Street life

Jackie Woodburne has been with Neighbours for fourteen years, but tells TV Tonight she still loves it now just as much as her first year.

She’s been in Neighbours for so long now she’s progressed from young mum to grandmother. But Jackie Woodburne, who plays Susan Kennedy in the TEN soap, wouldn’t change it for a thing. Confessing to still having the same enthusiasm today as when she started, she told TV Tonight she still gets excited when a new block of scripts arrive in her pigeon hole.

“I’ve been here fourteen years just gone in August so a long, long time,” she said. “Some of the kids watching the show now, don’t know life before the Kennedy family.”

As is the nature of soap, the highs and lows of her character arc have seen many complex, often bizarre, plots, sandwiched in some meatier storylines.

“I’ve done everything,” she laughed. “The retrograde amnesia springs to mind. The affair with the priest. The various marriages to Dr. Karl. All the storylines related to the kids.

“My character’s a grandmother now. When I first started the show and met the actors who were playing my kids, I thought ‘they’re going to realise they’ve made a dreadful mistake. I’m far too young to be the mother of these children.’ Well no-one batted an eyelid, least of all the kids. So now fourteen years down the track I’m a nanna.”

For a show that thrives on its generational interaction, Susan Kennedy is now the eldest female character in Ramsay Street. It puts her in the same league as Helen Daniels (Anne Haddy), Madge Bishop (Anne Charleston) and more recently Valda Sheergold (Joan Sidney). With its habit for having younger characters seeking guidance in domestic, social and relationship issues, it almost leaves her without a sounding board.

“I think we’re missing that bracket of female character in the show,” admits Woodburne. “I think it would be lovely to have the next generation up from me. That older voice, not middle aged. And we had that certainly with Lou and Harold, and now that Ian Smith’s gone that’s a big gap. We still have the Lou character which is great but I think it would be terrific to have an older woman.

“But the Susan character has always had her mates. There was Lyn (Janet Andrewartha). But Susan goes more to her peers for fedback than any other characters. And now of course with Miranda (Nikki Coghill) and Rebecca (Jane Hall), the Witches of Eastwick… that’s what the crew call us anyway!”

And then there is her utterly convincing on-air chemistry with Alan Fletcher. Together they give the show both a rock and launching pad for dramatic storylines. Fans still nod to the triangle with Izzy (Natalie Bassingthwaighte) as one of the show’s pivotal storylines.

“We just got lucky there,” she said. “Alan and I knew each other before we began in Neighbours, so we were pretty comfortable with one another. We also both have a very similar way of working, in that we both do quite a lot of preparation. We’ve both got a lot of ideas about how we want a scene to go.

“99% of them are absolute rubbish but occasionally we’ll hit on something that’s right on the money. We’re both very thick skinned, we speak in shorthand now. And we do get to where we want to go pretty much at the same time.”

Woodburne says she loves to work, particularly with many of the show’s younger actors who she doesn’t mind assisting if they happen to be struggling.

In recent years the show has pooled some of its cast from a wide net, including reality television and modelling. There was even a stint on offer in a magazine ‘star search.’

“They all come with a different body of work behind them,” says Woodburne. “I’ve never had a problem with that because realistically that’s the nature of the show. So someone will come from an Australian Idol or a Big Brother or whatever and they bring with them an audience and a group of people who want to watch them on Neighbours. That’s their currency, that’s what they come with and that’s terrific.

“When they’re here a lot of them will be really interested in learning how to become an actor. They really want to take this opportunity and go forward and have a career as an actor. A lot of them don’t. They just want to have this experience and go on and do music or something else, and that’s terrific.”

For Woodburne, whose feint Irish lilt is still a giveaway of her heritage, the summer break is a chance to relax from the show’s unforgiving pace. There’s no chance she’ll be treading the boards in a UK panto anytime soon, though she does admit her two seasons were fun, if bloody hard work.

“I’ve done two and I must say for me where I am at the moment I would prefer to have 4 weeks off at Christmas and catch my breath. You get off the plane and you go straight into rehearsals, you do two shows a day until you get on the plane. It’s absolutely relentless and it’s cold and wet.

“The first one I did was in Worthing in the South. I was the Wicked Queen in Snow White. And then I did one in Stafford, in the Midlands, and I was the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. They were tremendous fun and I made a couple of friends from then and we’re still good friends today. It’s great to work in another country no matter what you’re doing and have that experience so I’m very pleased that I did it but I’m not in a great hurry to do it again.

