Australian soaps have long been viewed as a springboard to international success for ambitious performers – just ask Kylie and Jason – but in recent years there’s been a notable increase in alumni of Neighbours and Home and Away quitting continuing drama and conquering Hollywood.
Margot Robbie is the toast of tinseltown with an Oscar nomination and high-profile films directed by Scorsese and Tarantino, just a few years after her stint on Ramsay Street as kooky teen Donna Freedman.
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And rival show Home and Away has also nurtured young talent who found success Stateside after saying goodbye to Summer Bay, notably Chris Hemsworth and Isla Fisher.
On a recent visit to the UK, Home and Away legend Ray Meagher, who has played curmudgeonly Alf Stewart since the first episode back in 1987, recalled his memories of working with the future Thor and the star-to-be of numerous hit big-screen comedies.
“They were both fantastic,” he smiles. “Isla came to the show when she was 15 or 16 [playing Shannon Reed between 1994-1997]. She was pretty young and lived in Perth, the show is filmed in Sydney so she was doing the five hour flight home back and forth. It was a pretty big move for her.
“It’s a long story for another day, but there was another person in the cast who didn’t make life easy for her but Isla was great at what she did. It was nice to be able to quietly reassure her, ‘the minute they call ‘cut’, grab your script for the next scene and try and keep busy, or talk to any of us and any of the crew as they all love you and you’re doing a a fabulous job. Don’t worry about that other stuff, don’t give it an opportunity.’
“She was fantastic and went from strength to strength. She just had a lovely quality about her.
“It’s wonderful when you see really nice people who are hard workers go on and have that sort of success, and the exact same applies to Chris Hemsworth [he spent three years from 2004 as hunky schoolboy Kim Hyde]. Being on a soap where you’re doing it five days a week, you get the chance to try and do it better the next day.”
Officially the longest-serving actor in an Australian TV drama, Meagher is obviously more than happy where he is, but understands why some younger actors look beyond the security of a regular role and shares his own thoughts on why so many soap stars end up storming the US.
“Ryan Kwanten left Home and Away in 2002 and was certainly successful [he played Vinnie Patterson and got his breakthrough US role in vampire series True Blood]. So I think other actors then saw that and thought there was a chance.
“Thirty years ago actors thought if they could crack theatre in the UK that would be wonderful, and TV accidentally followed. These days it’s possible to self-test and put it out and sent it to Hollywood, and the optimist sees that chance of success.”
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