If you love a bit of Aussie soap swapping, you’ll be pleased to see former Home and Away star Debra Lawrance make her debut in Neighbours later this week.
The actress has been cast in the role of Susan Kennedy’s highly selfish sister Liz, who will arrive in Ramsay Street to attempt a reconciliation with her daughter, Bea. Wanting Elly and Bea to deal with their troubled past, Susan makes the bold decision to reach out to Liz and implore her to reconnect with her daughters.
Digital Spy recently caught up with Debra to get all the gossip on what happens when at the tense family reunion…
How does it feel to have joined the cast of Neighbours? Do you feel as though you’ve settled in well?
“It’s fabulous, really fabulous. I have got some very dear friends on the show and it’s only filmed 20 minutes from my house.”
How would you describe the character of Liz and what can the fans expect from her?
“She’s very, very different from her sister Susan – like, really different. She is quite egocentric, very selfish and quite flighty. She has got a lot of issues. I don’t think fans will like her because she does some pretty horrible things.
“I am trying to play her as sympathetically as possible because everyone always has a reason for being the way there are. You can’t just play a black-and-white baddie, as that’s not very interesting. I like to think that the audience will understand why she is the way she is.”
What can you tell us about Liz’s reunion with Elly and Bea – we’ve heard it’s quite frosty?
“Yes, it is. It’s interesting as she’s had quite a good relationship with Ellie, but less of a good one with Bea. Bea is from another relationship – an affair she has with a man she supposedly loved a lot and then he left her. She found Bea to be a troublesome teenager who didn’t fit into her life, so she abandoned her. By the time the girls see her again, there is quite a lot of animosity towards Liz.”
What kind of dynamic is there between Liz and Susan?
“It’s like any familiar relationship with sisters. You tend to forgive your sister for everything, but you are also the person who can tell them when they’ve overstepped the mark. Family is family and blood is thicker than water, so although Susan is shocked by Liz’s behaviour, she also still loves her as a sister. They are very different people, let’s put it that way.”
Does Liz share many scenes with Karl, and do they get on?
“They share a couple of scenes. Karl’s concern is for Susan’s welfare, and wants her to be kept calm. Liz does something really, really shocking and Karl finds that completely unacceptable. There are a few scenes where the family gets together and you have to be polite, but as it progresses and the story gets nastier, Karl is very much against Liz’s ‘activities’.”
Do you think that Liz can get her relationship with her family back on track?
“That is the hope! This won’t be the last you see of Liz – she will be back. But without giving too much away, by end of this cycle, the possibility of redeeming herself becomes apparent. There is certainly the wish that will happen, but there are a lot of bridges to repair. She needs to build these bridges otherwise the girls will completely reject her.”
We’ve heard that Liz is the reason that Bea ended up on the streets. Does Liz feel guilty about that now?
“Yes, but to the extent that Liz can feel guilt – a lot of narcissistic, egocentric people don’t feel guilty as they assume it’s always someone else’s fault. When it is pointed out to her, it is obviously a sore point for Liz but she doesn’t want to recognise it. She buries her head in the sand a bit.”
We know you’re close friends with Jackie Woodburne – did you enjoy getting the chance to work together again?
“We are very, very dear friends. The last time I worked with her was in Prisoner back in 1985 – 33 years ago. It’s lovely because she and I are often very busy with what we are doing, so it’s been lovely being able to catch up.”
How long are you in the show for – is it just a short stint, or will you be popping in and out?
“This is just a short stint, but I think she will be back. Nothing has been set in concrete yet but what has happened will play out dramatically in further storylines. It is very much left as unfinished business, and when writers leave things as unfinished business it tends to mean that they are going to revisit it. It’s always a good, juicy story for later.”
Would you be interested in becoming a regular if the opportunity was offered?
“It would depend on other work and if I could fit it around that. I’ve got something coming up that’s going to take up a big chunk of my time. I don’t know about being a regular because other work comes up for me all the time. I like the idea of popping in and out though.”
How does Neighbours compare to Home and Away?
“It’s very much the same – the same shooting schedule, same speed, same close-knit cast, same everything really. The speed of shooting and things like that were all very similar really, except Home and Away has beaches and bikinis!”
With Home and Away being 30 this year and Pippa being a much-loved character, was there ever any talk of you potentially going back?
“No. Look, people ask me this all the time and I always explain that Alf is living in her house with Roo and Pippa wouldn’t live in a caravan. Pippa’s place in the show has been filled in – like with Roo’s character and they’ve also got Ada Nicodemou, who plays Leah, as the lovely, gooey mum figure. That’s her role now and she does it very well. Pippa would be horrified that everybody is drinking so much and they’ve got so many guns.
“It’s a different show now – you hear people say it all the time. The old days of Home and Away were really precious when we had Isla Fisher and Kate Ritchie in our house – it was such a lovely, innocent time. People do get very nostalgic for the old days of Home and Away.
“Whenever I post something on Instagram, people always crawl out of the woodworks and say how much they miss it, how they want me to come back, and how we need the show back again. There is a nostalgia for the past. It’s a much shinier, glossier version of it itself now, whereas I think Pippa belongs to the simpler Home and Away.”
Are you still in touch any of the cast?
“Just Kate Ritchie, who played Sally. She is a very, very dear friend of ours and we went to stay with her recently. We had a lovely weekend with her family. She is the one we stay in touch with as she is like a daughter – well, a cross between a good friend and a daughter. It’s great. She feels like the big sister to our daughter Grace as she grew up with her. Grace used to come onto the set with us when she was a baby, so she has grown up with Kate.”
Are you proud of how Pippa is still so fondly remembered all these years later?
“Yes, it’s amazing. When people recognise me, they always say, ‘Do you get that all the time?’ When I say yes, they think I must hate it, but I say that actually it paid for all the real estate. It’s lovely though that people remember her so fondly. She was such a lovely character. Pippa was incredibly kind and nurturing and I think that’s why people loved her so much.
“People always tell me that they wish Pippa was their mum and I remember one lady in the supermarket once grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘You’re making me look really bad at home’. Pippa was a bit of a supermum. Dennis [Debra’s husband] and I are ambassadors for Barnardos Australia and we meet real-life foster mums who have got hearts bigger than central Australia – they are just amazing women. It was lovely to be able to portray a foster mum as they really do pick up the pieces for kids.”
Neighbours airs Liz’s arrival on Friday, July 20 on Channel 5.
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