The Tasmanian-born star of Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears and The Babadook has a great laugh – a full-throated, infectious chortle that bursts into melodic peals heard in the next room.
Sometimes the laugh sneaks up, as it did when she recalled watching while her TV co-stars Ashleigh Cummings and Hugo Johnston-Burt mourn her character’s supposed death in the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’ cinematic spin-off.
Other times, her laugh comes out like a delighted scream when I mention she looked very comfortable riding camels across enormous sand dunes when co-star Nathan Page didn’t.
“I am suspiciously comfortable on a camel,” Davis says with a cheeky twinkle. “I think I must have had a past-life as a camel rider. And I have been on them before, in Broome and South Africa.
“It was quite wonderful when we were walking across the tops of the sand dunes, and even the camels were having a hard time sliding down the sand dunes. And it was like, whoa, OK, everyone, hold on because we’re going to be toppling, rolling down a sand dune!
“But it wasn’t scary, just intrepid. Great fun.”
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a partly fan-funded big screen adventure that takes the formidable, clever and very fashionable 1920s lady detective on a globetrotting quest, opens in cinemas this week.
To create scale, the movie wanted to distinguish itself from the three-season ABC series, and give audiences a new experience.
“We set out to make a cinema-worthy experience that could be a complete story in itself that had the essence of every great bit about Phryne that we love.
“It had to have the romantic tension the series had set up, it had to have action, it had to have suspense, and it wasn’t just a murder, it was a massacre! You’ve got to raise the stakes.
“We shot on location in Morocco, which is the most beautiful, spectacular place. To be in the Sahara on camels, that in itself was a massive bang for buck because that elevated the story into a world that takes the audience on an adventure.”
Of course, shooting on location means a lot of flies buzzing around, which even makes it into some shots in the finished film.
“And there was a lot of dust up nostrils, I’ll tell you that!”
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Phryne Fisher first appeared in print in 1989, the first novel of a series of 20, a financially independent, fierce and smart woman who stumbles into sleuthing at a time when women were definitely not to bother themselves with such ugly business.
Kerry Greenwood’s books were adapted into the ABC series in 2012, finding a whole new legion of fans from all over the world, especially after the series hit Netflix internationally.
For many fans, Phryne Fisher is a lifeline, an inspiration.
“Phryne is an independent woman who can get herself out of trouble,” Davis says. “She’s glorious to put on but I hope to always be surprising and to take her character forward and to have new and exciting things the audience may never have seen before, and for it to still be joyous and frivolous in a really surprising way.”
Of course, Davis says, the challenge is always to give other characters their weight when Phryne is such a commanding presence.
“It’s always tricky, such as Detective Jack Robinson needing to be not totally emasculated so he’s still worthy of Phryne’s attention.”
Even Davis continues to be inspired by Phryne Fisher.
“She continues to teach me, such as when we were making this, I’ve learnt a lot to not be a perfectionist but to enjoy what you made, your little bit of art.
“It wasn’t perfect but there’s no point in berating yourself about it for hours or months. You just move on and make the next thing as amazing as you possibly can. Just be in the moment.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to draw a line between Phryne Fisher’s excitement and verve, and Davis’. And her enthusiasm for the Miss Fisher projects are genuine.
The night before at the Sydney premiere, she told the audience to get out there and support the film because a strong opening weekend means they’ll get to make another. That’s rare to hear from an actor who’s been playing a character on-and-off for eight years.
“The opening weekend means everything, but then the longevity of it in cinemas as well.”
When I bring up the surprising commercial success of the Downton Abbey movie, she declares, “They’re making a second one!” before she trails off into that signature laugh again.
Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears is in cinemas now
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