She’s appeared in some of our most acclaimed television shows –Home and Away, Play School, Come in Spinner, Love My Way, Tangle, The Time of our Lives– but in House Husbands, Justine Clarke covers new terrain as a single gay woman looking for a sperm donor.
Coincidentally we meet on the very day that Senator Penny Wong reminded Eric Abetz that Australian same-sex parents have children, after his earlier comments were criticised for their ignorance. While the nation is debating bigger social questions, House Husbands is quietly putting them to a broad audience, and Clarke is happy to play her part.
“‘Eve’ is, as she says herself, on the wrong side of 40 and single. She’s been in a long-term relationship with a woman for 10 years but her partner didn’t want to have children. So she’s made the very difficult decision of leaving her partner in order to have the thing she really wants,” she explains.
“But she has to find a donor, which isn’t always easy, and strikes up a friendship with Alex (Darren McMullen), and he agrees to be her donor.
“What’s great about House Husbands and Time of our Lives is to see peoples’ lives reflected in the drama. Of course there intricately-woven plot points and comedy, and it’s quite light. But there are issues that people are facing every day.”
Issues for same-sex couples, Clarke says, can be found in most extended families.
“Nobody has to look much further than, if not their immediate family, their friendship with their colleagues or friends to find people going through the same situations,” she says.
But while there are deeper themes, House Husbands does have its lighter side and Clarke’s character has to find her entry point into the core ensemble, which she does through a rivalry with Gyton Grantley’s character.
“She has taken over the running of the tuckshop, which is privatised and she has a side-business catering to families. So she’s taken business away from Kane (Grantley) which he’s not very happy about. But she doesn’t really care what he thinks.
“So they don’t really hit if off, initially, until they get to know each other.
“I’ve always been curious about House Husbands because it started when The Time of our Lives started and there are similar themes about the shows. And both shot in the same areas.
“The strength of the show is the way the main cast work together, and I always admired that. But also (writer) Ellie Beaumont, who I have known for a number of years, is a really talented writer. So I was interested to work with her again.
“The role I was offered is unlike roles I have played recently in that she’s outspoken and doesn’t really give a fig what people think about her.
“She tells it like it is, so it’s really freeing to play.”
Clarke suggests that most of her TV work is in Melbourne, despite Sydney being her home. But she has more Play School work coming, another album (her last won an ARIA) and touring.
While some observers lament the state of the industry, she remains more optimistic.
“I think we’re in a great place. I haven’t seen Glitch yet but it’s great the ABC are taking a risk with a show like that,” she says.
“Talking to the crew here there seems to be a lot of production happening into the second half of the year. They are all going onto lots of jobs. Second and third series of things.
“But it might be shows that are already established and it might be an easier bet, in a way, to stay with what you know at this point than to take on new (projects), especially during this very-fluid time in television.”
House Husbands screens 8:40pm Mondays on Nine.