By FIONA RAE
For an Australian series, there sure are a lot of Kiwis in McLeod's Daughters. "It's a Kiwi takeover," laughs Aaron Jeffery, who plays Alex Ryan.
Apart from the lead, our own Lisa Chappell, and Jeffery, the cast also includes Kiwis Jessica Napier and her father, Marshall Napier.
They're all, however, playing true-blue Aussies in the love-in-the-dust country drama that's been a big hit over the ditch.
The story concerns two sisters - Claire, played by Chappell, who won a Logie for the role, and Bridie Carter as Tess - who inherit their dad's cattle station.
Alex is the guy next door who's known Claire forever and is a bit of a tough nut, says Jeffery.
"He's got a tough exterior. He likes to talk with his fists, part of that Australian 'she'll be right' attitude. But the character has some challenges coming up. A darker side shows."
Jessica Napier plays the troubled young Becky Howard, who's given a second chance by Claire. "She's a good character to play," says Napier.
"She's not worried about what people think about her. Her whole life, she's been: 'This is who I am, deal with it'. Deep down, I'm sure she loves sex; she's not afraid of her body or anything like that. She's afraid that people think she's stupid, though. And she's not."
Both Napier and Jeffery are on the phone from near Gawler, the location of McLeod's fictional ranch, Drover's Run. Jeffery, who was recently married, has bought a 110-year-old stone cottage and is busy renovating.
Napier, however, is a city girl at heart and lives in Adelaide while filming, making her home in Sydney the rest of the time.
Filming is a long process: the cast and crew will be there until next May filming the third series (we'll be seeing the second series), which Napier says she has found tough at times.
"There are lots of flies in summer. It's quite green - green for here - over winter, and it gets really quite cold and we've got no studio to work in, so we're out doing everything on the land. We go from being in a dustbowl and being in dust storms to rain and freezing temperatures and wind.
Wellington-born Napier's previous farm experience was running around on her grandparents' stud farm in Paraparaumu.
"I've ridden a Shetland pony and I've fallen off a racehorse and that was my horsey and farmy experience," she says.
"We've done a crash course in farming and, being a vegetarian, it was very hard for me. I'm 'animal liberation girl' and McLeod's Daughters is set on a cattle station."
As part of the training, the cast got to do pony club. "All the girls, we all met out at pony club, which is funny because the minute we get on the farm and work with the wranglers, they go: 'Oh, bugger the pony-club stuff, this is how it's really done.' So I wouldn't say I'm a great rider. I can ride now, I still learn so much every day."
Jeffery, on the other hand, had done his acting training at Nida, worked a bit, then jacked it in and gone bush for three years and was working on properties in Australia and studying theology before McLeod's Daughters.
For him, it's a dream job.
"I kept hearing about McLeod's Daughters and thought it would be great to be able to work in the country." He also believes the series is a benchmark in what has generally been a male-dominated arena.
The Bucklands Beach boy has come a long way. After being a bit of a ratbag on the mean streets of Panmure, driving around in a stock car, at 17 he departed to Australia in a hurry when the police knocked on his door.
"I got lots and lots of tickets and there were warrants out for my arrest, so I basically skipped the country. They knocked on my front door and I jumped out the back and went to the airport.
"I was young and stupid. And then I came to Australia for a little while and then went home and faced the music, paid off my fines."
The acting was a way of conquering his shyness and started with a self-awareness course. When he auditioned for the prestigious Nida drama school in Sydney he
didn't really know what Nida was, "so I sold them a car".
Napier, however, began at 10 when her dad threw her, literally, in the deep end. After relocating his family to Australia, Marshall was working on a Police Rescue episode where a girl had to be submerged in a swamp. When the actors (twins) refused, Marshall offered Jessica.
Her first big part was the lead in another watery effort, Echo Point, a soap that didn't last too long. She's not a Nida graduate, but has hardly been out of a job and was especially regarded for her work, as a mere 18-year-old, in the cop show Wildside.
Napier says she still calls herself a New Zealander - "It's my comfort zone" - but in truth she has that breezy, Australian demeanour that would stand out like, well, a vegetarian on a cattle ranch, should she ever try her luck here.
Jeffery, too, says he couldn't do a New Zealand accent if he tried, but then neither of them really need to because "they're trying to sign us up for years four, five and six". He's happy to carry on, but Napier isn't so sure.
"I have a partner and a home and animals and everything in Sydney and it's very hard to maintain a long-distance relationship, as you might imagine. I love the show, but sometimes I feel like I'm going crazy, because it's hard, it's really hard."
By FIONA RAE