TV

The Newsreader star Anna Torv on how hit drama explores journalistic ethics in changing times

As The Newsreader returns to BBC2, star Anna Torv says its depiction of the 1988 Australia Day celebrations rings horrifyingly true

Anna Torv in The Newsreader on BBC2

Anna Torv in The Newsreader on BBC2. Image: BBC/Werner Film Projects Pty Ltd and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation / Ben King

When The Newsreader first aired in 2021, it immediately connected with audiences. The Australian drama, set in a TV newsroom in the mid-’80s, centred on beautiful performances from Anna Torv and Sam Reid as pioneering news anchor Helen Norville and ambitious up-and-coming reporter Dale Jennings (played by current Interview With The Vampire star, Sam Reid).

Add in the perfect period detail – suddenly the 1980s looks ancient, how did this happen? – and you have yourself a hit show. But what really elevates The Newsreader is the way it uses the real-life big stories of the day – the Space Shuttle disaster, Halley’s Comet passing by, the Aids epidemic, Chernobyl and the emerging realisation that a dingo, and not her mother Lindy, was responsible for the death of baby Azaria Chamberlain – to explore journalistic ethics and news values in changing times.

For Anna Torv, the final piece of the puzzle was the timing – with the evening news assuming even greater importance in the months ahead of The Newsreader’s premiere than for many years.

“We made the first season during Covid,” she says. “So everyone had just gone through this period where people were glued to their televisions and glued to the news again.

“So it was so reminiscent of when you only had four channels and you knew which one was yours.

“Because the networks had a feel and a vibe to them that was different to each other. You would sit down and watch the news and felt comfortable with the newsreaders and comforted by them and commented on their hairstyles or whatever. So people had just been experiencing that again.”

Torv is enjoying a run of success. From global Netflix smash Mindhunter playing FBI consultant Wendy Carr to her pivotal role alongside Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in The Last Of Us, playing badass survivor Tess, she is on the crest of a wave.

She calls The Big Issue from her home in Australia on a rare day off to talk about newsreader Norville, another survivor. A fighter with her hair back-combed within an inch of its life and styled in that very specific newsreader-in-the-’80s way, but a fighter nevertheless – navigating misogyny, the dumbing down of the news agenda and problematic relationships with both alcohol and her fellow news anchor.

“I love her code of ethics. That she stands up for what she believes in. So of course, you are rooting for her,” says Torv. “But it’s tough. She really owns it when she mucks it up.

“But what I really love about this series is that she has achieved all her goals. She has got there. She is on the desk. But who is she 10 years on, when those shoes don’t fit any more?

“It’s like she has crossed a line in terms of her ability to deal with all the shit. No matter what she accomplishes, what experience she racks up, she’s like, I’m still just the chick on the desk. And that used to fit me but now even my outfit doesn’t feel right. She’s not comfortable in that skin. She wants to get it off.”

The new series features even more prescient storytelling: the writers again focusing on vintage stories that speak to the present moment. There’s a global financial crisis, the Hoddle Street mass shooting, the heroin addiction epidemic and the rocky marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana ahead of their tour Down Under as the action moves through 1987 and into 1988.

“Heroin was absolutely huge. And I love the way it is covered in the show. It’s [newscaster] Jeff’s daughter who it centres on. And it’s in the show where there’s that amazing speech from [former PM] Bob Hawke which was just a big thing to show it was a massive, massive epidemic,” says Torv.

“And if you’re not Australian, you might not know about the Hoddle Street massacre. I didn’t know about it. And I can’t believe that I didn’t know about it. I was only seven at the time, so obviously, it wasn’t a news story my mum was talking to me about at the dinner table. But the way it is covered is still very interesting. Especially in this day and age. Because they make the decision to actually show that footage and put it on the television immediately. And then there is the argument with the gun lobbyist.

“So it is all about journalistic ethics, and how you show two sides of an argument and remain in the centre.”

When Anna Torv calls, the country is still coming to terms with the recent referendum – in which a majority of Australians voted not to change the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia.

It’s all uncomfortably close to scenes in episode four of The Newsreader, as Australia marks the Bicentennial of the First Fleet of British ships bringing colonists and convicts to the country. 

Anna Torv (centre) in episode four of The Newsreader on BBC2
Anna Torv (centre) celebrates Australia Day in The Newsreader. Image: BBC/Werner Film Projects Pty Ltd and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Sarah Enticknap

In the show, newsreader Norville fights to ensure the voices of Indigenous people are part of the News At Six coverage. It doesn’t go well. 

Instead of the plurality of voices Norville is championing, the coverage is dominated by white faces. And it culminates in a ridiculous song, featuring someone dressed as a bear, with Norville centre stage. 

“It’s just ridiculous. But I think that’s the feeling here at the moment too,” Torv says, glumly, of the current state of the national conversation.

“The referendum result – it’s a shock, but also not a surprise. It’s almost so horrific it is comical. Real jaw-to-the-ground stuff. We may as well be watching a man dressed in a bear suit singing Advance Australia Fair. It is that tone deaf.”

Anna Torv, recalling the build up to the Bicentennial in her childhood, paints a picture that highlights that The Newsreader has, once again, captured the essence of the times it depicts.

“This was a really big year in Australia,” says Torv.

“I grew up on the Gold Coast and – I’m laughing, but, again, it’s horrifying. Because I do remember going to school and it was all singing sea shanties to remember the convicts arriving.

“And there was not a mention of any Indigenous culture. We had two Indigenous girls at my school. And I believe they came for the celebrations in mop hats, playing convicts, singing sea shanties about Australia. Yep. That was 1988…

“But that is a really beautiful episode, I think. What The Newsreader has done from the beginning is not beat the audience over the head with an issue but give them the credit that they’re able to form their own opinions.”

The Newsreader returns on BBC2 and iPlayer from 9 November.

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