The West

Blake s best role in 50 years
Julia Blake in Last Dance

She's been in the business for more than 50 years but actress Julia Blake is proof that good things come to those who wait.

Blake's latest film, the Australian drama Last Dance, sees her playing a Holocaust survivor taken hostage in her apartment by a young radical Palestinian who has fled a failed suicide bombing of a nearby synagogue.

And, despite the dozens of roles she has had during her acclaimed career in film, television and on the stage, the 75-year-old says it is probably her most fulfilling project to date.

"Personally I believe it's the best role I have ever been offered," Blake says over the phone from her home in Melbourne.

"Every actor wants to become somebody very different to themselves and this character is so different to me.

"She's a very complex woman with a very rich and tragic history. When you first see her, you would never dream you are going to be taken on the journey you are about to undertake. I think her actions along the path take her by surprise."

Last Dance is the first film from Australian director David Pulbrook, who spent eight years working on the script with South African-born screenwriter Terence Hammond.

The pair have penned a taut and suspenseful feature which sees Blake's character Ulah transform in front of our eyes from a seemingly vulnerable old woman to one capable of turning the tables on her wounded captor Sadiq (Firass Dirani in the finest performance of his career), with whom she forges an unlikely relationship.

Blake commends Pulbrook and Hammond not only for creating a strong female character in Ulah but also for their "very fair and truthful" script which was written with "as much integrity and care as possible".

It's testament to that integrity, she says, that while the subject is a sensitive one, Last Dance is not so much a political film as a psychological drama that exposes the very human side of terrorism.

"The idea of these two people trapped in a flat who are opposites in every way, except they both suffered personal loss is in itself a marvellous story," she says.

"Placing it in a context of the Palestinian-Jewish situation was risky but I think inspirational.

"I think that the film genuinely attempts to be even-handed. It doesn't look at the political situation - rather the way that politics and war and prejudice impact on individuals. It's a film about the individual conscience and the worth of the humanity of the individual.

"While we don't ever condone what this man does or what he was going to do, we do come some way towards understanding how it's happened that he's fallen under the influence of bad people who have exploited his naivety and grief and that's partly because of the situation that his family and his people are in."

Blake has been a stalwart of Australian television and film for more than five decades and is possibly best known to TV audiences for her roles in the cult series Prisoner.

Most recently she appeared in films such as 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Boys Are Back and last year's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Earlier this year she earned rave reviews for her role in Black Swan State Theatre Company's production National Interest.

She admits that these days her most significant role is knitting clothes for her grandchildren, pottering around in her garden and reading.

But such was her commitment to Last Dance she assigned all the household chores to her husband, 82-year-old Australian actor Terry Norris, so she could prepare fully for the part of Ulah.

A self-confessed Luddite who shies away from technology - she doesn't have a mobile phone, has never used a microwave and doesn't own a computer - Blake did her research in the St Kilda library where she spent hours brushing up on Jewish history.

As well as having a crash course in Hebrew, she created an entire back story for her character with such attention to detail the material could be put to good use as a prequel to the film.

"The script didn't specify where she came from so I had to settle that very quickly," Blake explains.

"I decided it would work well if she was from Germany, because what happened with the German Jews when they settled in Israel was very different to Jews who came from Poland.

"I also decided that her father was a doctor and that she came from a very liberal, integrated German Jewish household.

"I wrote myself a little autobiography as if she was telling someone her life history. I knew what her house was like, what her bedroom was like.

"I didn't think about that again but it was all there so I was able, in those scenes where she's looking back or sitting in silence, to think of myself as a person who has been on that journey."

Blake admits that while Last Dance doesn't set out to deliver any messages other than the importance of human life, what people take from it may very well depend on where they stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, she hopes a film she is so passionate about will be similarly received by audiences.

"You won't please everybody because there's no such thing as the Jewish opinion, there's a variety of different opinions," she says.

"But I think people will find this an issue to debate and, if they are talking about it, that's wonderful. "The best thing that could happen is if people discuss the issues in the film."

'The idea of these two people trapped in a flat who are opposites in every way, except they both suffered personal loss is in itself a marvellous story.' Julia Blake

The West Australian

Popular videos

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West