After almost 30 years Irene Roberts is still at the heart of Home and Away, but actress Lynne McGranger confesses she was desperate for a big storyline for her alter ego and begged bosses on the long-running Australian soap for a juicy plot. Her wish was granted and Reenie is to be confronted with her painful past when she foils an attempted sexual assault on teenager Bella Nixon (Courtney Miller) by online groomer Tommy, almost killing him the process.
“To be brutally honest I was very pleased to have a good storyline as I hadn’t had one in a while,” admits the soap veteran in a candid interview with RadioTimes.com. “When I heard it was about online grooming I welcomed it as this is a huge problem and important to tackle. And having it bring up Irene’s past, and the fact she was raped as a teenager, I really didn’t expect.”
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On Tuesday 20th August Irene returns home from a trip overseas, having stopped off at Robbo and Jasmine’s wedding, and walks in on the horrific moment her young charge Bella is physically overpowered by sinister Tommy, who has befriended her in an internet chat room and inveigled his way into her life, showering her with compliments and gifts and eventually turning up at the house and forcing himself on her.
“Irene has been away so has no idea Bella has been effectively groomed,” explains McGranger. “The first she knows of it she sees Bella pinned down on the bed by this guy attacking her, then Irene clouts him over the head and knocks him out to save her. She basically takes control of the situation.
“When he’s lying there unconscious Bella tells her everything about how Tommy has been grooming her, boosting her confidence, making her feel like her best friend, and it all unravels.”
Who knows Irene was raped as a teenager?
Long-time fans will recall Irene’s tragic backstory, that she was the victim of a sexual assault in her teens which resulted in the birth of a child she gave away. She has never spoken about the incident to anyone other than best friend Leah Patterson, but seeing Bella attacked is a trigger for some very bad memories.
“Something Tommy says makes Irene regress and she flips out. It’s overwhelming, and she doesn’t fully understand why she does it. Bella then takes charge and insists they don’t involve the authorities as they could throw Irene in jail – she suggests they drive him to the hospital, dump him outside and it will all be fine. Irene is in no condition to argue, she’s all over the place. Eventually she wants to tell the police but Bella shuts it down.”
McGranger reveals this is just the beginning of what she describes as: “the most exhausting, confronting and full-on storyline I have ever been handed. Boy did I need a holiday afterwards! From the attack onwards it was three solid months of solid 14 to 15-hour days. It was killing me, but of course as an actor it’s been wonderful. I joked to everybody next time you see me going up to the office to ask for a big storyline, shoot me!”
Has Lynne McGranger ever wanted to leave Home and Away?
After as astonishing 27 years on Home and Away, earning McGranger the official record-holder as the longest-serving female cast member in a continuing drama in her native country, she relished the challenge of showing a more fragile side to her tough-as-nails alter ego.
“I’ve never bludgeoned somebody so that was difficult to play, I couldn’t exactly draw on any person experience! I had to trust my gut instincts and our directors who, for the most part, are wonderful. They will guide you but you have to me malleable. You can’t overthink those big scenes.
“Over the years I’ve had the occasional thought I’d like to try my hand at something else and be available for the odd play, but it requires a lot of planning to take time out. The producers are very generous but you do have to give a lot of notice.
“It’s hard, there are times when I’ve been a bit bored with what the character is doing, then others when I’m completely overwhelmed and working 15-hour days – somewhere in the middle lies the truth and that’s where I normally am! 99% of the time I love it and feel blessed to do this job. I love the people I work with and it’s a great gig.”
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