Danielle Cormack's resume of screen roles ranges from 70s hippies and confused Generation X'ers, to Amazonian warriors. After winning a best actor award in 1997 for her work in Harry Sinclair's Topless Women Talk About Their Lives, the next three years saw Cormack taking on key roles in another four features — including rural romance The Price of Milk and comedy/drama Via Satellite.
Cormack began her acting career on stage. She won her first screen role as a teenager, joining the cast of successful soap Gloss. In 1992 she appeared in the first season of the long-running Shortland Street, playing a nurse from the sticks who falls for doctor Chris Warner. Having only done one year on the show, Cormack was surprised that almost two decades later, she was still being referred to as "Danielle Cormack from Shortland Street". After leaving the soap, Cormack acted in Steven Berkoff play East, a role that took her across New Zealand and to a festival in Zurich.
Over the next few years Cormack appeared in surf and crime show High Tide, and a succession of short films: co-starring opposite fellow Shortland Street alumnus Marton Csokas in stylish noir A Game with No Rules, Erik Thomson in Snap, and Joel Tobeck in hour long soldiers' tale The Call Up.
She also joined the cast of a no-budget weekend project, begun by writer/director Harry Sinclair. The bite-sized episodes which resulted became the TV show Topless Women Talk about their Lives. Playing an Auckland woman whose romantic life tends towards confusion, Cormack enjoyed the experience of not knowing what scenes she would be acting until the day of the shoot.
When Topless Women became a feature film, director Sinclair incorporated Cormack's real-life pregnancy into the plotline. After the birth of Cormack's child, the filmmakers reconvened to fake a birth scene in a veterinary clinic. Cormack's performance won praise from Variety and Screen International, as well as the best actor award at the 1997 Film and TV Awards, part of a Topless prize tally that included gongs for best film, and fellow castmembers Joe Tobeck and Willa O'Neill.
In 2000 Cormack re-teamed with director Sinclair to star in The Price of Milk, a fairytale romance set on a diary farm. Cormack played the naive, "slightly eccentric" Lucinda, working on the film for three days a week, over a six-month period.
The three-year period between the two Harry Sinclair films proved busy, with big roles in another three features. Cormack appeared in quirky Australian romance Siam Sunset (which won her an acting award at a fantasy film festival in Portugal). Locally she was nominated for a best actress award after starring in the offbeat Channeling Baby, which LA Weekly writer Holly Willis found a "brash, Rashomon-style story of conflicting truths".
Cormack had been in the mind of writer/director Christine Parker before she finished her script, and the actor was encouraged to provide input into the character. Spanning several decades, Channelling Baby saw Cormack playing a woman blinded after protesting the Vietnam War, while the late Kevin Smith was the Vietnam vet whose fate is bound up in hers. Metro magazine wrote that Cormack "lights up every scene she appears in".
The last feature from this period required her to split in two. Via Satellite (1998) is a comic portrait of a dysfunctional family, who go under the media spotlight when one of their twin daughters competes in the Olympics. Carol's underachieving sister Chrissy wishes she could be elsewhere.
The film marked the directorial debut of Ladies Night playwright Anthony McCarten, who raved of Cormack: "She's talented, she's beautiful, she was right for the character, she's experienced — and she's a bankable star". Critics were equally enthused. NZ Herald critic Peter Calder wrote that Cormack shows herself "to be the kind of actress the camera loves. It's hard to escape the sensation that we are watching as a star is born." Added Variety's David Stratton: "Cormack's skilled playing as both the distressed Chrissy and the exhausted Carol contributes enormously to the film's success".
The late 90s also saw Cormack appearing in the first of many shows for American company Pacific Renaissance. She played with a French accent for an episode of Hercules ('Les Contemptibles'), while an ongoing role as Amazon woman Ephiny on Xena: Warrior Princess won her an international fan following.
Since the new millenium, Cormack's screen work has concentrated on the small screen, with occasional ventures into features. In 2006 Cormack played Maddie, the mother of the main character in fantasy series Maddigan's Quest. Based around a roving circus, the programme is based on a book by children's author Margaret Mahy.
The following year was devoted to TV's Rude Awakenings, a 'dramady' of suburban culture clash created by director Garth Maxwell. Cormack starred as Dimity Rush, a right wing corporate woman "aspiring to that particular type of life — good car, great home, kids at the right schools, wearing the right clothes. Which is so much fun to play, because I'm in Swannies out in West Auckland."
In 2010 she won a Qantas best actress award for her turn in The Cult, playing outwardly cool as nails Doctor Cynthia Ross, confidante to a charismatic commune leader. On the big screen, she was seen as a woman worrying about losing her husband in Separation City, Tom Scott's ensemble tale of "marriage, bad sex and requited love", and hooker sister to the anti-hero in Gregory King's A Song of Good.
In recent years Cormack's career has increasingly tended towards Australia; she has performed with the Melbourne Theatre Company, acted in acclaimed drama East West 101 and was nominated for a Silver Logie after co-starring in Underbelly: Razor. Turning the clock back to Sydney circa 1927, the series saw her playing "hearty, fearless, formidable" real-life crime-lord Kate Leigh.
Cormack enjoyed the challenge of portraying a character variously described by those who dealth with her as wonderful, family-orientated, horrible and vicious. She rehearsed for her audition with fellow Kiwi Chelsie Preston-Crayford, who went on to win the role of Leigh's nemesis, Tilly Devine.
Cormack cemented her Australian status further with ongoing, high profile roles in Rake and Wentworth. Playing Scarlet Meagher on Rake, barrister and former flame to the main character, she spent the first season caught up in divorce proceedings. In the process the character went from "cool, calm and collected to a vulnerable emotional wreck in a completely convincing way" (as Sarah Lang argued in the NZ Herald). Wentworth, an acclaimed reimagining of long-running Aussie soap Prisoner, saw Cormack starring as hardnosed criminal Bea Smith, a new arrival in a women's prison. Nominated for a Logie award after Wentworth's first season, she took away the Most Oustanding Actress Logie in the second, and also scored an ASTRA (subscription television) award for the role.
Elsewhere Cormack has also handled costume design duties on Katie Wolfe short Redemption, and hosted reggae show Fire It Up! for now defunct music channel Alt TV. Her theatre roles include an ATC production of The Blue Room (again opposite Kevin Smith) and a "wonderfully spontaneous" turn (said the NZ Herald) in one-woman play The Case of Katherine Mansfield.
Peter Calder, 'A STAR is born' (Review of Via Satellite) - Weekend Herald, 10 October 1998, page D4
Matt Grainger, 'Right script, right time for success' (Interview with Anthony McCarten) - The Dominion, 19 October 1998, page 15
Sarah Lang, 'Australian show rakes in ratings' (Review of Rake) - The NZ Herald, 30 March 2014
Bret Ryan Rudnick, 'An Interview with Danielle Cormack'. Whoosh website. Loaded September 1997. Accessed 20 November 2008
Paul Simei-Barton, 'The Case of Katherine Mansfield at the Herald Theatre' (Review) - The NZ Herald, 25 August 2006
David Stratton, 'Via Satellite' (Review) - Variety, 17 August 1998
Erica Thompson, 'Glamorous spin to gritty times' (Interview) - The Dominion Post (TV Week pullout) 27 September 2011, page 5
Holly Willis, 'Winfemme Film Festival' - LA Weekly, 11 August 2000
Unknown writer, Review of Channelling Baby - Metro magazine, October 1999
'Underbelly: Razor - Kate Leigh'(Interview) Time Out Melbourne website. Accessed 17 August 2011
Topless Women Talk about their Lives Press Kit