Jul 05

Improv session was the start of Winners & Losers

Winners & Losers’ Virginia Gay says she can see her character Frances eventually becoming prime minister.Here’s the big question for Virginia Gay, who has just finished filming the 100th episode of Winners & Losers: Is Winners & Losers a soap?

“I think I prefer Australian drama,” she says, laughing. “Or maybe dramedy.

“What I love about the show is that because there are four girls, two of us are always carrying the heavy emotional weight, while two of us are doing the wukka wukka wukka slapstick. Not everybody can be depressed at the same time.

“Because the stories are woven beautifully together, it does segue from great despair to the great relief of laughter.

“When things go really bad for Frances, I enjoy the weeping and the self-pity, but I suppose if I had to choose, I’d always come down on the side of wukka wukka wukka.

“That’s the way you should live life, if you can find the comedy in it.”

In the season starting on Seven next week, Gay is mostly working on the lighter side, because her character Frances has a new baby and has to juggle motherhood with  a legal career. Her friend Sophie, played by Melanie Vallejo, experiences deep tragedy as her sweetheart lies in hospital on the verge of death.

Gay and Vallejo first met five years ago when they were asked to read a pilot script of Winners & Losers as a “chemistry test”. Gay had been in All Saints and Vallejo had been in Packed to the Rafters, so they’d caught the eye of the show’s creator, Bevan Lee (who later developed A Place to Call Home).

“We met in the audition and we did this 10-minute long improvisation after the script had finished,” says Gay, “just reflecting about the way we were and about the kind of women we wanted to be in the future.

“We got out of the audition and we thought, ‘My god, if we get to do that as a job, wouldn’t that be amazing?”

What was she told about Frances at the time?

“I knew that she was The Corporate One, the one who cared more about her job than she did about relationships. My favourite thing about Frances is that, aside from business things, which she’s absolutely consummate at, she’s not good at anything else – singing, dancing. Any time I have an opportunity to do anything like that for her, it’s always out of time and off-key. I loved this idea of this woman who is so powerful and so in control, but she’s a delightful mess underneath.”

Is Frances anything like Virginia Gay? Is Sophie anything like Melanie Vallejo?

“I’m like a mad, chaotic, empathic, really chilled-out person and I can be relaxed about anything,” says Gay.

“My car always looks like the Salvo’s bin has been emptied into it. Sophie is meant to be this super-relaxed, sexy, life-goes-on kind of creature. Mel, while being enormously sexy, is actually very organised, very clean, very tidy.

“Mel and I were making coffee upstairs today. Mel made her coffee exquisitely from scratch with, like, organic roasted beans and a little espresso machine and the right milk and she got it up to the right temperature. I found in the art department kitchen some prop coffee in a plunger and that was going cold, and I was just going to add some hot water and drink it.

“Literally, we thought today, we could not get more different from our characters and more different from each other, and we’re still the best of friends.”

So, if the show goes on for another 100 episodes, how does Gay see Frances ending up? She reflects for two seconds and comes up with a decidedly non-soapy answer:

“Prime minister of Australia, while also raising a beautiful independent child.  I think she’d make a terrific prime minister. I’d back her. The Greens Party, obviously. We’re talking 10 years in the future, right? The Greens have come to power, they’re a huge force, solar powers everything, wind farms are everywhere, and Frances is the leader and she is elected as the fifth female prime minister of Australia, so it’s no big deal.”

Winners & Losers starts on Seven on July 14 at 9.15pm. The age of menace

When I told Andrew McFarlane, best known to Australians as the wholesome hero of The Sullivans in the 1980s, that he was the scariest character in the ABC’s new series about zombies, he thanked me for the compliment, said he was loving his new career playing “arseholes”, and politely questioned the premise of my observation.

“I don’t think we can call them zombies,” he said.

