Leah Purcell returns as Rita Connors in season 7 of the TV series Wentworth.
Leah Purcell returns as Rita Connors in season 7 of the TV series Wentworth.

Murgon star's role reaching audiences around the world

THE gloves are off for Leah Purcell in the new season of Wentworth.

The AACTA Award-winner, who grew up in Murgon, is relishing her second season in Foxtel's acclaimed prison drama as Rita Connors, an undercover cop who's been disavowed by the force after killing another inmate to protect her younger sister Ruby (Rarriwuy Hick).

Now facing up to 15 years behind bars and a bitter feud with fellow inmate Marie (Susie Porter), Rita is in an unexpected and seemingly bleak position.

"There were two reasons she went in originally. She was tracking Marie for a few years, and then of course with her sister being in there she wanted to work on their relationship.

"She thought she could stay in there for six months and get the job done then they'd both be out," Purcell says.

"That all went horribly wrong... now she doesn't have a lot to lose.

"For the first couple of episodes she's a bit caught up in her own emotions, but she wants to clear her name - that's the copper in her."

Purcell shares some physically tense scenes with Porter, but says they keep things light and fun off camera.

"I love doing my stuff with her. I've always admired her from afar," she says.

"She's a Newcastle girl and I'm a Murgon girl, so we rip into one another.

"We're supportive of each other as people, and we have fun with our characters. Plus, she's a rat bag on set."

 

Leah Purcell and Susie Porter in a scene from season 7 of the TV series Wentworth. Supplied by Foxtel
Leah Purcell and Susie Porter in a scene from season 7 of the TV series Wentworth. Supplied by Foxtel Kelly Gardner

Wentworth isn't just an Australian phenomenon. The award-winning drama has a devoted following overseas thanks to streaming services.

Netflix picked up the series for American audiences in 2014 and all six seasons are available in the UK on Amazon Video.

"I hear from fans all the time. They write (to me) in their language and I don't understand it but there are love hearts at the end so I assume it's all good (laughs). It's great our Australian drama can reach afar and affect people," Purcell says.

"The show is a well-oiled machine, and that's why we can turn out the drama we do."

With an emotionally-wrenching premiere episode, Purcell says viewers should strap in for a wild ride.

"It just keeps building; I can't wait for the finale," she says.

"Rita doesn't want to be out the front. She lets her fists do the talking but she's got to be pushed, and Marie is in there to push her buttons.

"Someone else comes in to push Rita's buttons as well. Things come to light about her true identity, with her sister and her health.

"If you want good drama then you've got to have new blood coming in to stir the pot. You've got to keep people engaged."

It's been a busy year for Purcell, who also directed the first two episodes of Ten's upcoming crime show My Life is Murder starring Lucy Lawless.

She says it was a nice way to warm back up to the director's chair before she helms her feature film The Drover's Wife, which begins filming at the end of the year.

"It was nice to get back in the saddle, so they say. I've been focusing more on the acting the past two years," she said.

"Wentworth was so demanding with the character, so when the opportunity came up (with My Life is Murder) it was a nice window.

"I worked with some of the Wentworth crew were there, so it was nice to have some friendly faces on set."

 

The cast of Wentworth season 7, from left, Jacqueline Brennan, Leah Purcell, Kate Jenkinson, Bernard Curry, Celia Ireland (seated), Rarriwuy Hick, Susie Porter, Tammy MacIntosh, Katrina Milosevic, Kate Atkinson and Robbie Magasiva. Supplied by Foxtel.
The cast of Wentworth season 7, from left, Jacqueline Brennan, Leah Purcell, Kate Jenkinson, Bernard Curry, Celia Ireland (seated), Rarriwuy Hick, Susie Porter, Tammy MacIntosh, Katrina Milosevic, Kate Atkinson and Robbie Magasiva. Supplied by Foxtel.

Season seven of Wentworth premieres on Tuesday, May 28 at 8.30pm on Fox Showcase.

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