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"I needed to take a break": Anna wears Bassike “Longerline Textured” coat, $1150. Topshop wrap dress, $46.
In any upscale restaurant around Los Angeles, you can\'t throw a stone without hitting a celebrity, even if most of them are hidden in the back corner. But not only does Australian actor Anna Torv choose a sunlit front patio table at popular hotspot Goldie\'s for our interview, her accent prompts a gushing reaction from our over-the-top waiter. "We have an Australian actress who comes in here all the time, but I can\'t remember her name!" he brags.
Torv has agreed to meet me for lunch at the hip restaurant owned by the trio of Aussies who are also behind the West Hollywood favourite Eveleigh, and she\'s excited to talk about her starring role in the new Foxtel series, Secret City. But she\'s far too modest to play the "Don\'t you know who I am?" game and just smiles with polite curiosity as the waiter hurries off to figure out whose name he should be dropping.
With the kind of ethereal beauty and talent that have earned her comparisons with fellow NIDA graduate Cate Blanchett, Torv is so far best known for her long-running role as FBI agent Olivia Dunham on the Fox sci-fi drama Fringe, which ended in 2013. Yet as we sit at a street-facing table that flanks a verdant living wall of plants, Torv insists fame was never a priority.
Sass & Bide “Beyond the Sun” knitted jacket, $350. Camilla and Marc blouse, $260. Max Mara pants, $976, from Net-a-Porter.
"Sometimes I still get recognised," she says with a tinge of embarrassment. "It used to happen the day after the show had aired and somebody would be really excited to see me, but now it\'s maybe just the occasional double-take."
Surrounded by a pretentious LA crowd clutching designer handbags, the down-to-earth Torv stands out in a well-worn denim shirt and jeans and no jewellery. Her hair is pulled back off her face in a ponytail to reveal green eyes and pale, luminous skin without make-up. She confides that doing publicity has never been easy for her.
"I\'m terrible at it," she says, as we talk about the new generation of social-media-savvy, camera-ready actors with a shameless approach to self-promotion. "I just wish I was better at it, honestly, because sometimes I think I miss out on things that would be fun because I\'m so uncomfortable."
"What I found so fascinating was the stuffiness of Parliament." Anna Torv wears a Zimmermann jumpsuit.
It\'s ironic that Torv is probably better known in the US than in her native Australia. But that will soon change as she stars in the political thriller Secret City, inspired by the best-selling novels The Marmalade Files and The Mandarin Code by Canberra political journalists Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis.
The six-part series stars Torv as Canberra political journalist Harriet Dunkley. Dunkley is investigating a political cover-up that creates rising tension between China and America and, after a series of murders are committed to protect the conspiracy, she puts her life and career on the line to expose the truth. It\'s gripping television, comparable to House of Cards and The Killing, but with a uniquely Australian slant.
Directed by Emma Freeman - who previously worked with Torv back when they were both starting out on the 2004-05 season of The Secret Life of Us - the drama is shot on location around Sydney and Canberra.
It features a who\'s who of Australian talent, including Dan Wyllie, Alex Dimitriades, Alan Dale, Marcus Graham and Jacki Weaver, who plays a foul-mouthed political powerbroker.
Torv grins when she hears Weaver\'s character described as intimidating, adding "which Jacki is too, of course".
In what way? "She\'s gorgeous, don\'t get me wrong," the 36-year-old is quick to clarify, "but she has this thing - and it comes across on screen, too - where you just don\'t know what she\'s thinking and it\'s really, really unnerving!"
Eager to research her role, Torv jumped at the chance to accompany Uhlmann to the Canberra press gallery area inside Parliament House.
"What I found so fascinating was the stuffiness of Parliament, and how quiet it was and all the rules about where you can and can\'t walk," she says. "And then you get onto the media floor and it\'s just alive with energy and the people are so passionate about what they do."
"One of the things that I thought was really interesting when I was talking to some journalists in Canberra is that -without exception and with complete sincerity - when I asked them what drew them to this kind of journalism, they all felt they could make a difference."