“Zombies are mindless, aren’t they? Flesh-eating mindless creatures? These ones aren’t. They’re quite normal, in every way whole and hearty. They’ve just died and come back. The Risen, my character calls them. There’s a whole lot of mystery about these strange reincarnated beings. The risen people themselves are trying to work out why they are here and where they came from.”

McFarlane plays a cop with a secret agenda (“he might be an avenger, he might be a saviour”) as he investigates strange events in the local graveyard. He had to do two auditions to get the role.

“After the first audition, the producers said, ‘Yeah, we know you can do a country cop but are you somebody who can be scary?’ I went ‘Yes’.

“So I filmed a scene where he was very menacing and obviously a force to be reckoned with. One of the reactions I got was, ‘Oh, my god, that second test, you were so scary and I couldn’t take my eyes of you. You had this mesmeric thing in your eyes.’ I have to thank the guy who did all the lighting for me.”

McFarlane knew he could do scary because last year he played “a damaged and awful priest” in Devil’s Playground, which won a Logie as Most Outstanding Miniseries.

“I’ve certainly been able to explore some very dark and unhappy sides of human nature in the last couple of years,” he says.

“I’m now 64 and to think that in the last three years I’ve been given these roles that are really meaty and complex and full of activity as far as storylines are concerned; it’s fantastic.

“You could easily just go, ‘Well I’m out to pasture now and there’s not much for me to do except John Sullivan reunions’.  But I seem to have cornered the market on arseholes.”

Does this suggest that it’s taken him 30 years to live down John Sullivan, who became Australia’s sweetheart in a series that ran from 1976 to 1983?

“At the time, when you’re doing those roles and you’re young and you’re handsome and everybody’s going, ‘We love that boy next door’, you kind of hanker for more complex and darker roles. You go, ‘Oh no, not another nice person – can’t I be the one that’s done the bad thing?’

“But that’s not what you are at that stage. The actor in you wants to do it but nobody’s going to believe you stumbling around with a grotesque hunchback and missing teeth when you actually look like the boy next door.

“But life will kind of take care of that as you grow older. You can tap into it a lot more because you’ve experienced a lot more and you’ve witnessed a lot more.

“For me, it’s important to challenge myself and be uncomfortable at times. You’ve got to put yourself out there, sometimes to the point of saying no to jobs.

“It’s pretty scary because you’re turning down something in the hand for something that’s not been invented yet. But the universe has a funny way of presenting you with opportunities.”

McFarlane acknowledges that Glitch’s plot line sounds similar to a French series called The Returned, shown on SBS, and an American series called Resurrection, which was briefly a hit for Channel Seven two years ago.

“Oh, absolutely, but we were talking about this with Lou Fox, the brains behind the whole thing, and she said it’s now a recognised genre. Just as they have costume drama or a love story or a historical drama, there’s now a thirst and desire to see these Risen genre stories.

“It boils down to how you actually treat the story you’re telling, within the genre. Ours tries to focus on the human relationships, and ask what does it actually mean? It goes back and redresses wrongs that have been done, historically or in the immediate past. It’s a kind of history mystery tour of Australia.”

Glitch starts on ABC1 at 8.35pm on Thursday The red peril

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are currently in Vancouver making new episodes of the ’90s sci-fi series The X-Files. Anderson has been a bit disappointed to find that most of the social media chatter in the past two weeks has not been about the philosophical mysteries that might be explored again, but rather about her hair. Her character, FBI investigator Dana Scully, is famously a striking redhead, and the fans are upset that Anderson was photographed donning a red wig to cover her now-blonde hair.

“There’s a big dialogue about my f—-ing hair,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I appreciate their enthusiasm, but goodness me!”

Anderson said she’d planned to dye her hair but her hairdresser said this would be too damaging, and she might end up bald when she had to dye it back to blonde to appear in season three of her detective series The Fall.

“So yeah, unfortunately, it is a wig,” she said. “Oh my God, it’s like wearing a vice on your head. I mean, every day, I have a whopping headache. And so I’m paying for that decision. I want all the fans to know that I’m suffering for the red!”

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