You know you are a hit when fans don’t just want a selfie with you, they want a hug.
That’s just how life is for actress Carla Bonner, whose Neighbours character Steph Scully has been a firm favourite since she appeared in 1999. There’s something innately earthy and maternal about her character that constantly sees fans getting tactile.
“To think I can walk out on the street and give someone a cuddle because they want one… and I can make their day brighter that is what it’s all about,” she tells TV Tonight.
“This is what I love. Life is about connecting with people. My job is to connect and tell stories.
“A lot of people have grown up with me and I have been a part of their lives, so it’s really nice.”
Bonner has returned to the ELEVEN soap after a 5 year absence (save for a brief return in 2013) and this time it’s for good. There’s no shortage of drama in store for Steph who is back for a custody battle for her son Charlie (Xander McGuire) who has been living in Fiji with his father Max Hoyland.
“Charlie is the sole reason she’s come back to Erinsborough. Her objective is to get her child back. Her second son back Adam she has resigned to leaving with her father. He doesn’t know her and so she doesn’t feel like he is missing out on everything,” she explains.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster and it’s tough but she keeps going. The only way she is going to get him is to keep going.”
“She’s a machine”
The enduring spirit of Steph, who in soapie storyline-land, has been involved with numerous romances and trysts, faced breast cancer, been the victim of a stabbing and infidelity and sent to prison, is something Bonner never takes for granted.
“She’s not a quitter. She has a lot of strength and I’ve been given the opportunity to play her strengths. She has this tunnel vision and sometimes you think ‘Wow, she’s a machine.’
“I can certainly relate it to times of endurance in my own personal life. The reason I decided to give Steph such strength is because in my life there is no other way to get through stuff but to go through it. Someone said to me once, (quoting) Winston Churchill, ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’ It makes so much sense. It resonated so deeply.”
This year even saw her embark upon a same-sex relationship with Belinda (Nikki Shiels).
“It wasn’t about gender. It was just about support and love from another person that was so amazingly powerful, which then became reciprocated. It was what it was,” she says.
“I was a bit concerned at first that it was just a vehicle to tell a story. She’s bisexual if you want to look at it sexually, but she’s not chasing it. If it happens, it happens and it doesn’t matter who it happens with.”
When she first appeared on Ramsay Street as part of the the Scully family, Bonner was performing alongside emerging talent including Holly Valance, Jay Ryan and Kate Keltie plus parents played by Shane Connor and Janet Andrewartha -the latter is returning in the upcoming season, which will be a nice nod for fans of one of the show’s most memorable families.
“There’s not much of a legacy of the Scullys and it’s really sad. But everytime I look at number #26 (house) that’s the Scully home to me. Whether the viewers see it the same way, who knows?” Bonner asks.
“Charlie’s (Bar) has been turned into the Waterhole again so there’s a bit of the Scully legacy gone too. I guess I had to come back and reinstate it!
“It was such a fun family.”
“It’s all about gaining self-confidence and empowerment”
During her time away from Neighbours Bonner appeared in both Wentworth and ABC3’s Ready for This but has been busy with various web series, writing, travelling and teaching acting classes “for fast-turnaround television.”
Her next passion project is being kept under wraps, but she hints at doing more for young women.
“It’s just about empowering the next generation. It’s quite focussed on women, but it’s human behaviour. I am quite passionate about our young girls,” she says.
“There’s a dire need for it in the world and it kills me to see the stuff particularly on social media these days. Not that I’m a purist but it just feels wrong, the way people are going about (things) to be adored or gain attention, or whatever it is. They are leaving their self-respect and self-worth (behind). It’s all about gaining self-confidence and empowerment and making informed decisions.”
Meanwhile if she had her way she’d like the Neighbours writers to make Steph successful in her career, perhaps owning the bar once more, and to keep some moments of joy for the character.
“I’m happy to be sending a message of metal health awareness and I would hate for them to drop it. That needs to be seen through and continued. It’s something she will have to manage for the rest of her life,” she notes.
“The fight for Charlie and being down I feel can be exhausting for the viewers. So I would like for there to be not too much of that. When it hits you do it, but then you have times in between.”
Neighbours returns 6:30pm Monday January 4 on ELEVEN.