"Red Widow" airs Sundays on ABC.
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Radha Mitchell comes to television with "Red Widow," playing a woman forced to pick up her husband's criminal activities after he's killed. It's juicy stuff, to be sure, and just what the Australian actress — known for film roles such as "Silent Hill," "Finding Neverland" and "Man on Fire" — had been looking for. "Marta Walraven is pretty much my dream character to play," Mitchell says. "Basically she's a woman who has been avoiding her criminal upbringing by living the life of a soccer mom and is suddenly dragged into a world that she's been trying to avoid pretty much her whole life when her husband is assassinated in relation to a drug incident. And in the process she discovers things about herself and talents that she didn't know she had."
Mitchell says she relates quite a bit to her character, though she's wary to get into specifics. "Well, I guess the parts that I relate to I probably wouldn't really want to share," she says with a laugh. "But in terms of like being thrown into a situation, I think even just coming to America when I did initially was a very exciting adventure and was at times intimidating and scary. I came out when I was, like, 23 or something. I didn't know anybody, and I was staying on my manager's couch. But it was probably one of the most exciting junctures in my life because, you know, it was all about what could happen. I mean it wasn't scary in the same way, but yeah."
So with a move to television — something very common for film actors these days — does that mean Mitchell's not looking for movies right now? "I'm over films," she jokes. "I was actually sort of at this point in my life. And also, I feel like exciting characters are on television right now." But there was something else about her "Red Widow" character that offered Mitchell something she'd wanted for quite some time. "Honestly, I'd always been very interested in Luc Besson's character 'La Femme Nikita,' and I know this doesn't directly relate, but that she was this character sort of under duress that discovers all these qualities in herself and all these strengths. That was pretty much the character that I'd always wanted to explore if there was one last question in my career. And then I read this pilot and I was like, wow, that's the role I've always wanted to play."
But Mitchell isn't actually done with films. "Oh, I have a few films that are getting released soon," she says, including "Olympus Has Fallen," out later this month. "But honestly, it was a little bit of a shock at first because I had never worked at that pace [of a TV show]. I've normally had a little bit of time to sort of marinate and sort of sit with a script and imagine, learn my lines basically. Whereas with this, you get the script and then you learn it and then next thing you know you're shooting it like two days later. So the pace of that was somewhat liberating and a little bit frightening at first."
Little white lies
After finding success in Australia, a 23-year-old Radha Mitchell came to Hollywood to try her hand at work stateside, and she quickly learned that sometimes you have to be willing to bend the truth a bit to get a gig. "It took me six months, and then I got a film called 'High Art,'" she says. There was only one problem, though: While she was giving Los Angeles a shot, the film was actually getting set up in New York. "They needed to cast the movie out of New York, and I was, like, 'Yeah, I'm from New York,'" she remembers. "I sent some video out there. So they cast me, and then I didn't have anywhere to live." Luckily writer-director Lisa Cholodenko was able to help her out in a bind. "At the time I was, like, staying on the director's couch," she says.