“It’s been very good to me. I feel very blessed. I’m second in line to the throne!
“But now ‘Alf’ has gone to England for 6 months I am in fact Queen!” laughs Lynne McGranger.
With 18 years playing ‘Irene Roberts’ on Home and Away, it’s a fairly apt call.
McGranger is synonymous with the Seven soap, and one of two veteran matriarchs on the show (the other being Lyn Collingwood as ‘Colleen Smart’).
While Ray Meagher pips her with 23 years as ‘Alf Stewart’, McGranger is now the second-longest serving cast member. After a guest role in 1992, she became a permanent fixture in 1993. That puts her in the same league as several Neighbours cast members.
“I think Tom, Alan, Jackie and there was Ian of course. But I’m giving them a run for their money!”
So what is it that keeps her so devoted?
“Being very pragmatic, I love my job. You couldn’t be doing this for 18 years if you didn’t love it. You would go stark raving nuts, because it is intense.
“But one of the things that attracts me to it is that every week is completely different. But that doesn’t suit a lot of people. Some people like to know what their life holds in store. I quite like the excitement of not knowing whether I’m going to be working next Wednesday night or not,” she says.
“As an actor to get a gig where people want you to come back and keep doing it is a good ego boost.
“And also the main thing from an actor’s point of view is that I’m in the unusual position of playing a role, but that role has a life. Unlike a play I’m not doing the same thing day in, day out. I don’t have a short-live life span like a movie. My character has a life that goes on and on. She lives a different life each episode.
“Of course there was a beginning, and there will be an end, but it’s not foreseeable. It goes on and has this lovely life of its own.”
Like her foster parent character Irene, McGranger is proud of some of the kids who have graduated from Summer Bay, and admits that sometimes fame has gone to the heads of some former castmates.
“Home and Away has created a launch pad for some fabulous careers. But that’s because they already had the talent and the drive. Some more had more of one and less of the other and some had both in enormous amounts,” she says.
“But when you think back to people like Melissa George, Isla Fisher, Tempany Deckert who has gone on to be a successful publisher, Ryan Kwanten, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Egan, Sharni Vinson, Julian McMahon… the list goes on. I think we’ve had more successes than failures.
“There still have been people -and funnily enough probably the people with the least amount of talent- who have gone, ‘Pfft. I don’t need this show. There’s better things waiting out there for me.’ But sadly they either didn’t have the talent, the luck or opportunity and they didn’t have the drive.”
Off-screen season cast members keep a watchful eye on some of the junior cast, especially those who are cast without experience.
“People like Ray, Ada, Lyn (Collingwood) and myself are kind of are more the community head-slappers. So we’re pulling people into line saying, ‘It’s not cool to turn up to rehearsals and chomp away on a sardine sandwich.’ There are certain etiquettes. You must be early. You must never be late unless you are in an impossible position,” she says.
“We try and teach the kids how a machine like Home and Away runs successfully. We are all mates and we do all get on, but it’s like a microcosm. There are people who you do naturally bond with and there are people that if you weren’t working with them they probably wouldn’t be your friend. It’s just like any workplace.”
Last year the show came under criticism that its storylines were become too full of stalkers, and police-related plots. It has sought to put more heart back into the show via romance and light-hearted sub-plots.
McGranger says while the genre has its critics, on the whole the soap gets a pretty good run in the press.
“There are some who might decide Home and Away is some sort of scourge on society, but it comes, it goes, and people keep watching. But mostly journalists respect the genre and respect the show, and they also realise it gives a hell of a lot people in Australia a lot of pleasure and a hell of a lot of people a lot of work.
“At the end of the day it is an amazing success story export-wise. We go to 174 territories. So we’re not affected by people who want to bad mouth the genre, or bad-mouth the show. Australian soap is quite area-specific in how we operate in the work that we do, in the people that we reach. I’m not a fan of cooking shows, but I don’t think bloody MasterChef gives a rat’s bum!
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to please all the people all the time but we are very proud of what we do and I think that success is indicative in our ratings, by our overseas success and by the longevity of the damned show.”
Home and Away airs 7pm weeknights on Seven.