Danielle Walker is probably best known for her stand-up, seeing as she has been a mainstay in the Melbourne comedy scene since winning the RAW Comedy National grand Final in 2016.
Hailing from rural Queensland, the comedian-slash-writer-slash-Taskmaster is now giving acting a whirl in upcoming fictional series Gold Diggers.
Gold Diggers, the new ABC comedy, brings viewers back to the 1850s – sort of – as thousands of men flock to the goldfields to hit the jackpot, and ambitious sister duo Gert (Claire Lovering) and Marigold (Walker) try to fish themselves a pair of newly-rich idiots.
Filmed on the Victorian goldfields and in Melbourne, Gold Diggers will premiere on ABC TV and ABC iview next week.
I sat down with Danielle Walker to chat about TV, improv, crying on cue, and eating pigface.
Hi, Danielle! This is your first leading role in a fictional series, how does that feel?
It feels interesting. I haven’t actually seen it yet, so I’m excited to see how it went for me and everybody else. When you’re making it you don’t really think about how it will look. But I will be seeing my performance and critiquing it soon.
So you’ve seen no footage at all?
Not really, because our days were crazy. We were always moving from one thing to the next, it was so full on. Sometimes I’d go over and try to watch the screen while Claire (Lovering) was doing her thing, but I couldn’t hear any sound. So I had absolutely no idea how it would turn out. A bunch of us actors are going to watch the first three episodes for the first time this week.
How did you prepare the play the character of Marigold Brewer?
My first audition was just a self-tape because I was in Edinburgh doing my solo show and I was really busy. I’d never gotten an acting role before so I didn’t think about it too much, I just decided to focus on my show. And then I got Covid! But I made it through to doing a Zoom audition where I ad-libbed a lot with the lines, which they seemed to really like for the character of Marigold.
I think it would have been easy to just play her as a dumb character, but I decided she was actually just in her own world. And as someone who also lives in their own world I found it quite easy to play.
So it was just a Zoom audition?
We did two Zoom auditions and then an in-person audition. That was held over two days in Melbourne where I was up against three other Marigolds, all of us reading with about six different Gerts. I got the role not too long after that, and then two months later Claire came in for a read with me and it was love at first sight. We were able to build our bond and our dynamic really easily.
You mentioned ad-libbing – there’s obviously a great team of writers behind the show, but did you feel the urge to improvise on set?
Well, we were on a pretty tight turnaround, so we weren’t really allowed to ad-lib too much. Sometimes me and Claire would go over stuff for the day and run it by the director if we wanted to change a word or something. But really, we were so down to the wire that we just had to stick to the script.
I think that helped us to be more physically funny, or to try different delivery styles with the lines that we wouldn’t have done if we were ad-libbing all the time.
There’s a song that you and Claire Lovering sing in episode two which was an absolute highlight for me – who’s responsible for that?
I think Jack (Yabsley) wrote it, and Eddie Perfect did the music. We literally only had one day of rehearsal for that where we learnt song and dance routine, and then we filmed the next day. It was crazy. I’ve never done anything like it.
Were there any unique issues about filming in the bush? Those hoopskirts don’t look easy to walk in!
Oh, yeah. But the hoopskirts got easier with time. And my favourite thing was watching Marianne (McLoughlin), who played Siobhan – one of the church women – struggle with those skirts because at no point did she find them easier. She was on set pulling chairs over accidentally, it was so funny to watch.
But I love being out in the bush. It was honestly my favourite part of shooting. One day I found a rat in a tree stump and I called everyone over to check it out. It was cool to be a woman of the wilderness. I also found some edible plants that I would make other people taste. I don’t think they liked that very much.
And I’m assuming no-one died then?
Nobody died! It was edible stuff. There was one main plant I was making them try that’s mainly found on the coast. It’s like a succulent ground-cover plant with flowers. I think it’s called Pigface.
Pigface, yeah. I mean, they’re not that tasty, but they kind of taste salty. A bit like celery.
In a way the shoot was a lot like school camp, because we’re out in the bush, where the Victorian goldfields were, and we’re bonding and eating plants. It made for a really fun vibe on set.
You’ve got a pretty stacked cast to work alongside: Eddie Perfect, Michala Banas, Megan Wilding, JJ Fong, the list goes on … Who were your favourite cast members to work with?
Oh, I mean, Claire. Absolutely. She’s so funny and wonderful. And Eddie! I’m a little bit obsessed with Eddie because he has the same voice as my granddad – like an old sort of gravelly voice – but he’ll probably hate that. I also loved working with Megan and Luke (Mullins), Brandon (McClelland), Michala, Marianne. They were all so funny and lovely and wonderful.
Tell me one lesson you learnt about acting, or comedy, while making Gold Diggers
Oh, Claire taught me how to cry! Well, actually I cry a lot in my day-to-day life, whether it’s from joy or sadness. But I didn’t know how to do that on cue. I still can’t bring myself to drop tears down my face, but I can well up now.
Me and Claire would have competitions with each other. She would say ‘okay, now cry’, and then we’d turn away and look back to see who could move themselves to tears the fastest. That was nice. Hopefully I’ll now be able to stop myself from crying at everything too.
So, what’s the secret to crying on camera? Competitiveness?
I think it might be competitiveness. And if you cry a lot in your day-to-day life, you can think about the muscles in your eyes and notice them when you’re crying and just try and replicate that feeling later on. You want to use the muscle without actually giving in to the emotions.
I feel emotions far too much in my daily life. The other night I cried because I had food that was so good I couldn’t fathom how it was created, like that person must have been a genius, you know?
I absolutely get it. That reminds me of that one Carrie Fisher quote: ‘take your broken heart and turn it into art’
Is Carrie Fisher the person from Desperate Housewives?
No, she’s Princess Leia in Star Wars
Oh, I thought she was the red-haired lady in Desperate Housewives. But that makes more sense now.
You can see Danielle Walker as the off-in-her-own-world Marigold Brewer in Gold Diggers, starting 5 July at 9.10pm on ABC and ABC iView.