When Sigrid Thornton was asked to revisit the character of Laura Gibson in a SeaChange revival she admits to hesitation.
After all, it is a seminal Australian drama, previously on ABC, attracting stellar ratings that outclassed commercial networks on a Sunday night. It was unheralded.
ITV Studios Australia, previously Granada Australia and Artist Services, had the rights in its library, and were plotting a 2019 revival with co-creator Deb Cox of Every Cloud Productions.
But let’s be honest. No Sigrid, no SeaChange. Thankfully, she said yes.
“Of course I gave it some thought. The original show was a very particular time for me in my career. The role of Laura allowed me to reinvent myself as an actress, at the time,” she tells TV Tonight.
“Risk-taking is a very important part of this working life. Any actor would tell you risk is a first port of call.
“(The revival) sounded tantalising to me. Of course with risk there can be failure, but that’s part of it, and that’s ok.”
“It’s much more than a job without trying to sound too corny.”
She adds, “It wasn’t about just seeing this as a job. I regard this rather differently. I feel very invested in it and indeed I’m one of the Executive Producers. So it’s much more than a job without trying to sound too corny.”
Also returning to Pearl Bay are John Howard, Kerry Armstrong and Kevin Harrington along with new cast members Brooke Satchwell, Dan Wyllie, Darren McMullen, Katrina Milosevic, Kate Lister, Ella Newton, and Alex Tarrant.
“She’s neurotic, flawed, complex…”
In the nearly 20 years since she has been off screen Laura Gibson has been dismissed from a volunteer job in Africa and is approaching 60.
“She’s matured of course, as human beings tend to do and that comes into play,” she continues.
“But in many fundamental ways her personality hasn’t changed at all. She has different issues to deal with and she has to face her frailties even more plainly, I suppose, with new obstacles.
“She’s not a traditional heroine. She’s neurotic, flawed, complex, she’s not black and white.”
Pearl Bay has changed too. While three seasons from 1998 to 2000 were filmed around Barwon Heads near Geelong, filming for the new series recently took place around Brunswick Heads and the Northern Rivers region of NSW. Cox and her co-creator, Andrew Knight, had originally hoped to shoot the ABC series at Byron Bay but costs precluded that.
“It’s an amalgam of locations really, which was exactly the situation with the first series. They were shot in various places on the Bellarine Peninsula, and they made Pearl Bay,” Thornton explains.
“Pearl Bay is a bubble”
“There was a lot of conversation about matching and in the end what we’ve done is follow the sun, because we’re shooting in winter. The other thing is we’ve allowed ourselves the license to not feel the pressure to match absolutely. At least some of the original terrain anyway.
“Pearl Bay is a bubble and it needs to have a special quality, which we’ve found in this area. There may be some different physical attributes but hopefully the story will carry us through with people and relationships.”
While it tapped into, or possibly triggered, a social movement for Australians escaping their busy city lives, SeaChange was equally memorable for its humour, notably with roles played by the likes of John Howard and Kerry Armstrong. Thornton insists that flavour is retained in the revival.
“It embraces the quirk and eccentricities”
“It embraces the quirk and eccentricities,” she says. “In small communities people feel a particular familial responsibility, regardless of eccentricity. Hopefully even outsiders are welcomed into the fold. That’s part of the ideology of the show.
“It’s more in keeping with what human beings are designed to do anyway: live in small communities and have relationships with one another.
“If anything I believe a show like SeaChange sits better than ever in a disparate environment, in which we find ourselves globally, suffering under the weight of disillusionment and climate change.”
SeaChange 2019 will touch upon environmental challenges such as coastal erosion and rising sea-levels, and feature more diversity in its locals. Pearl Bay acts as a buffer from a hectic urban life.
But at its heart is a mother hoping to heal a broken family and in the hands of one like Sigrid Thornton, Nine has every chance to pull it off.
“There’s a really wide audience for this show.”
“It’s been interesting working with Nine, taking it to new places. There are commercial breaks, of course, in the structure of the storytelling. But the demographic was always a wide one, and I think that’s what we want to try and find again,” Thornton concludes.
“There’s a really wide audience for this show. People of all ages, colours, creeds will find something here, in Pearl Bay.”
SeaChange airs 8:45pm Tuesday August 6 on Nine.