Golden Globe-nominated and Logie-winning actress Melissa George has played a host of memorable roles across the past two decades.
From Rosie in both the Australian and American adaptations of Christos Tsiolkas’ bestselling novel The Slap to Marilyn Garbanza in The Good Wife.
It’s for this reason that I have absolutely zero intention of indulging teenage me by bringing up her much-loved depiction of Angel Parrish in Home and Away, the role that came right at the start of her career.
Despite my professional reserve, George summons the role unprompted when we meet on the day of the global premiere of her new film The Butterfly Tree at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
“I’m strong,” she says. “I can take on a lot of emotional depth and always have, since Home and Away.”
She’s just wrapped filming thriller Don’t Let Go in Galway, Ireland, with Stephen Dorff. They play a married couple haunted by the death of their five-year-old daughter.
“Even at 16, I had a lot inside to get out and that’s going to continue,” she says.
“I just need to redirect it a little better… I’ve decided I’m not going to do TV – I can’t because of my kids and my situation, so I’m just going to try and take great film roles that step where I want to lead.”
The “situation” George is referring to is the ongoing battle with former partner, French entrepreneur Jean-David Blanc, for custody of their two sons.
The Paris-based actor proves her emotional mettle once more in The Butterfly Tree, writer/director Priscilla Cameron’s stylish debut feature.
“She wrote this story based on her personal experiences, and she’s making her dream come true making this movie,” George says. “It’s lovely to work with a first-time director.”
Shot in the Gold Coast’s Mount Tambourine, the film sees George play a former burlesque dancer named Evelyn who is now embracing floristry. With trauma in her past, she has to undergo a difficult journey of loss before she can move forward.
It’s a role that requires George to bare more than just her soul.
“She’s this beautiful, voluptuous woman and there’s a lot of nudity and expression of the female form,” George says with a smile.
“My youngest son was five months old when I shot it, you can see I still had a little tummy. When I did the nipple tassel twirl scene, one flew off and milk went that away. I was flippin’ all-woman, like soooo woman.”
With Evelyn looking to start over, the quiet life she craves is derailed when she’s caught in the middle of a territorial tussle between widowed father Al (Top of the Lake actor Ewen Leslie) and his young son Fin (Paper Plane’s Ed Oxenbould).
“They’re playing two people who have lost themselves,” George says, “To see them both find some kind of journey within the eyes of the same woman is special.”
She moved her schedule to work with Leslie. “What a great actor Ewen is. I was blessed working with someone like that. His performance in The Daughter was just so raw, and Ed’s done more movies than any of us, despite being so young.”
The Butterfly Tree is screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Book tickets here.