‘What I discovered playing someone ugly’
IT was a dream role. The chance to strip away the hair and make-up and luxe clothes often demanded of female actors and leave … just acting.
"Uggo up," a Wentworth casting director told actor and former model Katrina Milosevic back in 2012 ahead of her audition for the role of Sue 'Boomer' Jenkins - a Wentworth prison inmate long on loyalty, laconic wit, sheer physical strength and ferocious temper - and short on basic grooming techniques, social skills, conventional education and book smarts.
One of those eyeing Milosevic for the role said the self-confessed 'girlie girl' was too pretty to make Boomer fly, but was assured "she can play ugly".
She gelled her hair back, and instead of applying make-up applied a pair of heeled boots "so I was seven foot tall", sprinkled in a dose of foul-mouthed aggression and "inner bogan" and let rip.
"Apparently I almost deafened the woman reading with me at the audition. I was going off like a frog in a sock," the softly-spoken Milosevic laughs.
As terrifying as she was convincing, Boomer was hers.
Now, with the sixth season of Wentworth airing on Foxtel, the series sold internationally, and free-to-air audiences getting their first glimpse of the award-winning reimagining of the cult classic TV series Prisoner on the ABC, Boomer has become one of the show's most loved characters.
But some days, it's hard to be Boomer. Six years of "playing ugly" is as exhausting as it is rewarding.
And sometimes, former model Milosevic concedes, it's not so good for self-image in an industry largely built on physical beauty - no matter how secure you are as a woman.
"When I found the role of Boomer I thought 'what an opportunity. It's stripped back, and all you have is the acting'," she says.
Then she laughs: "I just didn't imagine I'd look like that for seven years."
"SOME DAYS I STRUGGLE WITH LOOKING LIKE THAT"
Becoming Boomer physically requires no conventional make-up - unless it's adding dark circles under the eyes, blemishes, bruises and prison pallor, blackening out some teeth, staining others, and perfecting a filthy, dragged through-a-hedge look hair style that, at best, needed a wash a fortnight ago.
Add ill-fitting clothes and a lurching, cumbersome gait and a readiness to use every bit of her weight when she turns prison enforcer, and it's not the prettiest of pictures.
"I'll be really honest. Some days, I struggle still [with looking like that]," Milosevic says.
"Some days on set we go to lunch and I've got no teeth [as Boomer] and I'm covering my mouth because I'm still conscious of it.
"I'll cover my mouth when I laugh. If new people are on set I try to hide - I feel so self-conscious.
"I don't know if it's something we all feel as women. I just know that sometimes I do."
She knows logic dictates that a mature, secure female knows worth is not based on looks. takes opinions from only the people who matter, is secure in mind and body.
But then, just sometimes, it does. "That is exactly where I'm at," she says.
"It's such a personal thing. I say to myself 'people still know you and like you, it's OK'. And it is.
"As a woman and a woman in this industry, it has been a looks based industry for such a long time. And I think that's changing now which is bloody amazing."
The flip side, she says, is seeing the clear connection viewers have with Boomer.
Despite the indisputable amount of blood on her hands, she is one of the show's most popular characters.
"My theory is she's the kind of person that makes you feel better about yourself. In that you could so easily go there if you had that in you," he says.
"People embrace her - physically as well - so many fans want to hug her, touch her when they meet you. She can see the good in people."
"SHE'S IN ME"
"I think they respond to the four stock things Boomer responds to: loyalty, love, patience and attention.
"She's simple on the surface but not simplistic and we lock into that this series. And she's funny."
She loves the character, she built by asking herself "what would Katrina do?" and then doing the exact opposite.
"How am I least like Boomer? Number one, I brush my teeth. And they're all my teeth," she laughs.
"And I shower."
She's discovered the two aren't complete contradictions.
"I now find myself in real life thinking 'what would Boomer do?', and having to make sure I do the opposite," she says.
"I've realised I've got some of her fierceness. I'm fiercely loyal as well and I realise I could go nutso if a family member of friend was threatened. And the bogan in her stays out sometimes."
If she could pick any role but Boomers on Wentworth, she says she'd play, just for fun, "a glam prisoner the Valley girl prisoner"
"She'd be like 'whatever, I'm just really manipulative and have a whole gang of glam friends. And I'll be out soon, I'm Top Dog, whatever', Milosevic says in a faux American accent.
She leans in with Boomer-like intensity.
"But Boomer's in me."
Wentworth airs on Foxtel's Showcase on Tuesdays at 8.30pm