Neighbours’ matriarch Terese Willis is one of the toughest women Ramsay Street has ever seen, and she’s certainly had to be in recent months during her brave battle with breast cancer.
The ballbreaking businesswoman has had the support of not one, but two admirers – fiancé Gary Canning and old flame Paul Robinson. The men in her life couldn’t be more different, and fans are torn as to who she’s best suited to. Confusing matters further is the fact that Terese sleeps with Paul behind Gary’s back next week, following good news on her condition. So who does Rebekah Elmaloglou, who plays the conflicted Terese, think her character would be better off with?
“There is a strength in Paul that maybe isn’t there in Gary,” begins the actress, who joined the Neighbours cast in 2013, and shot to fame in her teens as Sophie Simpson in rival Aussie soap Home and Away. “She can be honest with Paul and not feel she has to put some kind of façade on. Like her, he’s ambitious and feisty so they are compatible personalities.
“But with Gary there are no agendas and he has a playfulness about him which she really enjoys. I feel personally he’s a better fit, but I wonder whether Terese is going to get bored with him down the track…”
The lure of the Robinson rogue proves irresistible once again to Terese next Monday when she turns to him having been told by doctors that her tumours have shrunk.
Sharing the good news with her ex, the pair end up sleeping together. “Yes, it’s an interesting way to celebrate!” laughs Elmaloglou. “It’s a shared, spontaneous moment. Despite their history there is still an emotional attachment.
“Unbeknown to her, when she gets home Gary has arranged a surprise party to celebrate their engagement! Bless Gary. His timing could’ve been better.”
Does Terese come clean to her intended about her infidelity? “No but she is absolutely guilt-ridden. She knows how much Gary loves her and, despite what she’s just done, she loves Gary too. Terese chooses to stick with Gary but she now has a heavy secret which she’s really going to be struggling with for a long time.
“I’d love for Terese to get some stability in her life and make it to the altar with Gary. The girl has been through so much!”
Tackling Terese’s cancer storyline has been particularly emotive for Elmaloglou, and a personal link to the plot initially had producers worried about how she’d feel about portraying it.
“My own mother Teresa was diagnosed with breast cancer over 12 months ago,” she reveals, “I was with her every step of the way through her treatment. The producers were hesitant when they presented the idea of Terese having the illness because my mum’s experience was so fresh, and they were taken aback by how enthusiastic I was about exploring the issue.
“I thought it was especially important that the character questioned her initial diagnosis that she didn’t have breast cancer. She listened to her own instincts and body, and that’s so important. It’s easy to be intimidated by doctors and specialists, and you hear the same story over and over again. I wanted to show women have to take ownership of their health.”
While Terese’s love life may look uncertain, Elmaloglou is pleased the outlook for her health is looking much better. “She is definitely concerned about her future and has been trying to keep everyone else calm about what she’s going through – but things are looking very positive with her treatment and that’s how I wanted the story to play out.”
Neighbours continues weekdays on Channel 5 at 1.45pm and 5.30pm.
Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, dedicated to funding research into this devastating disease. To find out more about the charity or about breast cancer visit www.breastcancernow.org