Colette Mann has come up against many performing challenges during her long career, but little that has rippled as much as the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet she remains pragmatic about this latest curveball and has some friendly advice for her younger cast members on Neighbours.
“As I said to the young ones yesterday, ‘This is the biggest thing that’s happened in my lifetime. And I can say that because I’m so much older than all of you. And bigger things may happen to all of you, but I won’t be here to see them!'” she tells TV Tonight.
“We just have to push through it and everybody has to pull together, and that’s what we’re all doing.”
While other shows were shutting down, filming on the 10 Peach soap resumed this week at Nunawading. According to Mann, who plays Erinsborough’s Sheila Canning, “nothing stops Neighbours!”
Filming has adjusted to new government rules and social distancing requirements.
“We’re more apart from each other in the green room and people are walking past each other and thank God all that hugging has disappeared! I’m not a fan of that, I find it really exhausting. So actually this is very positive,” she admits.
“There are rules on how many people are on the set”
“There are rules on how many people are on the set at any one time. There are sanitising stations, you can’t touch anybody, they’re shooting everything in wide shot and everything, but we’re adapting. Change is a good thing.
“I did seven scenes yesterday, didn’t touch anyone, and I still managed to be my brilliant self!”
Producers hope to make it through to a scheduled production break due at the end of next week.
“If somebody tested positive we would stop, but at the moment, we’re just pressing on because – as I explained to one of the kids yesterday, ‘We’re not in the service industry. I know you think we’re giving a service to the people, but we’re not!’
“They’ve stopped all the things like the Neighbours tours, and extras and all that sort of stuff.
“I’m extremely resilient and I love change.”
“I love it. I’m extremely resilient and I love change. I was just getting to the ‘bored’ stage and now something’s different!”
Tonight viewers will see Sheila tackle some of her most emotional scenes yet when she learns of the death of her son Gary (Damien Richardson), after a week of suped-up storylines centred around evil Finn (Rob Mills).
To prepare for her tearful scenes, Mann says she went on location to watch Richardson’s final moments.
“Even though Sheila doesn’t see him die, Colette needed to see him die. So I went out and watched that because I happen to be finished that day,” she recalls.
“I travelled out to Plenty Gorge and watched all of those scenes being done.”
But Sheila’s mourning and recovery has required so much tears, Mann admits it even began to take its toll on her body.
“In order to do it correctly, you actually have to go to that place. You have to go to somewhere in your body that feels that grief,” she explains.
“I cried so much I was dehydrated and both my ankles blew up. And then another big day of crying I got terrible vertigo.
“My doctor said, ‘Your body doesn’t know you’re pretending.'”
But she is also pleased that writers have not been dismissive of the impact it has on her character in subsequent weeks.
“If I lost one of my sons, I wouldn’t be over it in a week. I said to Jason (Herbison, producer) and the writers, ‘Please don’t make it that I’m back doing gags in The Waterhole the following week’, which sometimes in soap opera,” she continues.
“She’s behaving fairly normally but she still has moments of reflection and sadness. And I think that’s really fabulous that they do that.”
“Sheila’s really independent.”
Fans can also look forward to more of ‘Shlive’ -the name given to Sheila’s relationship with Clive (Geoff Paine)- with two more webisode specials in the can. But marriage is not on the cards -and Mann is fine with that, thanks.
“Sheila’s really independent. I mean, yes, she’s had two or three love interests of which Clive’s been by far the longest. But if something happened, and Clive wasn’t there anymore, she would continue on,” she insists.
“I think it’s great that she’s an older woman and an independent woman.”
Neighbours airs 6:30pm weeknights on 10 Peach.