Aussie actress Rachael Taylor, currently starring in the new Netflix hit, Jessica Jones. Photo: Steven Chee
It's early – 7.45am on a miserably wet morning – but Rachael Taylor is sitting in the lobby of Sydney's Shangri-La Hotel looking bright-eyed, beautifully groomed and thoroughly prepared.
She jumps up as I approach her. "I'm a hugger," she declares, moving in for a quick embrace before gesturing that I join her on the couch. Hearing my accent, she volunteers that her parents are English – her father, Nigel, moved from Dorset to Australia in his 30s while her Lancashire-born mother, Christine, arrived with her family at the age of 13.
They met in Tasmania. "It's actually a nice little love story," says their only child, settling in for our interview by tucking her legs beneath her. "The two English people in the town just went whoooosh ... They've been married for, like, 35 years."
Forthright and confident, Rachael Taylor, on the international publicity trail for Netflix drama Jessica Jones, is also full of surprises. Photo: Steven Chee
Forthright and confident, Taylor is also full of surprises. Though model-esque and chic, she describes herself as "earnest" and "salty". She talks fast, doesn't shy away from a well-chosen swear word and, as our conversation progresses, sporadically refers to me as "mate".
Today, the 31-year-old is on the international publicity trail for Jessica Jones, a Netflix drama based on Marvel's Alias comic series, about a traumatised superhero who lives incognito as a private detective. Taylor plays Trish Walker, Jessica Jones' best friend.
Asked why she took the role, Taylor cites the show's executive producer, Melissa Rosenberg, as a major reason.
"She is a force, and a feminist with a capital F, which I really like," says Taylor. "She started talking to me about some of the themes of the show and there was a nice synchronicity with some of the things that I'm interested in. But I think the main reason is that it was a depiction of a female friendship [where] they don't talk about dudes, ever. That was enough to get me over the line."
There is more to it, though. Jessica Jones is dark in both story and execution, with a plot driven by the desperation of the title character (played by Krysten Ritter) to annihilate a vicious, vengeful superhero (played by British actor David Tennant).
"This story is about a girl [Jones] who has been in a very abusive and traumatic relationship, sexual and violent, and she is choosing to confront it and make it right," says Taylor. "It's about flipping the switch on what we think a 'victim' is, and that is very meaningful to me."
In August 2010, a shocking episode of Taylor's life became public when she lodged an application for an Apprehended Violence Order on her then-fiancé, actor Matthew Newton. According to one press report, it outlined claims that she had endured sustained physical, verbal and mental abuse, as well as death threats.
Last year, she wrote of the events in an article for The Australian Women's Weekly, partnering with White Ribbon Australia, a male-led campaign to end men's violence against women. "I went, 'You know what, I can stand in this space, and I'm not ashamed of this,' " she says now. "I chose to declare it because I thought it could be of some value."
Did she have concerns about directly addressing her experience of domestic violence, I ask, given that some people might use it as a stamp to define her?
Taylor quickly calls me out on my use of language. "I think you are talking about the perspective of surviving a violent relationship from a place of shame," she says. "That's part of that broader 'shame' stigma, and I am not ashamed. If it is stamped on me in any respect, that is something I am very proud of, because I am on the other side of it ..."
Plus, she continues, "People transform. Women transform, they are remarkable at it, and I don't think any woman should feel marred by a moment in time that is very difficult to transition out of, but possible."
Jessica Jones allowed her to investigate a different aspect of the issue. "My job as [Jones'] friend was a really intriguing way for me to explore, maybe, some of the feelings that my own friends thought when I was trapped in a cycle of violence," she says. "That was very moving to me."
Taylor says she feels a responsibility to discuss the issue because "the statistics are so dire" and there is still so much to do. Recent figures indicate at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia. One in three has faced physical and/or sexual violence.
The actor says she is "genuinely buoyed" by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's announcement of a $100 million package aimed at combating domestic violence.
"I'm very optimistic about change. There's judicial reform that's needed. We need to find a language around [the fact that only] half of the women who find themselves in intimate-partner violence feel they can report it. Only half. That's not good enough.
"I've met with Rosie Batty and she is an astonishing woman," Taylor says of the family violence campaigner and Australian of the Year, adding that she is "inspired" by the Luke Batty Foundation's "Never Alone" campaign. "Rosie has been so influential in terms of how we think about family violence, domestic violence."
There is much more to Taylor, of course, than her passion for tackling the issue of domestic violence.
Her story begins in Launceston and a childhood that explored modelling and beauty pageants. It culminated in her winning the title Miss Teen Tasmania in 1998. "Cute, and more drama-y than it sounds – I would take that back if I could," she says of the episode. "I don't think that was a particularly healthy environment for a 14-year-old. I think women are asked to consider their beauty too much."
At 16, she moved to Sydney to become an actor. She convinced her parents she could finish school by correspondence, and found a "divey little" one-bathroom house in Erskineville, in Sydney's inner west, with four other girls. "I was really bloody-minded: my mother says that to me a lot," Taylor smiles, adding that her parents always had "an inherent trust" in her and that "I always knew that if I fell on my arse, I could go home".
She adds that she has "a lucky star", even though she had to return to Launceston, "tail between my legs", to finish high school properly. "I didn't walk into anything treacherous. This industry, it's not known for its kindness, its support of young girls, and I got out of those first really vulnerable stages of my career relatively unscathed. I met some good people, and had a good time."
In 2006, she moved to Los Angeles and quickly picked up the role of the geeky Maggie in the blockbuster sci-fi movie Transformers. She describes what followed as "a roller coaster".
Having turned down Transformers 2, she worked on several other US film and TV productions, including the horror movie Shutter (her first lead role) and Grey's Anatomy. Not everything worked out: Sarah Jessica Parker's HBO series Washingtonienne never got past pilot stage, and a television reboot of Charlie's Angels was speedily axed.
But she loves where she lives on the beach near Santa Monica, and describes herself a "very intense homebody". She adores cooking, avoids Hollywood parties and has friends who tend not to be actors.
She has a boyfriend: "No one you would know, a regular dude. Not an actor." He is a photographer and a director, she says, and they have been together for "a couple of years. It's one of the things I'm most proud of, my relationship with him."
Taylor jokes that she'd love to have "a little actress dog". More seriously, she says, children aren't out of the question. "This is the best time of my life at the moment. This is the most comfy I've felt in my skin, and the happiest I've been. I'd love to experience being a mother."
She gestures as she talks, making it impossible to ignore the word "Matthew" tattooed on the inside of her right wrist. She'd like to get rid of it, she says, "but I also accept that you do these things in life, these are mistakes and tattoos are a reflection of the imperfection of life ...
"Life is not perfect: over a million women in Australia right now can relate to that. It is not their fault and you are not perfect and it is all right and ..." She pauses. " 'And' is the perfect word there."
She smiles, lifts her chin and moves the conversation on with a single word, and finality. "Next."
Her father Nigel was a carpenter.
She never went to drama school and learnt her acting skills on the job.
She deferred an arts/law degree to pursue acting, and has since studied international relations.