“It’s a great way to finish on a high as opposed to limping on endlessly,” Deborah Kennedy says of the final season of A Place to Call Home.
“Everyone knew this is Bevan’s (Lee, writer) last chapter in the story. So it’s come to a logical end. We would have had to have lurched ourselves into the ’60s and that would have been a totally other show, because things started to change quite rapidly then.
“But the producers always maintained the very high quality of the cinematography, the settings, the vintage cars, the wonderful costumes and all of that. No one dropped their game.”
“It was great that he came back and finished it.”
It was creator Bevan Lee’s own decision to wrap the Foxtel drama at 6 seasons, which has allowed for everybody to work towards a memorable finale. After stepping aside when Seven ceremoniously axed the show, he returned for Season 4.
“We did have some rather difficult times without him around in that series. Without him it wasn’t the same, it wasn’t up to the standard that it had been, so it was great that he came back and finished it.
“(Now he’s) said ‘I don’t want to stretch it out for any longer. This is where I see the story as having finished.’
“Bevan’s an extremely accomplished professional and he said ‘I have other projects I want to do in my life.'”
Kennedy plays local “gossip” Doris Collins, who is never short of an opinion in a series treading upon controversial themes. But Kennedy insists her busybody nature is underlined by good intentions.
“It’s because she really cares about people and wants everything to be nice and safe and unfortunately life isn’t, a lot of the time.
“But she is not malicious. I really like Doris. One of the good things about playing her is having a soft spot for everyone. I know she’s silly. But she means well,” she continues.
“And it’s been fantastic, an absolute highlight of my career in terms of television. To have the opportunity to create a character from the 1950s and travel with her for six years and see where she ends up. It’s been the best crew I’ve ever worked with, wonderful writing, good directors …everything you could possibly hope for, really!”
“It was a shame that Seven decided to drop it”
Wrapping at six seasons in total, the show has already eclipsed the 2 seasons it enjoyed on Seven before its sudden axing due to costs and an older-skewing audience. Yet those same fans drew upon social media to persuade Foxtel’s Brian Walsh to pick up the show.
“It was a shame that Seven decided to drop it, but an absolute testament to fan-power with e-mails and Facebook,” Kennedy recalls.
“I suppose it’s quite an unusual show in as much as we’ve never had a historical, lavish melodrama that A Place to Call Home is, ever in this country.”
Hmm. I suggest the 1970s miniseries Water Under the Bridge.
“No you’re quite right,” she replies. “But even that was based on an original novel whereas this is all from the head and the pen of one particular man. It’s not an adaptation of anything. It’s his story and his experience as a gay man growing up in a country town in the ’50s. It has that authenticity about it. So that’s why he cared so passionately about it. All the horrible accuracy of aversion therapy for gay men was something that was par for the course back then.
“We were very naive in the 50s. Most people didn’t have any knowledge of Aboriginals, Jewish people or homosexuals. It was just something to be ignored or run away from.
“I guess because everyone was trying desperately after the war to remain normal, not go to the dark side anymore. Everything was going to be all right and no more people were going to die… you know what I mean?” she asks.
“My father was a prisoner of war in Germany for four years and he came back very damaged. But people didn’t talk about that. You just moved on and tried to look on the bright side.
“It’s very different to our approach now.”
Kennedy’s own body of work includes some of the country’s finest Film & TV works: Certain Women, 1915, A Country Practice, Police Rescue, Wildside, McLeod’s Daughters, RAN: Remote Area Nurse, Bastard Boys, Dance Academy, Miss Fisher’s Murders, Rake, Janet King, The Principal, Deep Water, Tim, The Sum of Us, Thank God He Met Lizzy, Swimming Upstream and a certain Yellow Pages ad that turned 3 little words into a national catchphrase (she has since learned to embrace it).
“I prefer to be funny than serious”
“I’ve been very lucky to carve out a bit of a reputation for being strong and being funny.
“I prefer to be funny than serious,” she reveals.
“I’ve had great pleasure of working with some of the nicest comedians in the business including Steve Martin who came out to Melbourne to test drive his first play. Picasso at the Lapin Agile was wonderful. I worked with John Cleese more recently on Fawlty Towers Live on stage which was a hugely-wonderful thing.
“And of course the wonderful, wonderful John Clarke on Death in Brunswick, and then he and Sam Neill on the Murray Whelan telemovies The Brush-Off, by Shane Maloney.
“Every time you work with people of that calibre and see how humble they are and yet how rigorous and self-critical they are, it’s a real lesson, I suppose, in what it takes to make comedy work.”
“My great, great aunties knew the man who shot President Lincoln.”
She will next appear in Bruce Beresford’s upcoming Ladies in Black (“Oh look I’ve just got a spit and a cough in that!”) and will travel to the US to research 2 Australian relatives who became actresses during the civil wars era. No shortage of drama in her life.
“I’m hoping to assemble a lot more information and try and get them in to the record books. Neither of them are known in Australia even though they travelled over to America and made their careers there all those centuries ago,” she explains.
“My great, great aunties knew the man who shot President Lincoln. Before Federation, before America was even unified -very wild times indeed.”
Meanwhile as she farewells Doris Collins, Kennedy says there is much to look forward to in the final episodes.
“She continues to try to do the best thing in sometimes not-the-most-helpful way. She learns a few lessons about life and opens her heart and mind a little bit more to the new changes that are sweeping through Inverness,” she adds.
“It’s challenging for her, but she accepts the challenge.”
A Place to Call Home returns 8:30pm Sunday on Showcase.