Rachel Griffiths stars as Diane in the TV series When We Rise.
Rachel Griffiths stars as Diane in the TV series When We Rise. Contributed

Rachel Griffiths on When We Rise: It's just love, actually

WHEN it comes to marriage equality, Rachel Griffiths doesn't sit on the fence.

The award-winning actress believes it's a critical issue that has unfortunately been treated as a political football in Canberra's corridors of power.

"It's an embarrassment that we don't have it," she tells The Guide.

"The majority of people want it; most young people want it. What's terribly sad to me is you've got old people wanting to deny young people what they might say is one of the proudest achievements of their lives, which is a rich and loving marriage. I don't know why the old want to deny the young such a thing.

"I do think we're the lucky country and a fair country but we have this critical issue where we are denying people love. It's out of whack with who we are."

The reason we're on the subject is her latest project, the mini-series When We Rise.

Created by Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning writer of Milk, the 45-year saga chronicles the gay rights movement in the United States, beginning with the Stonewall riots in 1969 in New York to the legalisation of gay marriage in 2015.

Rachel Griffiths in a scene from the TV series When We Rise.
Rachel Griffiths in a scene from the TV series When We Rise. Phil Bray

Rachel plays Diane Jones, an HIV/AIDS nurse and partner of activist Roma Guy, played by Mary-Louise Parker.

"She's not the person changing the world with a megaphone," she says.

"She's the person who is turning up in a climate of fear and hysteria and does the right thing. It's her inner moral guidance that says, when the orderlies have left the food outside and won't bring it in the room, I will spoon-feed boys who are dying (from AIDS). I will clean them up and love them, despite really not knowing how this disease is spread."

Rachel was lucky enough to meet Diane, who recently retired after 33 years of nursing.

"She was fabulous, filling me in on a lot of what life was like in the '70s and '80s and fighting for women's rights generally," she says.

"I do feel a terrific amount of responsibility. If I were watching it with her on the couch then I hope she wouldn't be mortified."

A scene from the TV series When We Rise.
A scene from the TV series When We Rise. Eike Schroter

The mother of three is excited to be part of a landmark mini-series that she hopes will have the same effect on young viewers that Roots did for her.

"When I saw Roots I was a little white Catholic girl on the other side of the world and that show made me understand in some molecular way and have some passion for a slave life," she says.

"I remember feeling at seven that it was wrong in every bone of my body. I was with Kunta Kinte and I wanted him to have everything we had. I remember being overwhelmed with the injustice and the cruelty of those who would deny him his liberty.

"The great part of this story is how community action and community alliances and activism helped to educate out of a moment of fear and helped to bring out the better selves in many people."

When We Rise airs Saturdays at 8.30pm on SBS and is available to stream on SBS OnDemand.

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