“I’m just getting old and tired,” she laughs. “I want the holiday!”

Neighbours finale airs 6:30pm Friday on TEN.

18 Responses

  1. The reason why many in aussies think the show is now ‘uncool’ is mainly due to the ‘uncool’ girly theme tune that makes the show look uncool.

    It would be grea tto have a theme tune close to the original few over the years. (mainly the ones during 1985-1997) they were excellent and really emotional feeling.

    prehaps the show should focus a bit less on the teens and more of the older established characters, bring in more older favourites.
    Im so excited for Lyn’s return!
    thanks fior the interview. she needs to be nominated for gold next year!

  2. We love your work Jackie, Alan and yourself really give the show balance, I agree we need an older grandma figure in the show, Valda was great, then a gain I loved the character of Janelle’s mother she was classy, sorry cant recall her name. But Jackie you are definitely not old, I too say please dont leave, you would be missed xx

  3. I agree with what Jackie is saying about noting having any older female characters in the show whcih could work well for Lou. How about bringing in Susan or Karl’s sister? whcih could be great for Lou to intergate more with the Kwennedys?

  4. Great interview- I loved the classic Susan/Karl moment with the fight with Izzy out the front of the house from a few years back- hilarious.

    I thought I had read somewhere that Jackie was considering leaving the show….

  5. Sheesh!! Is a pity Australia doesn’t enjoy the show as much as the actors enjoy working on it.

    And what does it take for Channel Ten to cancel a show? Its dipped in the UK its just about flatlined here in Oz, if ratings dont make em cancel… then what? Is it like Big Brother and you just have to be sick death of hearing about the show. Is it money? Going by Network earnings for the majors, there is a lot of things C10 could change to gget a fair milking from the cash cow, what do they need?
    The fact that Rove is still on the air, B&TB is on 6pm, reruns from 1990’s shows at 7pm, a ruined and poorly run news section, ffs there biggest marketable name is Rove! Alarm bells hello!!!!

  6. Nice interview but I’m not sure why she thinks she was too young (38)to have teenage kids.

    It’s interesting to note that Alan and Jackie played brother & sister in Cop Shop in the early 80’s. Jackie back then was a stunner with long auburn hair. Also did some googling and discovered she was a regular in Prisoner which I don’t remember.

  7. Thanks for the great interview.

    “Maybe if Susan’s character needs or wants an older woman to relate to, you could bring her mother into it.”

    There was a storyline earlier on in the show where Susan admitted to committing euthanasia on her mother, so I don’t think that’s an option, unfortunately.

    What I can’t remember is, was anything ever said about Rebecca’s mother? I know she became estranged from her father after her pregnancy, but was her mother still alive at the time?

  8. Susan’s mother died (thanks to Susan!) That was a really big storyline in the 90’s (Susan committed euthanasia)

    If Jackie ever reads this, I’ll just say (without offense!) that there is an adequate amount of old people on the show. I’d classify Susan, Karl, Miranda etc as old. Lou and Harold of course are very old, but they don’t really bring much different to the table as Karl and Steve etc.

    I believe Jackie really deserves a gold logie…even a nomination for gold logie. She is the best actress on Ramsay Street.

    Unfortunately though, because she’s not *sigh* youthful and supermodel looking, she’s not going to get it. I think she’s robbed every year. Even Kym Valentine or Caitlin Stacey should be nominated.

    Jackie again if ever read this, I’m guessing you helped out Kym and Caitlin a lot when it came to acting (like you said), especially since they both started out young. You’ve done a brilliant job with both of them. Even Zeke is maturing into a fine actor! I’m sure you contributed to that!

    PS: Don’t ever leave Neighbours!! (Until you actually can’t work!!)

    Oh and try to get Caitlin back on the show! Year twelve is over, exams are over, surely she can fit Neighbours into a uni schedule!!

  9. Maybe if Susan’s character needs or wants an older woman to relate to, you could bring her mother into it. I can’t seem to recall if her mother in the show is alive or not, perhaps if she is deceased, Susan could find a letter and find out she was adopted and bring the mother character in from there. Just an idea. Crazier things have been attempted before. Neighbours has really improved this year ( not that it ever needed inproving, in my opinion) and theres actually about 3 or 4 newer females in the cast that have brought new life into the fabulous show, particulary Rebecca, Donna, Bridget and Sam with bi-polar. Lets hope we have Neighbours around for another 20 years or more!

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