For nearly 25 years Jan Russ was Casting Director on Neighbours. In that time she is credited with discovering, or at least elevating, the careers of a myriad of actors who have forged national or international careers: Guy Pearce, Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance, Daniel MacPherson, Madeleine West, Craig McLachlan, Jesse Spencer, Brooke Satchwell, as well as famously casting a young Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan.
Tonight the tables are turned, as she returns to television as an Actor, with a guest appearance in City Homicide.
The role even puts her on screen alongside cast regular Daniel MacPherson, whom she cast in Neighbours when he was 16 years old.
After years of auditioning thousands of actors, it was the last thing she expected to be doing herself, as she explained to TV Tonight.
“I received an email from Andrew Thompson from casting at City Homicide, saying ‘there’s a role we’d like to see you for, would you be interested in coming in and auditioning?’ And I thought ‘Oh my God I haven’t done this for so long! Do I want to do this?’
“But I thought one door shuts, another one opens.”
Russ says being on the other side of the audition camera was bizarre.
“Just walking in and saying ‘I’m here to audition.’ It was so strange!
“There was the director Nick Buffalo who I knew, I think I gave him his first job on television, and Lou Mitchell in casting who I knew. Even the Reader I had auditioned!
“But I did the audition and they said they were happy with it. So I thought I’d wait and see. Two days later I received a phone call saying ‘You’ve got the gig!’ So I thought ‘Wow! This is happening!'”
Russ plays Robyn Turner, a Meals-To-You community volunteer.
“She takes meals around to the ‘older people’ and looks after and cares for them. I can’t tell you too much but she’s a very nice, caring lady.”
Not having performed on television as an actor since Prisoner in 1982, even the idea of learning the script was confronting. But Russ says she loved every minute of the experience, made all the more pleasurable by being among old friends.
“When I went for the read through of course Daniel was in it, Madeleine West was in it, Andrew Blackman. I knew most of the actors. I knew some of the crew. It was like old home week, really. They were so wonderful and looked after me so much. The crew, the wardrobe, the make-up, the camera guys, the cast. It was a bit like Dirty Dancing –I had the time of my life.”
Still in demand as a Casting consultant, Russ has been in discussion on film and television projects as well as conducting workshops across Australia.
“I do a lot of workshops interstate in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia. It’s fantastic. I love working with young actors. I get so inspired and energised working with them. I love helping them and giving them any sort of advice,” she says.
While the role on City Homicide may be the first of more, she says the audition experience on the other side of the camera only validated her approach to casting, which was to ensure actors felt comfortable.
“My philosophy was I would try to get them to enjoy the experience because even if they didn’t get the role I would still make them feel fantastic. And I think that’s important.
“I suppose when I’ve been auditioning people I’ve been working opposite them anyway. And I always try to give them as much of a performance when I’m auditioning them,” she says.
“You could say I was practising for 25 years for this role!”
City Homicide airs 8:30pm tonight on Seven.