Caption; Mandy McElhinney © Cross Border Productions
Australia became enamoured with Mandy McElhinney nearly 20 years ago as we watched her character Rhonda falling in love with Ketut in those AAMI commercials.
While we all know Mandy as Rhonda, the actress sees Rhonda as just another character she inhabited for a period of time and is proud of how she became an Australian icon.
Rhonda is certainly a very different character from that of Amanda, Mandy’s forthcoming role in the Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie playing at His Majesty’s from August 2 to 21.
Produced in 1944 and widely regarded as Williams’ best drama, The Glass Menagerie won the New York Drama Critic’s Circle award for Best American Play.
Mandy plays the part of Amanda Wingfield in the family drama. She tries to push her children Tom and Laura up the social and financial ladder in the absence of their father while the children struggle to break free from their mother’s imposing ways.
Mandy is no stranger to the works of Williams, first performing a monologue from The Glass Menagerie when she was at school in Geraldton.
She says a part in another of Tennessee Williams’ masterpieces, A Streetcar Named Desire was probably the highlight of her career.
“Led by incredible performances by Cate Blanchett, Robin McLeavy and Joel Edgerton and directed by the sublime Liv Ullmann, it was an absolute honour every night to step on stage into this jewel of a play,” she says.
“Rhonda stands for all that is good in people, a sweet person who found happiness and I love that she was taken into people’s hearts.
“Of course, when I first accepted the job, I was really doing it to help pay the rent and if I had been better off, I probably wouldn’t have accepted it. I was concerned that I would be giving up a certain amount of integrity as a professional actor.
“It was a risk I took and no one could have predicted at the time how big it actually became. I was lucky that colleagues within my industry were aware that I was more than one character and kept the door open for me.
“I have no regrets now and when a member of the public approaches me with a smile on their face and tells me how much they love Rhonda, I smile too. I helped bring a bit of joy into the world and that can’t be bad.”
Born in Perth and raised in Leeman, Mandy has performed dozens of roles across film, television and theatre and has fond memories of many.
“Wakefield, recently broadcast on the ABC was a really special experience for me. Set in a psychiatric facility, the show attempted to break down a lot of the stigma about mental illness and demonstrate how it is possible for everyone to experience it at some stage in their life.
“It was truly unique and special television and I loved the challenge of playing Linda, she was unlike anyone I had played before. The show was made with a lot of care and by some very creative and talented practitioners and will always hold a special place in my heart.”
She says her role as Nene King in The Magazine Wars was an absolute treat to play.
“Her vibrancy and volatility were so much fun and it was also the first time I had been given a lead role in TV so it was delightful to immerse myself in the role all day, every day.”
Mandy has also had some fabulous lead roles in Sydney theatre over the last few years. She says the opportunity to perform in a play written by a master playwright is always the best reward for an actor and the best training.
While theatre comes with many challenges Mandy believes it is incredibly rewarding.
“Theatre is really a medium that is impossible for an actor to fudge it. It takes real courage, a lot of hard work, it’s exhausting, and the pay is not as good.
“Added to that, once it’s over, it is all packed away never to be seen again, there’s nothing to show for all your hard work which can be a little heartbreaking.”
Bringing the role of Amanda to life in a play so well known to so many will be a challenging one for Mandy.
“I love Amanda so much and have been fortunate to see some great actors play her, most recently the phenomenal Pamela Rabe. All I can do is try to serve the writer’s intention. Speak the words the way he has written them and bring this vivid character to life with the only tool I have – me.
“I don’t see my job as an actor to impose myself on the character but rather to serve the character’s needs. My Amanda will be a different interpretation simply because I will be bringing my unique self to meet her.”
Now living in Sydney, Mandy says she has a large extended family in WA and many old friends so it is wonderful to be finally working here and staying for a long period of time.