Stingers: articles

From stings to stage

Anita Hegh is as light as her Stingers' character Mackenzie is dark

Anita Hegh has been looking forward to this coffee all morning. She has been on a health kick, reducing her caffeine intake, quitting smoking and trying to get fit for her return to the stage.

It hasn't been easy. After suggesting a meeting in a coffee shop, she started her day at home with herbal tea. Now she's craving caffeine. Milky coffee with one sugar or a short black depending on the mood.

In her fitted leather biker jacket and tight navy jeans, Hegh looks nothing like the earnest police sergeant she plays in Channel Nine's Stingers.

Production on series four has recently wound up and the familiar conservative bob has been replaced with a short pixie cut; glossy brown threaded with copper and blonde.

"It's like a tradition with me," Hegh says with a smile. "As soon as we wrap up I go and get my hair cut. It's like getting rid of the character. Shedding a skin."

After a couple of weeks' rest, Hegh is preparing for the Melbourne Theatre Company production of The Duchess of Malfi. It'll be hard work but she's excited by her return to the stage and, as the heroine in John Webster's classic revenge tragedy, she gets to explore her acting range.

"It's one of the more rewarding female characters you can play on stage," she says. "There aren't many of these in the marketplace for women, most of them are male roles … but she's one of these roles that you just go `Wow, it's fantastic!' It's a really meaty role."

Not that her Stinger's character, Detective Sergeant Ellen Mackenzie, is deprived of challenge this series.

Viewers will see Hegh run the gamut of emotions as Mac experiences love and loss, happiness and vulnerability, then anxiety and self doubt as her life unravels.

When the credits rolled on series three, Mac was in bed with Detective Bill Hollister, played by Nicholas Bell.

The relationship continues this series, clandestine at first, as the repressed head of the undercover unit grapples with her feelings.

Although Hegh thinks audiences may initially feel uncomfortable about the affair, remembering Hollister's dalliance with a prostitute, she welcomes the development.

"He's an older man, he's not your typical romantic hero but as you watch it I think you fall in love with him," she says.

"I think you just go, 'Yeh, he's gorgeous' and every woman would love that sort of man in their lives."

People are often surprised when they meet her, the actor confides, because she is so different from her alter ego.

Upbeat and eager, Hegh is as light as Mackenzie is dark. Her skin is unlined and, without heavy TV make-up, she looks younger than her 29 years. A far cry from the middle-aged seriousness of Mac.

The elder of two children, Hegh grew up surrounded by creativity. Her father makes jewellery in his retirement and her mother is an artist.

Her younger brother - a musician - has recently supplied her first nephew and the arrival fanned maternal stirrings in Hegh, who will marry her long-time partner, theatre director Peter Evans, in November.

"I can't decide," she wails, holding up her palms. "I go, baby, Porsche, baby, Porsche!" Then she laughs. "We joke about being really materialistic. I think at some point in our lives we'll think about it more seriously but at the moment we're pretty happy."

Family is important to Sydney-born Hegh, who has a deep interest in her Estonian and Norwegian heritage. Both her parents were born overseas, migrating to Australia after World War II.

"My mother's father was secretary of the state of Estonia and worked closely with Stalin," she says. "I've got these photographs of my grandfather standing next to Stalin. He had to escape during the war because they were after him. His brother was killed."

Hegh's mother was three weeks old when the family moved into a German refugee camp. They stayed there for five years - for the first year not knowing whether her grandfather was dead. Eventually the family moved to Australia where the former Estonian military attache took a job in a chocolate factory.

Hegh's father left Norway at 14, when her grandfather "ran off with this spunky Swedish lady", bringing his sons to Australia.

"Dad's done incredible things in his life, he's been a deep sea diver, he's been a photographer, he's travelled all around Australia doing all different sorts of work, basically just being freelance. He's always had that wanderlust. Then he met my mum."

Although a career in the arts was always her first choice, Hegh briefly studied teaching before deciding it wasn't for her: "At the time the public school system in NSW was really shit and there was all this politics going on."

Bored with her teaching studies she applied for, and unexpectedly won, a place at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Arts.

Initially concerned about the insecurity of her choice, Hegh's parents are proud of her success.

"I look at the way the world is changing now and what is secure?" she says. "Everyone's becoming part-time, people have about five different jobs in their career. I think maybe you should just go for what you want."

Beyond the next Stingers series, to which she is contracted, Hegh is not sure what her future holds.

"It took me a while to find my feet about what I wanted to do," she says. "Sometimes I think, 'Oh, to be an artist would be nice' but I think that's a really romantic idea. You know, the studio and the paint palettes and stuff."

Generally she considers herself happy and lucky and hopes she can maintain the balance between television and theatre. She also is auditioning for films.

"I remember when I was at drama school, doing a TV series wasn't seen as good work. You either did theatre or you did film.

"When I was doing theatre in Sydney I realised that you need a profile. You are up against these TV actors to do the job and all of a sudden it was like 'Quick, I've got to get myself a bit of a profile.' "

Thanks to Stingers, the profile is building.

Stingers returns to Channel Nine on Tuesday at 9.30pm. Preview performances of The Duchess of Malfi start on August 24.

By Kylie Miller
August 09, 2001
The Age