The media world is not foreign to Torv. Her paternal aunt, Anna Murdoch Mann (formerly Anna Torv herself), was married for 32 years to media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Torv\'s cousins are James, Lachlan and Elisabeth Murdoch. Her father is radio identity Hans Torv, though they are reportedly estranged.
Torv\'s upbringing was modest and outdoorsy. Born in Melbourne, she moved with her mother and younger brother Dylan to Mudgeeraba, a small suburb in the Gold Coast hinterland, after her parents\' split, when she was six. She spent her teenage years surfing, camping and riding horses, as her mother actively discouraged television in favour of outdoor play.
"We camped because it was cheap and we played with the kids on our street who were all different ages, so you learned how to get along," she says, smiling widely at the memories of a happy childhood.
"My mother instilled in me a sense of self-worth, that I could do anything - but she also made sure she only encouraged the things I was good at and knew I wasn\'t going to be a scientist or a mathematician."
She was accepted into Sydney\'s National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) at 17, and made the move south. "I was too young to get my electricity turned on without an adult and I couldn\'t go to the local pub because they\'d check everyone\'s ID, so I had no friends and sat home thinking, \'This is ridiculous!\' " she recalls. Eventually she dropped out and took "a gap year", working in cafes and bars before returning to NIDA and graduating in 2001.
She submitted a video audition for Fringe long before it had become a proven method to get anyone\'s attention. Co-creator J.J. Abrams (of Lost, Star Trek and the latest Star Wars film) chose her over 300 other actors to star in the supernatural thriller with Joshua Jackson and veteran Australian actor John Noble.
"To start with, I think Anna was incredibly shy, so when she was forced into that position of fronting a major show, that was tough for her," Noble recalls of the co-star he still affectionately refers to as "a daughter".
"Anna obviously became very adept at it because she\'s a smart kid, but initially I think it was a terrible shock and she just never fell in love with that showbiz side of being a celebrity, because she\'d rather be off riding her horse and following her own path."
It\'s not surprising then, that after Fringe ended, Torv moved back to Australia, turning down offers from the US in favour of supporting roles in two Aussie films, Love is Now and Daughter, as well as a small role in the miniseries Deadline Gallipoli.
"I just couldn\'t jump straight back into another TV show, I needed to take a break," she elaborates, pausing to offer me a bite of her dish - a bowl of crispy rice and vegetables with a soft egg on top - after raving about it.
"I\'d had one job for five years and no time to do anything else. I just wanted to go home and see family and to \'job\' again. I wanted to feel the nervousness of ... meeting and working with different people again and feeling what that was like."
So where did Torv find the confidence to walk away, when all her peers were in planes circling LAX? "It certainly wasn\'t arrogance," she says. "I love acting - it\'s all I have done and I hope I work until I die, but it doesn\'t define me.
"I am myself whether I have a job or whether I don\'t have a job - and I\'m always astounded to hear that actors who have worked consistently get scared of not getting another job, because it\'s like, \'How are you not going to get another job in your life?\' " she asks, rolling her eyes.
Which brings us back to the fact that, regardless of her proclamations, she is gearing up for her return to her biggest American gig yet, starring in Oscar-nominated filmmaker David Fincher\'s new Netflix drama Mindhunter as an FBI psychologist involved with tracking a serial killer. She doesn\'t see the decision as incongruous with her past actions.
"I loved doing Secret City so much, I suddenly found myself thinking, \'I need to work, because I enjoy it.\' And then I was lucky enough to get Mindhunter."
Perhaps it\'s that disregard for her place in Hollywood that makes Torv so charming. She regularly detours from the interview to trade tips on current TV and swap book recommendations (her current favourite is American singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer\'s tome, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help).
Lunch is over and the slender actor offers a hug before leaving, just missing our waiter, who has returned to say he\'s finally figured out the name of the Aussie actor who often dines there. "It\'s Jacki Weaver, do you know her?" •
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