For three seasons Essie Davis played the glamorous title character in the 1920s-set Australian TV series "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries." Though originally broadcast in America on public television and available on Netflix (where it became a cult favorite) the series has since moved to the streaming service Acorn TV, which specializes in programming from the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland and more. Acorn is also where the new movie based on the series premiered, called "Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears."
Davis said she welcomed the opportunity to return to the world of this amateur, flapper-era sleuth. "She's such a joyous character, effervescent and naughty and highly skilled and such a fabulous independent woman. I know her very well, so it felt easy to step back into her shoes."
American audiences will also recognize Davis from her roles on "Game of Thrones," "The White Princess" and as the mother in the 2014 horror movie "The Babadook."
Her career includes theater credits as well, and it was a stage role that came to mind when asked to share a worst moment in her career.
"There are two cringe-y parts to it," she said.
My worst moment ...
"The first cringe-y part was having to take my clothes off on stage, which I never ever wanted to do in my life. I was talked into doing 'Jumpers' — by Tom Stoppard at the National Theatre (in London) — by the director David Leveaux. It's a great play and Tom Stoppard's an incredible writer. It's a comedy full of singing and acrobatics and a deep love of Keats and poets. This was in 2003 and then in 2004 we brought it to Broadway.
"The character has to be naked for 45 minutes — or rather, naked and then semi-naked for the whole first act of the show. I was playing an ex-West End singing star who is having a party and she thinks she's shot someone and this person dies in her arms. So she takes off her beautiful ball gown because there's blood all over it and proceeds to have an emotional breakdown in her bedroom. Naked.
"Not long into it she puts on a jumper — it's called 'Jumpers' and she puts on a jumper, do you call them jumpers in American or sweaters? It's a sweater, she puts on a sweater. You might call the play 'Sweaters' (laughs) but it's also about acrobats and leaps of faith and whether there is a God.
"So every night I got that jumper on as quick as I could, but I was still bottomless. And we had 1,000 people in the audience at the National. Then it moved to the West End, and then it was on Broadway. And I'm on a revolving stage, by the way, with a band.
"Basically the most excruciating thing I could ever dream of doing is taking my clothes off on a revolving stage with people on all sides. There is nothing more embarrassing to me than that scenario, however my darling director said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. If that's your only problem, then I've got a special technique that will help you get over that.' And I went, 'Really?' and he said, 'Yes, it works every time.'
"And about halfway through rehearsals I went up to him and said, 'We're coming up to the part where I'm going to have to take my clothes off — what is this technique?' And he went, 'Oh, I just said that to get you to do it.' Oh my God. Meanwhile I had been eating a chocolate bar a day in terror (laughs).
"Simon Russell Beale played my husband and he said, 'Oh, it'll be fine. I've done this many times, you'll get through it.' And I'm going, 'OK, OK, I'll get over it, I'll be fine.' It was like a choreographed dance of, 'Oh no, what can they see now?' as this stage is revolving around. So that was eight shows a week.
"To prepare before each performance I would meditate or listen to pieces of music and put beautiful lotions on my body. I got a fake tan. And you know what? It never got easier, not one single day.
"We had 12 acrobats (in the cast) ... and they started doing all these beautiful things (as a sign of support) when I had to take off my clothes to start the play — they would be in the wings naked doing a pyramid, or one of them would be naked doing his ironing. It was really sweet."
What is the second cringe-y part to the story?
"While I was doing the show on Broadway I got my first audition for a film. It was for a role in ’Syriana’ and I was quite nervous, but the audition with (writer-director) Stephen Gaghan went really well and he said, 'Oh, you're on Broadway?' I talked to him a little about the play and he said, 'Well, we might try to see that tonight — let's get tickets.' So I knew that he was going to be in the audience.
"That night I did my usual pre-show ritual — completely forgetting that I actually had my period. Normally I would prepare a very snipped little tampon for the performance. But I forgot.
"And about 40 minutes in, I was in my jumper, sitting on the floor on a white pillow and my character is having a breakdown when I felt this rush and I thought: Oh my goodness, I have my period — and when I stand up there's going to be blood all over this pillow in front of all these people and Stephen Gaghan. What am I going to do?
"It's quite amazing that your brain can function on two levels — to continue doing what you're doing and saying your lines while another part of your brain is trying to solve a problem. I knew that in a moment I was going to have to be standing on that big white bed, naked from the bottom down, talking about poets. But first I had to get off this pillow and leap into my husband's arms.
"So as I leapt up, I flipped the pillow with my feet and jumped into his arms and held onto him tight. And I was trying to work out if there was any way he could just carry me off stage but there wasn't, I had to just keep going and I could feel blood running down my legs as I was standing on this bed, and I thought: This is the worst, most excruciating moment of my entire life (laughs).
"Behind me was the band and I turned to whisper to them, 'Get me a tampon!' And they managed to get the message to someone and as the stage revolved around again they managed to sneak a tampon to me and I had to climb inside the wardrobe that was o stage so I could do what I needed to do.
"By the way, I didn't get cast in the movie."
The takeaway ...
"Ultimately it was quite an amazing lesson in giving yourself over to the experience. And you know what? It's funny. You've got to have a laugh about it in the end! It was excruciating (laughs) but oh my God, what a good story!"