Worried Home and Away fans who have been wondering where Leah Patterson (Ada Nicodemou) has been for the last few months will finally learn what happened to their heroine, as we discover she has been held captive by a deranged psychopath who is forcing her to marry him!
Leah vanished weeks ago but recently got in touch via her vlogging site revealing she was engaged after a whirlwind romance, reassuring her loved ones she was safe and well - which is a pack of lies as disturbed Douglas actually has her locked in a remote house where he's about to conduct a twisted wedding ceremony. Can Leah escape?
RadioTimes.com spoke to Summer Bay legend Nicodemou about the real reason her alter ego has been off screen, what's in store after her ordeal is over, and how she felt reaching her 20-year milestone on the Aussie soap.
Leah literally vanished for seven weeks - what were you doing off-screen?
My brother was getting married in Greece late last year so I had seven weeks off so I could attend, plus I wanted some time out to do mundane stuff like take my son to school and have a break.
Were you excited to have such a juicy storyline to come back to?
When they told me it sounded fantastic, I was refreshed from my holiday so it was nice to come back and have something huge to sink my teeth into. It was a bit nerve-wracking but I feel like I've earned my money!
Who is Douglas and why did he kidnap Leah?
His wife was a fan of Leah's video blog in which she talked a lot about domestic violence, and urged women to have the strength to speak out. She found the courage to leave Douglas, her violent, abusive husband, and now he wants revenge on Leah so he tricked her into meeting him, making her think she was meeting with the wife. Then no one sees her for seven weeks until we realise she's trapped in the house! Douglas wants to punish her for his wife leaving him but turning Leah into his wife - there are these weird moments where he makes her wear her wedding dress and does her hair and make-up exactly like she did. It's really creepy!
Leah escapes wearing the wedding dress and runs into the woods - was this a nod to her first ever scene as a runaway bride?
I didn't even think of that little nod, but you're right! The first time we saw Leah 20 years ago she'd ran away from marrying a guy called Ted and hitchhiked to Summer Bay. Vinnie Patterson picked her up. I'm going to ask the writers if it was intentional to reference it with this, it's really cool if it was! It was tiring running through the bushes in the full wedding gear, I'm such a klutz I don't know how I didn't fall over and hurt myself. I love the imagery of it, her veil blowing in the wind and all that.
After Leah escapes, what will the impact of this ordeal be?
She runs into boyfriend Justin's arms and the audience will think that's it: she's been saved, it's happily ever after - but it's really not. She has PTSD, can't look at anyone or be touched, suffers awful flashbacks, is petrified of Justin as she just sees Douglas. Leah thinks she's still in that house and there is a long road back for her, she is very lonely and afraid all the time. Nothing like her usual positive self.
Was it challenging to play a different side to her?
I loved it. Not having any make-up on, wearing different clothes, it just didn't feel like Leah it was as if I was playing another person so it was a great challenge. And adding colour to the material, knowing where to pitch the scenes and make it different. I really enjoyed it. This is unlike anything the character has ever been through. The biggest challenge was to play having no connection to anyone else in the scenes, as Leah is so disconnected.
How does it feel to have notched up 20 years on the show?
I should have asked for a party! I feel very lucky to be working on a show where I'm not bored and am forever being challenged. I love Australia, this is my home and it's a great place to bring up my son. Also I feel blessed to have a stable job in this industry, and it's a very special place.
Your co-star Ryan Kwanten went to Hollywood, have you ever been tempted to follow in his footsteps?
In all honesty, no. I never had that Hollywood dream a lot of people do, I think we tell great stories here and I love working in TV. Work is important but my family and where I live is the ultimate. I loved Ryan in True Blood, he was so great. We haven't seen each other in so long, maybe about eight years now, but we'd pick right up from where we left off. The pair of us are bad at keeping in touch! But I'm happy to stay in Home and Away as long they're happy to keep me.