Sally-Anne Upton is more than a presence on Foxtel’s Wentworth. As Lucy ‘Juice’ Gambaro, she’s the total embodiment of the nitty gritty, rough-and-tumble quality that makes her character so believable and so very frightening.
Upton, who started acting and singing professionally in 1981, is a versatile performer who’s appeared in film, television, and musical theater. Over the course of her career, she’s charmed audiences in roles like Yenta, the Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof, Mrs. Brill in Mary Poppins, and Widow Corney in Oliver. But it’s her portrayal of Juice on Wentworth that’s truly touched a nerve in audiences worldwide.
Juice, also known as Juicy Lucy, is easily one of the most chilling characters on Wentworth. With her predatory tendencies and penchant for infecting prisoners with Hepatitis C, one might think viewers would turn off at the sight of her. But they don’t.
Even in spite of her antics, Juice is an irresistible character. She brings a sense of danger and foreboding as well as a touch of comedy to a show that often teeters on the edge of the dark side. And it’s a testament to the show’s writing and Upton’s acting skill that fans can appreciate the entertainment value of Juice’s bad behavior.
While we’ve certainly seen a lot of Juice over the past few seasons of Wentworth, there’s still so little we know about her. And it seems we know even less about the actor behind the character. I wanted to find out more about what lies beneath Juice’s surface and how Upton approaches stepping into such a complicated role. So, I took it upon myself to ask some questions…
TARA MARTINEZ: How did you get this role? Was there an audition process?
SALLY-ANNE UPTON: I first heard about the remake of Prisoner (Wentworth) while I was performing in the Australian premiere of Mary Poppins the musical. So, I rang my agent and said, “I really want to score a role in this series.” Because Mary Poppins toured Australia and New Zealand for two and a half years, I was unable to audition in the early stages of the casting process.
When I finally did audition, it was with the shower scene where I bail up Liz’s daughter. I entered the casting room and was greeted by our wonderful director Kevin Carlin, plus a young woman reading the other lines. Kevin asks me did I want a rehearsal or put a take down straight away? I said, “Let’s put one in the can, do you want me to go for it?” He said yes. I checked with the young girl to make sure she was comfortable with that, she said yes, so I cranked it up to fifth gear and gave it my all. When Kevin said CUT, they both looked horrified and audibly gasped. I walked out knowing I did my best and started on Wentworth ten days later. I was elated!
TM: There are many fans who really enjoy Juice as a character, but also many who simply don’t understand her. From your perspective, does she have any redeeming qualities?
SAU: Oh yes! I often joke around set, “The Juice is so misunderstood.” One of my favorite messages from a fan was, “Oh she is so despicable and scary but I can’t turn away because she always makes me laugh.” I think that is one of Juicy Lucy’s redeeming qualities—her quintessential Australian, wonderful, down-to-earth, ‘say it like it is’ sense of humor.
TM: What’s the energy like on the Wentworth set?
SAU: Fabulous! Behind the camera, we have such a dedicated, hard-working, professional, talented crew and production department who all work extremely long hours to produce this globally-embraced Australian success. They inspire us all. I feel blessed every day I walk through those gates.
TM: Juice is often volatile and aggressive. How difficult is it to embody those traits and where do you draw inspiration from?
SAU: My approach as an actor is to come from a place of truth. Usually the writers are my inspiration. I immerse myself in the character and truly believe I am that person, therefore I am. Once they say CUT, I let it go.
TM: Many Wentworth fans were in shock after Juice and her crew raped Joan in Season 4. What was your initial reaction to that scene and what was it like to film it?
SAU: I sat beside Pamela in the director’s office, whilst going through how we were going to shoot it. Both of us sat with shocked looks on our faces. Pamela turned to me, shook my hand and said, “Hi I’m Pamela Rabe…pleased to meet you.” Still shaking her hand, I replied, “Hi I’m Sal Upton and I was hoping that the first time I worked with you would be in a Shakespeare piece at the MTC (Melbourne Theatre Company).” We both laughed and got on with it. To film this scene was very confronting for us all—cast and crew. As I drove away from set, I phoned my agent Ian to debrief. I said, “That was a hard day at the office, love!”
TM: Juice has quite a few tattoos. Do you have any tattoos in real life?
SAU: No, I don’t have any tattoos in real life, but each one of Juice’s tells a story. Right arm is her Flaming Vagina—makeup department Tess’s favorite design. The Left Arm is #TheJuice’s favorite Dike on a Bike and the little Heart below is for that someone special in my life.
Left inner forearm is all Lucy’s conquest notches and the one with the red star is for Franky! The Black Widow Spider on her neck represents female energy: they have been known to kill their male mate, which suits Lucy’s psyche. She loves PUSSY on her chest and not forgetting her fingers, CLIT on one hand and LICK on the other. That says it all really, she’s a classy bird!Foxtel
TM: In what ways does performing speak to you? How did you know that it was something you wanted to do?
SAU: My Mum and Dad would say I “came out the womb performing and making everybody laugh.” It’s in my blood. I feel home when I perform; it’s instinctive.
TM: How would you describe acting or performing to someone who might not understand all it entails?
SAU: A lot of people think we live a glamorous lifestyle, but the glamour and joy is in the performance; that is the magic and the rest is hard work. For instance, when you are in stage productions, you perform eight shows a week, with only one night off. Five of those shows are within 48 hours over a weekend, plus all the rehearsals and media calls. You live out of a suitcase, usually in noisy city apartments away from your family, loved ones, and community for months at a time.
When you’re in TV/Film, people think because you are on TV you are rich and working all the time, but most of us shoot all our scenes over a condensed block of days and the rest of the year we’re looking for other projects.
The life of an actor is such a strange calling, but when you are performing, that moment when you are on, creating magic, it’s so innate and exhilarating. That’s what hooks you in. You get paid for playing dress-ups!
TM: If you hadn’t become an actor, what path do you think you might’ve followed instead?
SAU: I am still a practicing RN Division 2 Nurse and if that were my only job, I would have specialized in midwifery.
TM: You’re also a dialogue coach and civil celebrant. Do you enjoy working in those areas as much as you enjoy performing?
SAU: I am so lucky to be able to marry my skill together—pardon the pun. It’s such a privilege and honor to become a Commonwealth Registered Marriage Celebrant and I love creating handcrafted ceremonies unique to each of my couples, filled with heart, soul and sprinkled with humor. I am so looking forward to the day when Australia respects and embraces Marriage Equality. Ceremonies by #TheJuice…I’ll sing you in…Bring it on!
TM: Do you have any upcoming projects that fans should be on the lookout for?
SAU: I am writing my cabaret show at the moment, with the hope of touring it globally. I would love everyone to come and join me in a night of song and laughter.
To learn more about Sally-Anne Upton, be sure to visit her website and follow her on Twitter at @SalUPTON. And stay tuned for a few more details about Sal in Fan Fest’s ‘5 Things You Didn’t Know About…’ series.
GIF credit: matvei412.tumblr.com
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.