Where did you start your acting career?
The movie Stone was my first role, and it arose from a
very successful TV commercial I did for Schwartzkopf Shampoo. I recently heard an
interview with (casting agent) Liz Mullinar who said she 'discovered' me for that
commercial in a pub. The commercial won several awards and I became reasonably well known
as a result, such that Sandy Harbutt approached me initially for a non-speaking part in Stone,
which I immediately snapped up. Another actress, Julie, later Amber, Rogers, pulled out of
her speaking role and I stepped into that part, with my sister taking my original role. We
worked for very little, and I remember one 26 hour day spent filming underground in a bomb
shelter. I enjoyed the experience, and since I had taken a year off between secondary
school and university to see the world, I decided to forgo my original plans and never
Your next role was in the movie version of
It took me a long time to live down that role as people thought I
was actually in the TV series, and I went to great pains to tell them I was only in the
feature version. I played a character romantically involved with Jack Sellars, portrayed
by Tom Oliver, who turned out to be doing a 'gaslight' on another character. It was one of
only two 'bad' girl roles I've played. I received some hate mail following the movie's
release with some people accusing me of corrupting the morals of Australia's youth! It
seemed at the time to have been a bad career move with all the fuss the role generated.
Following that I did The Man From Hong Kong. I'm grateful for all those early
experiences for teaching me the business of film making.
Would you have accepted a role in the Number 96 series
as a result of the Number 96 movie?
No, it wasn't where I wanted my career to go at the time; I guess
I had higher aspirations of perhaps being another Judy Davis. However, about ten years ago
I realised it was a choice between a 'driven' approach to acting, or a career which gave
me a great deal of satisfaction but time to have another life besides.
You appeared in the pilot episode of Chopper Squad.
Yes, I did that pilot for Roger Mirams and played the female lead
character who was paired romantically with Dennis Grosvenor. She was the nurse and radio
operator who worked with the rescue squad (played in the series as a doctor by Jeanie
Drynan). If it were produced today, where women's roles are not as stereotyped as then, I
could have played the helicopter pilot and Robert Coleby the radio operator! I seem to
remember that I did not want to do the series of Chopper Squad. But I enjoyed
making the 90 minute version for Roger, who also did not continue into the series.
Perhaps your most well known part in the '70's was in
Ah yes, Glenview High, with Ken James and lovely Camilla
Rountree, who moved from acting into film production wardrobe. It was my first experience
working in a television series, with the familial atmosphere that develops with that
situation. It was a great time in my life as I was able to buy my first house as a result
of doing the series and television commercials for the Sydney Sun. I had a
reasonable disposable income and job security for the first time in my life. I played an
airline stewardess living in a house with Camilla and interacting with Ken James and
Grigor Taylor's characters; Grigor played the main role of teacher at Glenview.
Did the fact that you were not playing a teacher limit your
storylines and character development?
Yes, I guess it did. I spent most of the series in the house
tiptoeing around Grigor or having subplot relationships with other people. By not playing
a teacher I was unable to work directly with say, Brandon Burke, who played a student and
was an excellent actor that I went to Drama School with. Looking back, the limitations of
the character are more obvious now.
What about the drawn out relationship between your character,
Robbie Dean, and Greg Walker, Grigor's character?
I think they may have stretched the 'will they, won't they?' a
bit too long which can frustrate the audience somewhat. I think the characters eventually
kissed or something, but it can be very manipulative if drawn out to the extent like in
today's Northern Exposure with 'Maggie' and 'Joel'. Also, you can only sustain the
interest in a series with schoolroom antics for just so long.
Following Glenview High you moved into a long run on
It was a funny thing - although I started out on The Young
Doctors as a nurse, halfway through my time there - about a year in - they decided my
character was a bit up-market for a nurse. So they dragged out a psychology degree she had
and suddenly, overnight, I became a psychologist instead!
It was the ultimate in 'soap'?
Yes, of course, but it was wonderful training. Everything
happened so fast with three cameras, and near enough was always good enough! We got our
scripts on the Monday and recorded on the Wednesday. I was very grateful for the training
it gave me, as I was able to explore acting out extreme emotions whereby I seemed to be
required to cry every other week! It was fun, we all had a great time, and our tongues
were all planted firmly in our cheeks!
Tell us about your exit from The Young Doctors.
I decided that they had to kill me off to prevent me from being
tempted to rejoin the series again. My character had just married Alan Dale's character
after a long romance, and I got electrocuted on my wedding night by touching a faulty lamp
or something! - What a way to go!
Return To Eden made you very famous in the '80's.
