Kat Stewart has become a household name across Australia as Billie Proudman, the erratic sister on the TV series Offspring, and for her portrayal of Roberta Williams in the gangland drama Underbelly.
She’s won the heart of viewers with her compelling characters, something she puts down to her obsession with psychology – a subject in which she majored at Monash while undertaking a business degree in marketing at the Caulfield campus.
“My studies have been useful in ways I didn’t expect, and that’s especially the case with psychology, as I use it all the time in the work I do as an actor,” says Stewart, who lives in Melbourne.
“I’ve always been interested in the way people behave and why they do what they do. That element of my education was never wasted on me. I put it to good use every day.”
After completing Year 12 at Melbourne Girls Grammar, she enrolled at Monash in 1991. It was the year grunge broke and Nirvana was touring its hit album Nevermind.
Stewart recalls university life being all about gigs and theatre. She loved being on campus.
I also love that at university you are given room to grow. You investigate ideas, meet older students and learn about life.
“I got involved in a theatre society at Monash and started doing plays and threw myself into that,” she says. “I did fine with my studies, but my acting became my true passion. I knew it wasn’t a viable career option, so that’s why I continued with my studies, to make sure I had some backup.
“And I also got to see Nirvana on their only Australian tour.”
After completing her degree in 1995, Stewart thought she would end up working in marketing by way of advertising or public relations. She even did a stint with Penguin Books, working at its Ringwood office after coming back from a European vacation with three girlfriends in the 1990s.
“Marketing and business is a great foundation for life,” she says. “Even though I’m no longer working in that world, you don’t waste that knowledge.
“I also love that at university you are given room to grow. You investigate ideas, meet older students and learn about life. It was a stimulating and fun time. I loved breaking free from expectations from school and meeting people from different walks of life. It was totally liberating.”
Among her many roles, it’s perhaps her turn as the needy Billie in Offspring – tough on the outside, soft on the inside – that hit home for many. Stewart convincingly captured Billie’s nagging nature and balanced that with a nurturing core.
“Playing Billie was amazing. I loved her character. I had plenty of room to have fun with it. The last two seasons of Offspring have been like receiving two Christmas presents that someone misplaced,” she says of the series’ unplanned comeback. “
It’s been so delightful and so much fun to come back after we had a wrap party and thought the storylines were tied up and done. You never really do know what’s going to happen.”