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Leah Purcell
, c. 2000

by Penny Tweedie

type C photograph (sheet: 31.0 cm x 50.8 cm, image: 28.0 cm x 40.8 cm)

Leah Purcell (b. 1970), actor, director and singer, grew up in Murgon, Queensland with her Aboriginal mother. Her white father, a butcher and boxing trainer, lived with his other family elsewhere in the town. Having cared for her mother and grandmother, and borne her own child as a teenager, Purcell gave up drinking, moved to Brisbane and began acting in community theatre. She gained a professional break in 1993, when she was cast in the musical Bran Nue Day. Moving to Sydney two years later, she gained a regular role in the ABC show Police Rescue and was nominated for an AFI award for her work in Fallen Angels. The one-woman semi-autobiographical play she conceived, co-wrote and performed, Box the Pony (1997) premiered at Sydney's Belvoir St Theatre and went on to productions at the Sydney Opera House, the Edinburgh Festival and London's Barbican. Charming audiences as Suzanne in The Marriage of Figaro at the Opera House in 2000, the following year she wrote the book Black Chicks Talking, which she directed as a documentary before it was adapted for a stage show in which she played six different Indigenous women. After playing ten characters including Errol Flynn at several different ages in Beasty Girl in 2003, she appeared as Condoleeza Rice in the play Stuff Happens (2005). Purcell's film appearances include Lantana (2001), The Proposition (2004) and Jindabyne (2005). Most recently, she has acted on stage in When the Rain Stops Falling in London.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the artist 2004
Accession number: 2004.199