It was certainly the biggest role I've ever done; critically it
was not the best, but it made my name more than any other thing. It was great fun to do,
the mini-series particularly with photography by Dean Semler and directed by an American,
Karen Arthur. It came out looking wonderful, even though the script, by Michael Laurence,
was a bit far-fetched. But it worked - it was our Dynasty (the U.S. series) with
the Australian laconic element, which saved it from taking itself too seriously. I tried
to make my character as normal as possible, a typical country girl despite the glitz of
her surroundings. It has never ceased to amaze me how popular the series became
internationally. I've received literally thousands of letters, from Eastern Europe to
Asia. The only acting award I've ever won was 'Actress Of The Year' in Yugoslavia for Eden;
Unfortunately I was unable to attend to accept it personally.
You looked far too young to be the mother of those children in
I guess it proves the power of television to make anything seem
possible. As Stephanie pre the 'accident', I was meant to be playing a forty year old
character who would have been old enough to have teenage children (I was about ten years
younger myself). Following Stephanie's return after the 'accident' and in the series I had
children played by actors almost my own age. To overcome the strangeness of this situation
I played my role as if I was playing my own mother!
Despite it's popularity Return To Eden didn't make it
into a second series.
It was extremely expensive for Channel Ten to continue and I
guess this decided it's fate. In my case I did the first series out of loyalty to Hal
McElroy following our success with the mini-series. If I hadn't been involved in the
series it might not have gone ahead, as my character was central to the continuation of
the plot. I certainly enjoyed doing a series shot entirely on film. When the series was
not renewed it left our fans up in the air over everyone's fate. However we actually shot
a series alternative ending which tied up all the loose ends. Unfortunately it was not
shown in Australia, but at least it was available for international distribution.
Through your international exposure you were approached by
Hollywood to team with Sam Elliot in the U.S. - Australian co-production for television,
Yes, I had a lot of fun doing it, but I don't look back on it as
one of the critical highlights of my career. It was the first time I had been offered a
role sight unseen or without interview. Lee Philips, the director, had been an actor in
Hollywood in the fifties and sixties, and knew exactly how to communicate with the cast.
The conditions were challenging as we were mostly in Broken Hill in the middle of summer.
Sam Elliot was a very nice man but very serious as an actor. Robert Culp seemed to be
extremely bland and disconnected from everything. He could never remember my name and I
became 'the girl'. I think he thought he was only doing this movie as a diversion, a visit
to the antipodes. The only unusual episode during filming was a dispute between Sam and
Robert over whose character should have the biggest gun in the shoot-out!
Has your height ever caused complications in casting you with
your leading men?
I'll put it this way, being five feet ten I've spent the majority
of my career working in bare feet! This hasn't been a problem though, as I understood the
need to get both heads in frame. It was nice however to be looking up at my leading man in
The Blue Lightning. (Sam Elliot is six foot two).
Danger Down Under or it's alternative title
Hawkesbury was another U.S. co-production for television, this time featuring Lee
Majors and yourself. Was it meant to be the pilot for a series?
Yes it was, but since I was three months pregnant at the time I
did not intend to continue into a later series, so I asked that my character be killed
off! Lee Majors was very much more than just an actor on this project. As co-producer he
had come to Australia to hopefully continue his career as the leading man in yet another
television action series. However, the script did not seem to lead anywhere and no series
eventuated. The only 'danger' in the title seemed to be my departure from the plot after
being hit by a truck! I think that Lee knew this was one of his last opportunities to play
the hero as he was already in his late forties, and he had done just about every action
role imaginable in the public eye. He had a fair degree of say in everything we did but
ultimately the project was unsuccessful.
What other roles followed these two telemovies?
I went to the Phillipines to shoot A Dangerous Life with
another American, Gary Busey. The role had been intended for Tom Conti, that of a
television reporter during the Marcos downfall. I played the character's estranged wife
and our relationship was seen against the upheaval that focused world attention there at
the time. It was another McElroy production, scripted by David Williamson. Another role
was in ABC TV's Paper Man, which attracted controversy for it's portrayal of an
Australian media baron. Parts of it were said to be too close to the lives of the Packers
What has been your favourite role to date?
A feature called Feathers, directed by John Ruane of Death
In Brunswick, set in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. I played a working class girl,
married to a spray-painter, who has aspirations beyond her job at the beauty counter at
Myer or David Jones. The role really challenged my dramatic experience and was well
received in its limited theatre release. It was eventually screened on the ABC.
Have we overlooked any other significant career credits?
Like everyone I did my obligatory Cop Shop and I think Sullivans
guest spots. I also did an episode of Special Squad which was shot entirely on
film. There was a short-lived international series, a re-make of The Saint, and I
appeared as the female villain in The Saint In Australia, with Simon Dutton and
Nikki Coghill. I also auditioned for the female lead in the Australian version of Mission:
Impossible. Possibly my accent was not American enough for the producers, as the role
went to an American expatriate, Terry Markwell, who worked with me in Return To Eden.
Will we be seeing you in any acting roles in the near future?
For now my time is taken up with Our House which I enjoy
greatly. But naturally if the right role were to come along and I was available, I would
love to act again.