Death toll keeps soap star on track

By Shandelle Battersby

Home and Away star Lynne McGranger has been sharing her life with Irene Roberts for 20 years.
Home and Away star Lynne McGranger has been sharing her life with Irene Roberts for 20 years.

Home and Away star Lynne McGranger has a simple if slightly macabre way of remembering those she has loved and lost during her 20 years playing Summer Bay matriarch Irene Roberts on the popular soap.

"I'll let you into a little secret - I have a 'dead shelf'," she drawls down the phone from the Sydney set in those instantly recognisable husky tones. "It has photos of all of my ex-boyfriends and husbands - and there's been a few of them - and children who have carked it on the show."

By children she's referring to the scores of troubled souls that have sought refuge under the wing of the tough but kind-hearted Irene. As for her exes: "Well, there's Ken - a car fell on him. There's the lovely Lou - he drowned and I was accused falsely of murdering him at sea and then I hit the grog ..."

It's no wonder she needs that shelf.

"Hell, I can't even remember my own life! What are the chances of remembering Irene's?" she cackles.

McGranger, 60, and Ray Meagher (who has played the irascible but loveable Alf Stewart "since Moses played fullback for Egypt") are the two staples of the soap which celebrated its 25th birthday this year, and which has just changed channels in New Zealand to screen on TV2 at 5.30pm weekdays.

Twenty years is a long time to spend in any job but McGranger says she still loves playing Irene, who these days is part-owner of Summer Bay's Beachside Diner with Leah (Ada Nicodemou).

"I go through patches where other storylines that don't involve your character so much take over, and I find myself in the diner going 'Darl, I'll just make you a cuppa'. I do get a bit twitchy if that happens for too long, but be careful what you wish for because lately I've been Action Jackson. Everything's been happening to me.

"But I'm really enjoying it at the moment - I had a 13-hour day in the studio yesterday and obviously I can't give the storyline away but it was full-on action stuff. It was so exciting."

She makes special mention of a storyline in 2011 which followed Irene's battle with breast cancer, a subject dear to her heart because a close friend was going through the experience at the same time, allowing the actress some input on the plot.

"That was a really important storyline and it was great to be able to play it in a really raw way. There was no makeup, I just looked vile. And that's what people look like when they're sick, from the chemo. We didn't want to jazz it up. My mum and relatives got quite upset seeing me like that on television.

"Hopefully I did it justice."

For the past 15 years the hard-working actress, who comes from a comedy, cabaret and theatre background, has followed in the tradition of so many Aussie soap stars and travelled to Britain during her annual break to perform in Christmas pantomimes.

This year she's off to the King's Theatre in Southsea, Portsmouth to play a Lady Gaga-singing "baddie". It's not exactly a relaxing way to spend her holidays - she performs in two shows a day, six days a week - but it's something she obviously relishes.

"I love the theatre and I love the opportunity that Home and Away gives me to get back to my roots.

"All of the British Isles are just crazy about the show. Once they know that you can cut the mustard, so to speak, when you're treading the boards, they just keep inviting you back."

As for her day job, McGranger has no immediate plans to ship out of Summer Bay and has just signed up for another three years on the soap.

"While Irene is still a popular character, and the writers can still find things for her to do, problems for her to solve, and tangles for her to get in, they'll probably have to carry me out feet first in a box."

- NZ Herald

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