Essie Davis has portrayed many a maternal figure of varying degrees of empathy in films such as The Babadook, Babyteeth, and True History of the Kelly Gang. But she has never had the monumental task of allowing empathy for a hated mass murderer.
In Justin Kurzel’s Nitram, she does just that with a graceful, transfixing, deeply moving turn as Helen, the eccentric heiress who befriends the titular character (played by Cannes Film Festival Best Actor winner Caleb Landry Jones), who goes on to commit the worst mass murder in Australia’s history — the 1996 Port Arthur massacre where 35 people were killed — instantly changing gun laws in that country.
For her performance, Davis won the AACTA Award for Best Supporting Actress last year (Australia’s Oscar). It was her second consecutive win, as she was the recipient for Babyteeth in 2020.
Davis is an international stage, TV, and film star whose other screen credits include Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Matrix Revolutions, Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, Burning Man, and Assassin’s Creed.
On television, she’s best known internationally for portraying Lady Crane in Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones and on Australian TV as Phyrne Fisher in ABC’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and as Sister Iphigenia in the miniseries Lambs of God.
Her worldwide stage work includes playing Stella opposite Glenn Close’s Blanche in Trevor Nunn’s production of Tennessee William’s classic, A Streetcar Named Desire for which she received the 2003 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress. A year later she scored a Tony nomination, starring on Broadway in Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers.
Later this year she stars in Gaysorn Thavat’s The Justice of Bunny King (the film premiered at Tribeca in 2021), a film that could easily be a companion piece to Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake in its depiction of the broken social systems throughout the western world that impoverish people instead of helping them. Davis delivers an extraordinary performance as the title character.
Awards Daily had the pleasure of Zoom chatting with Essie about the controversial but potent Nitram.
NITRAM is now available in theaters, digital rental, and on AMC+.