Radha Mitchell on Hollywood’s frustrating portrayal of gender roles

Despite playing leading roles in several action movies, the 42-year-old actress portrays a pregnant wife in London Has Fallen. She discusses the difficulties in finding strong roles.

For an actor who has taken on aliens in Pitch Black and zombies in Silent Hill, Radha Mitchell deserves the badge of honour she earned starring in types of movies that are more often the domain of macho male stars.

“I’ve done a bit of action,” she says. “I rarely get the gun, though.”

Even in a time of increased talk of gender equality in Hollywood there are still restrictions on women, not only in pay but in the types of roles they get to play.

While there have been encouraging signs in recent years — for example, Lawrence's starring role in The Hunger Games series and Charlize Theron's turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road — female action heroes are still relatively rare.

This month, Melbourne-born Mitchell is back in Babak Najafi's London Has Fallen, a ­terror-soaked action-thriller starring Scottish actor Gerard Butler as Mike Banning, a US Secret Service agent. It is the sequel to the 2013 hit Olympus Has Fallen, in which Banning foiled an attack on the White House.

The latest instalment switches the action to the English capital, with Butler’s steely hero uncovering a plot to assassinate world leaders during a state funeral.

Mitchell reprises her role as Banning’s wife Leah, who this time is pregnant.

“They’re nesting and she’s waddling around the house and they’re all excited,” she says. “And then he gets the call asking him to come out to London, and it’s just at the point in his life where he’s considering not doing this crazy job any more.”

While this lends the film some emotional heft, Mitchell is well aware of the film’s all-too-­clearly-defined gender roles: Banning gets to be the macho hero and she stays at home.

“Everybody is going to do these things that are pretty traditional,” she says.

It might seem a bit of a let down for a star who has proven that she can stand shoulder to shoulder with the male heroes — but she’s not about to complain.

“I think the ‘wife’ role needs to be embraced,” she says. “As much as we’re moving beyond tradition, it’s fun to play with that. It’s interesting watching Hollywood trying to figure it out.

"I remember when I went in for Olympus Has Fallen, and I was with the director, Antoine Fuqua, and we were all in the trailer. He says, 'What do you think of the writing?' They definitely have the male characters down in their minds — but the female characters? They're still figuring them out."

Describing herself as "a little obtuse and out there", the 42 year-old Aussie has had a fiercely eclectic career, working with a diverse selection of directors, from Woody Allen (Melinda and Melinda) to Joel Schumacher (Phone Booth) and the late Tony Scott (Man On Fire).

“I think initially I was like, ‘I want to be an actress and go to Hollywood and that’s what I’m doing,’” she says. “Now I’m not that way about it.”

Perhaps it’s a sign of getting older in Hollywood, which tends to value youth over experience, but Mitchell has found stronger roles in her home country.

Last year she hit the festival circuit with Sue Brooks' impressive Looking For Grace — a family drama that harked back, in spirit at least, to her early career when she appeared in Emma-Kate Croghan's Love And Other Catastrophes and Lisa Cholodenko's High Art. These were her first two feature films and both were directed by women.

“I took it for granted this was the way it happened,” she said.

The lack of women directors in Hollywood is another hot topic. Mitchell is savvy enough to realise that survival in the industry means developing material. In recent years, she has produced shorts, documentaries and features.

“That’s something to explore more,” she says. “It’s interesting looking at people who have had longevity in their careers. I had dinner with [American actress] Diane Lane recently and she’s a really interesting person.

“It’s a different time now … it’s just interesting to figure out how to make it your version of that.”

London Has Fallen is in cinemas now


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