called ‘We Get It’.
It was part of MTC Neon, and created by ‘The Elbow Room’ – written by Marcel Dorney and Rachel Perks, and co-directed by Marcel Dorney and Emily Tomlins.
I went to this play with two male friends, and we sat in the front row. For most of the play, I laughed loudly. It was excellent satire, pitting female actors against one another in a sordid reality show.
The aggressively charismatic host, ‘Emily’, engaged and provoked the contestants, who became increasingly confused, insecure, and then angry – but were continually objectified and rejected, and finally rendered voiceless.
At one point in the play, ‘Emily’ gets a cue that leaves her conflicted. She stops the show, and refuses to say her next line.
It then takes a turn.
‘Emily’ begins to talk directly to the audience – slowly, cautiously. She becomes fragile before our eyes – all showmanship evaporating. She monologues about her experiences, her understanding about what it means to be seen as F (f—able) or NF (not f—-able).
As ‘Emily’ speaks she removes her costume, piece by piece. The wig, the jacket, the corset, the pants, the body stocking, the heels. Behind her, ‘live tweets’ of audience mockery and abuse are broadcast for the audience to see.
The play’s world converged with reality, into a genuine question of justice.
I wanted to say sorry. I wanted to get on my knees, or get on stage and sit at ‘Emily’s’ feet. I also wanted to leave. My friend said later that he wanted to get undressed, too. Just stand there, before her, in repentance.
My conviction manifested as grief, and I did not move and I could not look. As she took off every single one of her clothes, and told us how she was not deemed ‘F’, I closed my eyes.
Now, I bring up my professional experiences [in the fourth season of ‘Underbelly’, playing a 16-year-old prostitute, Nellie Cameron] with caution and with respect.
I don’t feel like a victim, or a passive wanderer through a broken system. I was naïve. And in my naivety, I was not able to protect myself from an industry that did not consider itself responsible for me, or how my body was experienced and understood by a public audience.
We all partake in this. I was complicit.
I performed the role [of Nellie] with joy and pride. I love a bit of physical freedom. In the safer contexts, it did feel liberating. I had incredible directors and mentors around me who did seek to make sure I felt empowered on set. I was committed to authentically telling the story of this woman, who had actually lived in 1920s Sydney, but I also knew I was playing a sociopathic criminal, extreme in every sense. I wasn’t concerned about how it would reflect on me, or anyone else. They all knew I was acting – it was art!