When Heather Mitchell was 24, she had an experience that hurt, angered and unnerved her. Mitchell's agent told her that he had been putting her forward for movie roles but one particular female casting agent always refused to see her. When Mitchell went to see the woman, she was told that she was "terrific on stage but you'll never get a film role because you don't have 'IT'." It was so arbitrary and so vague. But after the initial shock and pain wore off, she found the experience amusing - and felt ready to prove the casting agent was wrong. And she did. If you don't know Mitchell by name, you'll almost certainly recognise her face. For four decades, the 64-year-old has worked on stage and in film and television. Her credits include such classic movies as Malcolm, Proof and Muriel's Wedding as well as TV series and miniseries including Bodyline, A Country Practice, G.P. and Rake. More recent films include Palm Beach and Blaze. Now she's revealed another talent, with her book Everything and Nothing. This isn't a conventional memoir, it's a collection of essays that has something of the feel of a reverie, with various themes and subjects and people - family, friends, colleagues - appearing and reappearing. As expected, Mitchell talks about how she came to be an actor and tells stories from her life and career. However, there's a lot in Everything and Nothing that's deeply personal and sometimes shocking: stories of secrets and sickness and sexual assault and suicide. Mitchell says she was approached by "wonderful journalist and author" Malcolm Knox, who apparently was moonlighting as a literary scout, while she was working for the Sydney Theatre Company. Knox said new voices were being sought and approached Mitchell, saying his wife thought she might be interesting. "He said, 'Write me a story from your life'." She did, and then he asked for another, and another, and another. "Then he very surprisingly said that Allen &amp; Unwin wanted to publish it. "It was a huge surprise." The title came from a haiku by Yamaguchi Sodo that Mitchell's mother had on a wall: In my ten-foot bamboo hut this spring there is nothing there is everything. "I was playing with the idea of opposites," Mitchell says. Life and death, joy and sorrow, success and failure - they're all part of her experience and her story. Mitchell was 11 years old when her mother Shirley was diagnosed with leukemia - but the children were not told about her illness and her death in 1976 came as a shock. "It was partly due to the time we lived in," Mitchell says - such things were often not discussed and Shirley made the decision not to tell her children of the diagnosis even as she grew weaker and wearier. In retrospect, while Mitchell thinks her mother had the right to make her own decision, it's not the one she'd make in similar circumstances. "I would tell my children." Mitchell says her mother's death came just one month after her beloved aunt Audree, who struggled with depression, took her own life. "It was unbelievable ... it seemed unfathomable." Again, mental health issues were something of a taboo at the time. Mitchell says while the circumstances of the deaths were not much discussed, "Children are very perceptive - they know when things aren't good. "It's hard to be struggling with something, to go through the grieving process when you can't talk about it." And it had a lasting effect on her - despite growing up in the more liberated 1970s, she was self-silencing - she accepted bad behaviour towards her and forgave it, or tried to, more than she should have. Now, she says in the book, she looks back on her daily primary school recital of the words "It all depends on me" differently - back then, she felt it meant "It all depends on me to be a good girl. To deal with things and accepts responsibility" but as a grown woman thinks it could mean something more like it depends on her to speak up and take action when necessary. One time she did try to speak up about something - inappropriate sexual behaviour - there were consequences for her professionally. "I was written out of a television series in the 1980s because I made a complaint," she says. "I spent 15 years not wanting to do television." While she won't name the series or go into the circumstances or who was involved, she knows she's far from the only person in show business to be affected. And it wasn't the only time she encountered sexual predators, professionally or otherwise. Mitchell is glad to see that in recent years such behaviour is being exposed and called out and those who raise it are less likely to suffer for doing so. She adds that "99.9 per cent" of her experiences in film, television and theatre had no such issues and were overwhelmingly positive. While undertaking the work she loves, Mitchell has survived breast cancer and raised two children with her husband, cinematographer Martin McGrath. The couple have remained together for more than 30 years despite their careers often separating them. One of the things Mitchell enjoys most about her work is the collaborative process, joining with a group of people - writers, directors, actors, other creatives, technicians - to bring something to life on stage or screen. Recently, Mitchell worked with American actors Zach Efron (High School Musical) and John Cena (Blockers) on the soon-to-be-released comedy Ricky Stanicky. "They were the most gorgeous, sweet men - very respectful and easy to work with." Mitchell says she tells the "IT" story to aspiring performers. "It's a really tough, tough industry to get into," she says - but self-esteem and support help greatly. Mitchell advises young people that they need to believe in themselves and seek out supportive people in their professional as well as personal lives - and to speak up and ask questions rather than simply accept glib pronouncements. She has had many supportive people, including John Gaden, who cast her in a production of Henry IV when she was 21 and had just graduated from the National Institute of Dramatic Art. "It was my first professional job." Earlier this year she won the Sydney Theatre Awards' best performer in a leading role in a mainstream production playing US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Sydney Theatre Company's one- woman show, RBG: Of Many, One. As well as acting she's now busy with writing, both prose and scripts, and says she might produce a book that focuses on her show business career. Regardless of what that casting agent told her, Heather Mitchell undoubtedly has IT. In an ANU/Canberra Times meet the author event, Heather Mitchell will be in conversation about Everything and Nothing with Professor Bronwyn Parry followed by a screening of Palm Beach (2019, M) at Arc Cinema, National Film and Sound Archive on Monday May 8 at 6pm. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing from 5.15pm. Tickets $12/$10. See: nfsa.gov.au.