‘I was lucky enough to see that very famous version of Macbeth in London — with Sir Ian McKellen playing Macbeth and Dame Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth,’ smiles Linda, who had the chance to put her own spin on one of the most powerful female villains in theatre for Bell Shakespeare’s production back in 2007.
‘To me, it’s not really about whether actors are male or female, it’s more about the strength of certain performances. Judi Dench was amazing. The whole production just blew me away.’
Given that she has spent the last four decades inhabiting the lives of complex women with desires that spill beyond the scripts that have been written for them, this enthusiasm comes as little surprise. There’s Nellie Melba, the legendary Melbourne soprano who fled a violent marriage to become one of the world’s greatest opera stars. (The 1988 mini-series, which also starred Hugo Weaving, helped put Linda, who also met the Queen during a charity screening, on the global map). Then there’s Helene Alving, a middle-class woman who’s haunted by the death of her husband for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2016 adaptation of Ibsen’s, Ghosts. Then, of course, there’s Nina Proudman’s mother on Channel 10’s Offspring, the hit comedy-drama about a thirty-something obstetrician (Asher Keddie) and her motley cast of friends and family.
Geraldine Proudman is a rascally presence whose adventures, which include but aren’t limited to secret affairs and nights of passion with unlikely prospects, are unencumbered by her devotion to her family. Linda, whose portrayal of Geraldine has resonated with Offspring fans of all ages says that it’s among the roles that have helped define her career — not least because TV characters like her are still so painfully rare.
‘It’s so refreshing to see an older woman who still likes to party, who’s still sexually active and isn’t some sort of greying, shrinking thing,’ laughs Cropper, who’s just wrapped Offspring’s seventh season and has played Geraldine since the show premiered to standout ratings back in 2010.
‘Like all the Proudmans, Geraldine is a bit kooky but she runs her own race, she’s her own woman. The writers on the show are just wonderful. It’s also driven by a very good producer and director who are terrific with script and character. Because we’ve done seven seasons together we’re such a family now, and that feeds back into the writing. All the guests who come on the show just say, wow, what a lovely experience!’
Linda, who grew up in Sydney, comes from a ‘very un-theatrical family’ and enjoyed an ‘ordinary, middle-class childhood.’ Fittingly, it was a flawed character in a childhood performance that alerted her future craft. ‘When I was in kindergarten I played the Big Bad Wolf in a play and remember thinking it was just so much fun!’ she laughs.
At the age of 15, she started performing in plays at a nearby boy’s school, and it was here that the director, the head of the English Department, introduced her to theatre. He also encouraged her to apply to NIDA.
‘He was a fabulous man, but at the time I didn’t even know what that (NIDA) was! I just thought that if you were to become an actor, you had to be from Hollywood or at least from England.’ It seemed that didn’t matter though – she was accepted. ‘By then, I wasn’t interested in doing anything else so even if I hadn’t been accepted, I knew I’d find another way,’ she adds.
Linda is diplomatic when asked her about the kind of roles she gravitates to – ‘I’m pretty open to a lot of things unless it’s something that’s misogynistic or badly-written!’ Still, it takes a steely determination to be a working actor in Australia over a four-decade career that’s spanned film, theatre, and television. Is it any coincidence that this creative courage and belief in her own potential manifests in the characters she’s brought to life?
Linda lights up when she talks about Melba, a woman iconic enough to warrant a dessert, the Peach Melba, being named in her honour.
‘For women to do what Melba did back then, to be so gutsy, was just phenomenal and although she was seriously ambitious, it cost her,’ says Linda, who’s started toying with performance art and is preparing for a new play with the Melbourne Theatre Company. She also points out that Melba, for all her talent, wasn’t immune to society’s expectations.
‘The other extraordinary thing we found out while we were filming, was that Melba died of complications to what was one of the very early versions of a facelift. We didn’t put this in the series because we’d nearly finished but she must have thought – ‘I can still sing very well, but if only I could look younger.’
In an industry that routinely treats women over the age of 50 as invisible, it’s hard to imagine a word that’s as much of a scourge as ‘younger.’ Linda believes that Australia is especially ageist and that the industry risks being seriously out of sync with real life.
‘The English industry is laden with great roles for women over 50, over 60 — you have shows like Broadchurch, Happy Valley, older women are solving crimes, they’re visible,’ says Linda, who relocated to Melbourne from the New South Wales’ Southern Highlands last year.
She has been working on plotting the logistics of her balcony garden and planning a trek through the Flinders Ranges while devouring Netflix, theatre, and art. ‘Here, we’re still playing catch up and the industry tends to favour younger women. Women have to be young and beautiful, they have to be sexualised objects. They can’t just be interesting in and of themselves, in their own right, which is bullshit!’ she says.
Whatever Linda does next, we’ll be looking closely, too.
Linda Cropper is currently starring (as another complex character) Helen, in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of The Architect, playing from the 27th September to the 31st October. She was also recently announced in the line-up for the Malthouse Theatre’s 2019 Season in Australian Realness a comedy in which a bogan and a bourgeois battle for a suburban backyard, with Linda playing both roles.