Hold on tight, ‘Wentworth’ Season 8 is going to be a wild ride

The new season of TV favourite Wentworth arrives on Foxtel on Tuesday night and if the first episode is anything to go by, the show’s eighth season is going to filled with twists, turns, suspense and shocks.

The finale of the show’s 2019 season hit a massive crescendo with a prison siege as crime boss Maree Winter tried to escape Wentworth. Governor Vera Bennett faced off against the gang trying to break Maree free, while teetering on the verge of going in to labor, some of our favourite characters lives came to unexpected ends, others found freedom, and in the final seconds of the episode we saw that Vera’s nemesis, Joan ‘the freak’ Fergusson, was still with us, despite having been buried alive back in season 8.

Now twelve months on the story is ready to resume, and while OUTinPerth got a preview of the first episode we’ve been sworn to secrecy about what happens. What we can tell you is there’s a stack of new characters arriving at Wentworth including former top dog Lou ‘fingers’ Kelly, played by Kate Box, plus her transgender boyfriend Reb, played by Zoe Terakes. Plus there’s a new boss at Wentworth as Anne Reynolds, played by Jane Hall, takes over the management of the facility.  So much happens in the first episode, we can’t wait to see episode two!

With just a few hours until the new series begins we caught up with actor Kate Atkinson who has played the complex character of Vera Bennett since the first episode of the show.

I watched the first episode of the new season, and Vera’s now appearing alongside the world’s most amazing looking baby. 

Oh my God! I’m so glad you mention that, because I was feeling just a little nervous about having to work with a baby. There’s more than one of course, but we try and use the same one consistently, and I was besotted, she’s completely delightful, and so is her adorable mother who lets me manhandle her child quite a lot. She’s gorgeous and we were very lucky because she’s a really capable young actor who does everything she needs to do, pretty much on cue.

It’s lovely to return to the world of Wentworth. Vera Bennett is one of these character who it seems if there’s a decision to be made she’s going to make the wrong one. Is it frustrating portraying her at times? 

It’s become less frustrating to be honest. I think in the first couple of seasons I was walking in the shoes of a character who is very unlike myself.   You could look at the scripts and grit your teeth and go ‘Oh God, how does she manage to make these decisions.’, but you can also kind of embrace it. You surrender to it, and it’s great to play this person who is definitely not a hero.

As the show’s gone on her status has certainly been raised, that’s not to say she doesn’t make questionable decisions – she does. She’s a little bit more in control of her life, but that changes again this season when she encounters a bucket load of bad luck when Fergusson reappears.

We first met eight years ago at a preview screening for Season 1.

That seems such a long time ago now!      

Back when the first season had wrapped did you have any inkling that the show would go on to be this long running, internationally acclaimed phenomenon?

Absolutely not. I hope this doesn’t sound falsely modest, but I thought quite the opposite. We were taking such an enormous gamble taking such an iconic Australian show and reinventing it for a 21st century audience. Other shows have tried to do the same thing, and some not as successfully.  It’s not something that always works and I think we felt that very keenly at the time.

It was a real risk, so we were elated that it did so well. No one would have foreseen that we would have made subsequent series, never mind eight seasons, and it would be internationally successful as well. You don’t make things with your eye on that prize, you just focus on the dramatic world that you are in, and try to make it the work, and then the rest – it’s up to the audience really. It’s the fans which are the motor of all of that.

It’s a fascinating program that shows us you can put women stories, and also LGBT stories front and centre, did you think this will encourage more program to tell these types of stories and perspectives. 

I hope so, but I also hope that our show isn’t showing that diversity because we’re a prison show. Women don’t need to be in prison to have relationships with other women. There is something about the extreme circumstances of our show that make it different, but I hope that’s not the logic on why we have that diversity. Diversity should be in all communities.

But I do really hope so, and it has worked to our advantage, and I hope it illustrates it in a nuanced way because sexuality can be a very flexible and undefinable thing., and people can explore all kinds of things, it doesn’t have to define them. I hope we played a part in that.

Do you ever look at the actors in the teal tracksuits and wish you were on the other side of the bars? 

Whenever we do cast read-throughs, at the start of each episode we do these round table reads of the script. Currently we’re doing them by Zoom, but we used to sit around a table and read the scripts. Whenever we do that, if there’s ever a smaller inmate character who couldn’t be at the read through, they’d always get me to also read that part too. I think there’s a prisoner inside me dying to get out.

So much of Vera’s journey is psychological,  it’s internal, and she’s a very restrained and tightly wound character psychologically, but whenever we do the read-throughs I get to play a prisoner who shouts and screams and swears a lot. I get it out every now and then!

I’d really like to wear their elasticised tracksuit pants. I have to wear a suit, and all those girls are walking around in sloppy-joes and sand shoes, it’s great. I don’t have a particular character in mind, but I would like to be a prisoner, it would be fun to be a prisoner- but only on the show, in real life it would horrible.

The show is now shooting in a post-COVID setup, does it dramatically change how you make TV?

Oh my God, yes. It would take me hours to walk you through the protocols but it’s been days and weeks of consultations and installing all sorts of  health and safety practices- and it’s working fine. It doesn’t impact on the quality of the show at all. but we’ve certainly had to change a lot of procedures.

I know you can’t tell me anything about what’s going to happen in the show, but we’re heading towards the final season in 2021, do you have hopes for what happens to Vera?

There’s still so many twists and turns to come, I know people often say, ‘we just want to see Vera have a happy ending.’  I just think ‘what constitutes a happy ending?’ We used to think maybe she ends up with a baby and a guy, and a little house somewhere, but happiness can be lots of different things to lots of different people. I know people hope Vera doesn’t come to a sticky end, but I’m not sure what a happy ending looks like these days, is it just her being a free self-sufficient single mother, I don’t know.

I haven’t read the last few episodes yet, maybe she does come to a sticky end.

There were moments in the finale last season where we thought you were ‘a goner’. It is one of those shows where people die fairly regularly, you never know what’s around the corner. 

I just don’t know. There’s a body count this season, maybe Vera is among them, I just don’t know. Just as long as nothing happens to that baby – she gorgeous.

So can you tell us anything about Vera this season, any hints?

I can say cryptically, expect her to behave not as she normally would. She misbehaves.

Wentworth S8 will premiere Tuesday, July 28 at 8.30pm. Watch on FOX SHOWCASE or stream on Foxtel Now Seasons 1-7 are currently available to stream on demand.

Graeme Watson 

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