City Homicide: articles

Madeleine West

Madeleine West in TV show City Homicide.

Madeleine West goes from Neighbours to Satisfaction and Underbelly, now to City Homicide

MADELEINE West's ability as an actor has never been in doubt. Now the former soap star is heading for rock bottom, and she's loving it.

Madeleine West's ability as an actor has never been in doubt.

Critics love to pile manure on soaps, accusing them of being devoid of depth and artistic merit. But 10 years ago on Neighbours, West went about learning what was required to be a successful actor.

Not only did she hone her dramatic skills, she discovered the degree of discipline required to cope with the rigours of a shooting schedule.

It paved the way for impressive performances as high-priced escort Mel in brothel drama Satisfaction and her AFI Award-winning turn in gangland hit Underbelly.

West's appetite for high-risk, challenging roles is evident again in Channel 7's City Homicide.

Unlike a lot of actors, she's not hamstrung by vanity and turns up for this interview in ugg boots and a towelling dressing gown.

She's on a break from shooting scenes as Melinda, a scab-covered ice addict who uses her son's proceeds from prostitution to fund her habit.

"You can see I have this deathly pallor," West says. "Her (Melinda's) clothes are dirty, her house is an absolute pit. Drugs are not just a sideline, they are her lifestyle. They define who she is, where she comes from and where she'll end up.

"I think it's about the energy you put out to the universe," West says about the roles she's been playing.

"It's really scary at first, when you turn down work because it's a character you've already played.

"If you give out the energy that you'll take just about anything, then very little comes to you. If you make it clear you are uncompromising about wanting to be a character actor and extending your range, I believe that comes back to you. The more risks I've taken, the more risky characters have come to me.

"Acting is all I've ever done. I give every atom of my being to it when I'm doing it. I was on stage at five, it's not like I fell into acting from modelling."

West is a big City Homicide fan and took little convincing that she should play Melinda.

The ice addict, she says, is the polar opposite of her roles in Satisfaction and Underbelly. They were sexualised, glamorous, powerful women. Melinda is utterly disempowered.

"She has a severe drug addiction and no moral compass. She's adrift in depravity," West says.

"She had a child at 13, so that would have been the end of her schooling. Her ability to mature, function in a relationship and interact with society has been retarded and remains at the level of a 13-year-old. Anything that makes her feel good for a moment — drugs — becomes her crutch.

"She has this son. It's not incestuous, but she relates to him as her friend, her confidant, so the relationship is damaged from the very beginning. She represents the antithesis of my every maternal instinct, so to find an empathy with her is my big challenge.

"The character bleeds into you. I had a scene the other day in which she was in a flood of tears and very angry. Afterwards I felt like I needed to sleep because that hour on set was so draining."

Returning to the subject of her maternal instincts, West says she's loving being mum to two children, Phoenix and Hendrix, by husband (chef and restaurateur) Shannon Bennett.

She believes this sense of equilibrium in her private life has made her a better actor.

"Absolutely, because it gives you a greater appreciation of your place in the greater scheme of things and access to emotions that I was never aware of or felt capable of.

"It's about unconditional, unwavering love and the fear that comes with having to protect this little thing (baby)."

By Darren Devlyn
September 23, 2009
Herald Sun