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Dead at 61: AFI Award-Winning Australian Actress Wendy Hughes

Australian Actress Wendy Hughes NewsfrontAustralian actress Wendy Hughes dead at 61 (photo: Wendy Hughes in ‘Newsfront’)

Australian film, television, and stage actress Wendy Hughes, best known internationally for the big-screen dramas My Brilliant Career and Careful, He Might Hear You, died of cancer early today, March 8, 2014, in Sydney. Hughes (born on July 29, 1952, in Melbourne) was 61.

Wendy Hughes’ film career kicked off in the mid-’70s, with Tim Burstall’s psychological drama ‘Jock’ Petersen / Petersen (1974), in which she plays the wife of a college professor who becomes romantically involved with a married student (Jack Thompson). "I spent a lot of the time naked and doing sex scenes," Hughes would later recall about her work in ‘Jock’ Petersen, "because in the seventies you all had to do that."

In 1979, Hughes landed a key supporting role in the international arthouse hit My Brilliant Career, Gillian Armstrong’s late 19th-century-set tale of an independent-minded young woman (a Katharine Hepburn-ish Judy Davis) who defies social conventions in rural Australia to pursue a career as a writer.

AFI Best Actress winner for ‘Careful, He Might Hear You’

Four years later, Hughes starred in Carl Schultz’s Careful, He Might Hear You, as one of two sisters (Robyn Nevin was the other one) fighting for the affections of a little boy (beautifully played by Nicholas Gledhill). For her efforts as Vanessa, the upper-class woman who yearns a little too ardently (and sensuously) for the boy’s love, Hughes took home the Australian Film Institute’s Best Actress Award — one of Careful, He Might Hear You‘s eight AFI Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (John Hargreaves), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Michael Jenkins, from Sumner Locke Elliott’s novel).

Unlike Judy Davis, Nicole Kidman, and Sam Neill (who also starred in My Brilliant Career), and more recent Australian performers such as Cate Blanchett, Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, and Russell Crowe, Wendy Hughes never enjoyed a Hollywood career. Even so, she was featured in a handful of American productions and co-productions, such as John G. Avildsen’s Happy New Year (1987), starring Peter Falk and Charles Durning, and Michael Austin’s Princess Caraboo (1994), with Phoebe Cates in the title role.

Other notable Wendy Hughes movies include Paul Cox’s Lonely Hearts (1982), reportedly one of her own favorite efforts; Phillip Noyce’s Echoes of Paradise (1989), in which she plays an Australian woman who falls in love with a Balinese dancer (The Last Emperor‘s John Lone); Bruce Beresford’s Paradise Road (1997), opposite Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Pauline Collins, and Cate Blanchett in this World War II drama about a group of female prisoners in a Japanese POW camp; and Kenn MacRae and Simon MacRae’s The View from Greenhaven (2008), Hughes’ last feature film.

Besides her win for Careful, He Might Hear You, Hughes was nominated for six other AFI Awards, all but one as Best Actress: Newsfront (1978), My Brilliant Career (as Best Supporting Actress, 1979), Lonely Hearts (1982), My First Wife (1984), Echoes of Paradise (1989), and Boundaries of the Heart (1988).

Wendy Hughes on stage, television

On stage, Wendy Hughes played Mrs. Robinson in the 2001 production of The Graduate in Sydney; fading actress Alexandra del Lago in a 2002 staging of Tennessee WilliamsSweet Bird of Youth, opposite Guy Pearce, in Melbourne; Martha in a 2007 production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; and, in 2012, Henry Higgins’ mother in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. (Anne Bancroft was Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols’ 1967 blockbuster; Geraldine Page was Vanessa del Lago in Richard Brooks’ 1962 film; Elizabeth Taylor played Martha in Nichols’ 1966 film version of Albee’s play; and Marie Lohr and Gladys Cooper played Higgins’ mother in, respectively, Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard’s 1938 movie adaptation and its 1964 musicalized remake, George Cukor’s My Fair Lady.)

Referring to her stage work, Hughes once remarked: "That’s the beauty of theater. You don’t have to watch yourself."

On television, Wendy Hughes is probably best known for her recurring roles in the Australian series Snowy River: The McGregor Saga (1994-96) and State Coroner (1997-98). Her numerous TV credits also include roles in the widely panned 1987 American miniseries Amerika, starring Kris Kristofferson and featuring the United States under Soviet rule, in addition to Star Trek: The Next Generation, All Saints, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

According to online sources, Wendy Hughes was married three times: actor Sean Scully (the TV series Sons and Daughters), actor Chris Haywood (Muriel’s Wedding), and restaurateur/film producer Patric Juillet (Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train, starring Hughes).

Wendy Hughes Newsfront photo: Roadshow Entertainment.

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