Home is Where the Heart is
As it returns to our TV screens for its 21st anniversary, we find out what makes Home and Away tick
WORDS KYLIE MILLER
When 22-year-old actor Ada Nicodemou agreed to a stint on Home and Away, she was looking forward to an easy run. “I had just come off a couple of quite long-running roles, so this was offered to me and it was like 'six months, oh yeah fantastic, in and out really quickly’.”
Nine years later, the popular actress is all grown up. Now 31, she is happily married to Chrys Xipolitas, enjoys hanging out with her Home and Away “family”, has numerous award nominations under her belt for her role as the twice-widowed, tragedy-prone Leah Patterson-Baker, and has no plans to leave.
“I still feel like I get challenged,” Nicodemou says. “Some weeks and months are easier than others, sometimes you don’t have major storylines and you have time to do other things. Generally it’s like a day job, a really good day job, and a lot of actors don’t have that. You’re able to plan and have a great life.”
Now in its 21st year, the top-rating Australian soap opera has earned similar loyalty from millions of fans who tune in daily around the globe to see the dramatic goings on in the perennially sunny Australian coastal town of Summer Bay.
Launched by the Seven Network in January 1988, Home and Away was built around Tom and Pippa Fletcher and their rag-tag family of foster kids. The Fletchers have since moved on, but the heart of the show remains the same.
“I think it’s a community built on solid friendships,” says series producer Cameron Welsh. “Tom and Pippa were a kindly couple who took on foster kids. That’s continued over the years and I think that best typifies the spirit in Summer Bay, one of compassion and kindness, and about helping out others who need it.”
Welsh ought to know. He joined the Home and Away family 10 years ago as a 22-year- old actor to play Mitch McColl. Two years later, he stepped behind the camera as a director, working his way through the ranks until his appointment at the helm in 2006.
He promises 2009 will be a big one for fans, with a new series opener, fresh faces in the cast and a continuation of issues-based drama. “I think that’s one of the keys to success of the show,” Welsh says. “It’s taking our stories from real life and taking them on, no matter how challenging they are.”
In a new initiative for the soap, Home and Away opens 2009 with a mystery and a storyline that arcs throughout the year. It wraps with an almighty cliffhanger.
“It’s a season-long mystery which is a really ambitious thing for us to take on,” Welsh says. “It hasn’t been done before and we’re on air for 40-odd weeks of the year, so to sustain a mystery for that long it needs to be well thought out. The audience will get real, tangible clues along the way so that they can solve it. It’s a shocking story and I think we’ve done that very well.”
When actor Todd Lasance accepted a guest role in 2005 playing the tough and troubled Aden Jefferies, he hoped he’d eventually become permanent. His wish came true in 2007 and he hasn’t looked back, setting up home on Sydney’s northern beaches, near Palm Beach where the location scenes are filmed.
Like his co-stars, Lasance sees several reasons for the drama’s success, including the range of ages and issues it covers. “There is also the touch of escapism in the show; drama that takes you out of your everyday reality,” he says. “The feedback from Australian fans is that it’s relatable and entertaining. From an overseas perspective, especially in places like the England and Ireland, they’re attracted to the lifestyle and the beach culture of Summer Bay.”
While Jodi Gordon concurs with her co-stars, she laughs when asked if she relates to the life of her character, Martha Mackenzie. “My life is very mellow compared to Martha’s!” Gordon giggles.
“I think the writers must brainstorm and come up with a crazy storyline and go 'Hey we’ll give it to Jodi! I’m actually quite happy that I get to live my life through her because these are things that I don’t need to go through!”
Since moving to Summer Bay in 2005 as a feisty addition to the Stewart family, Mackenzie has suffered near paraplegia, recovered to become a pole dancer, struggled with drugs, alcohol, two husbands and “been through enough men to last a lifetime!” Recently, she survived breast cancer.
Gordon, who was a model before she joined the show and remains an ambassador for Crystelle lingerie, is grateful for the on-the-job learning. The producers’ confidence in her ability paid off in 2006 when she won a Logie Award for most popular new talent.
“This show has given me so much. It’s amazing — they tend to pick up young aspiring actors and give them those grounds to train on — it’s very challenging. It’s two-and-a-half hours of television a week, shooting up to 20 scenes a day, so it’s just constant scripts, learning them and acting them out, early starts. But it’s great fun.”
Nicodemou believes another secret to the show’s longevity is the satisfaction on the set.
“There isn’t a day when I walk into work and say, 'oh I’ve had enough of this’. We’re always having a laugh, there’s no pretension, everything is easy. On some shows there’s a lot of ego but there’s none of that on Home and Away, none of us takes ourselves too seriously, we all have lives outside.”
Ada Nicodemou’s favourite things to do in Palm Beach:
“I go for long walks up to the lighthouse, that’s quite lovely. You can hire little boats and take them out around Pittwater — get a picnic hamper together and a nice bottle of wine. The beaches are just awesome.”
Todd Lasance’s favourite things to do in Palm Beach:
“I live on the Northern Beaches, so that’s my chosen spot in Sydney. I like Dee Why, Whale Beach and Avalon — they are similar to where I grew up in Newcastle, so I respond to the laid-back beach lifestyle and being a little bit out from the city.”
Jodi Gordon’s favourite things to do in Palm Beach:
“Sometimes my partner and I will go for a drive up to Palm Beach and Whale Beach. There are so many lovely restaurants and cafés around that area.”