Melissa Tkautz wants to set one thing straight. Her casting on Foxtel’s The Real Housewives of Sydney isn’t some sort of comeback after E-Street.
In fact, she has been working for most of her adult life.
“No-one ever remembers me from anything else I did. They only remember E-Street,” she sighs.
“No-one remembers me on All Saints, MediVac, Paradise Beach.
“It does make it frustrating in interviews because people ask ‘What have you been doing since E-Street?’ But I’ve had an entire career for the last 25 years.
“I had a number #2 single last year but nobody knows me from anything other than E-Street.”
Scan over her IMDb listing and you will also spy Richmond Hill, Home and Away, Pacific Drive, Echo Point, The Girl from Tomorrow, Swift & Shift Couriers, Housos. There have been hit singles (we’ll get to those), shoots for Black+White, Australian Playboy, Ralph and FHM, Logie wins, commercials, and more.
Aside from 3 years off to have children, Tkautz has been working consistently since she was 13 years old.
“I have some amazing loyal fans who have stuck by me since I was ‘Nikki Spencer.’ So that can’t be a bad thing,” she continues.
“The support I’ve had throughout my career has been amazing. So I’m not complaining! ……Maybe just a little bit.”
Of her soap days, largely from 1989 – 1996, she cites a Pacific Drive role as a personal highlight. Tkautz was the first actress to play a character with HIV on Australian TV.
“I felt as though I had a duty to really show people that just because you have HIV it doesn’t mean you’re on a death bed. I still had lovers on the show, still kissing boys,” she explains.
“Yes it’s an awful disease but you can still live your life.
“I’ve had a great career. It hasn’t always been on the highest-rating TV show, but I’ve always worked. I’m so grateful for that. I have friends who have graduated from NIDA and have had 1 job.
“But at times it was really bloody difficult.”
“I didn’t realise until many years later what the connotation was.”
With her pop single, Read My Lips in 1991, Tkautz crossed over into pop success. The song hit #1 on the ARIA charts. Follow up single Sexy is the Word reached #3. But there’s a lingering memory surrounding Read My Lips that leaves a sting in the tail.
“I got harassed by the press over the lyrics. But I never really understood what the lyrics meant. I didn’t write the song. I was 16, a good girl next door from a very sheltered childhood. They were asking me, ‘What does your mum think about you singing ‘hands off my detonator?’'” she recalls.
“I went into a lesbian bar and sang that song and almost got attacked!
“I didn’t realise until many years later what the connotation was. I honestly thought I was talking about a friggin’ bomb that was going to explode! Apparently there’s another meaning to it!”
Nevertheless Tkautz has remained pragmatic, learning to embrace her pop culture past.
“That song is a part of my life. It’s who I am. I still perform it, people still love to hear it. It’s very close to my heart.”
Her song rates a mention in the opening episode of her latest venture, The Real Housewives of Sydney, although the editing gives the impression that she didn’t like the song (she stresses it’s an awkward memory only because of the lyric hullabaloo).
With so many different credits to her CV, Tkautz notes she had never dabbled in Reality TV.
“It’s the thing to do, apparently. But the thought of going into a jungle and eating snails didn’t really appeal to me –although I’d probably do it,” she admits.
“I was a huge fan of (the US) Housewives and I always said if it came to Sydney I would be in it.
“But it wasn’t a quick choice. I really battled with it in my head. I’m 43 years on and I’ve done every TV show you can imagine, film, presenting –but I’ve never done Reality TV ever. So what do I have to lose?”
Her 6 new pals in the series are Athena X Levendi, Krissy Marsh, Lisa Oldfield, Matty Samaei, Nicole O’Neil and Victoria Rees. Fireworks are ignited from the opening episode.
“It’s too much, what have I done?”
“This show is out of the gate!” Tkautz laughs.
“We came ready to rumble. But the characters on our series are so brilliant and unique –they have really picked some great girls. We’re all mad, don’t get me wrong. But that’s what we want, don’t we? We want good viewing. We want to sit there and say ‘Oh my god, you’re crazy! Oh my god, you’re stuck up!’
“In 14 weeks it was only twice when I thought, ‘I can’t keep up with them! It’s too much, what have I done?’ But overall, what an incredible experience. If they asked me to do it again, I would.”
Amid the mandatory catfights and bitchy insults, Tkautz explains that she took a step back plenty of times, whilst others turned up the dial with cameras happily rolling.
“That’s my real expression. I thought ‘What the hell’s going on here?’ I was being myself. So that was my genuine reaction half the time.
“I went into this show with no other agenda other than wanting to be myself.
“I’m not going to try and be bitchy, or loud, cause trouble… I just wanted to be myself.
“You’re either going to like me or not like me, but at least I know that’s who I am.”
The Real Housewives of Sydney premieres 8:30pm Sunday on Arena.