By ELEANOR BLACK
Luanne Gordon feels that fame may not agree with her. The star of the saucy new TV3 drama The Strip loathes the idea of scuttling around the supermarket in sunglasses to avoid curious stares.
But the relative newcomer (pictured left in the blue dress) with the appropriately bawdy laugh will probably have to get used to it, because The Strip looks like a winner.
The quirky, Wellington-based series
centres on Melissa Walker (Gordon), a painfully repressed corporate lawyer who is so focused on her career that she has to make appointments to spend time with her husband Glenn (Stephen Bain) and teenage daughter Paige (Renee Ellwood).
When she catches her husband canoodling with his (male) personal trainer, she has an "epiphany" which leads to an unexpected decision — she leases a rundown girlie bar and plans to turn it into a classy male strip club.
She declares that from now on her life will be devoted to pursuing fun. Problem is, the bar is more seedy than sexy and her arrival in the red-light district is not welcome entirely.
Her struggles with uncooperative workmen, uncoordinated male dancers and a supremely meddlesome mother make the two-hour pilot more amusing than arousing.
There are several wonderful laugh-out-loud moments — watch out for the too-skinny stripper who does unspeakable things to an orange scarf.
Gordon says filming the first season, between August and December last year, was "an absolute joy".
"We all liked each other so it was never a chore going into work. The crew were fantastic. It becomes like a bit of a family atmosphere. It has to when you're working such long hours for such a long time."
Now the New Zealand Drama School graduate is waiting nervously to see if viewers enjoy the programme, soon to start screening in Britain, as much as she does.
"I hope people like it. I want to do it again. I need the work," she says with a laugh.
Producer Dave Gibson admits the format, which plays big themes — infidelity, family relationships, the purpose of life — against sex gags, was a bit of a risk.
Example: Melissa's club, pre-makeover, is dominated by a huge, nude dummy reclining on the roof. The new boss steps inside on her first day of work and ... a big red lightbulb nipple falls to the ground and smashes.
"I don't think we've been constrained by a concern for 5 per cent of the viewing public," said Gibson, who can imagine the indignant letters which will make their way to newspapers when some of the programme's more daring scenes air.
Gordon is not worried about a possible backlash: "I think it's about time New Zealand TV did something like this."
And to be fair, the naughty bits are fun. When Melissa fantasises about Adam Lima (Robbie Magasiva), the spunkalicious head stripper, she casts him in her dreams as a leather-clad jungle man with a unique pick-up line: "You are a ripe kumquat, beautiful one."
It's silly and playful — not offensive.
Gordon describes the dream sequences as her "absolutely favourite moments. They were what gave me an opportunity to get out of my everyday Melissa skin and be slightly over the top and I loved them."
As for whether the club manager and her star attraction will get together, she is coy: "I'm not going to say anything. You are all going to be hoping."
Although the elegant Gordon seems ideally suited for her role as a good girl testing her limits, she initially tried out for the part of Melissa's best friend, Kathryn Moore (Jodie Rimmer), a woman who's proud to be a slapper.
"Jodie plays her so well I couldn't imagine anyone else playing her. She's such a spunky woman. I loved working with her."
Gordon had her first taste of fame while shooting a scene with Rimmer, recognisable from three stints with Shortland Street and roles in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.
The women were sitting together, running lines, when they looked up to find about 30 strangers staring. Gordon's not sure how she will react when she is the one that people recognise.
"I don't think I would relish the attention at all and I would have no idea how to take it. I have no idea of what to expect."
Luanne Gordon — Stars as Melissa Walker, a strait-laced corporate lawyer who throws away a thriving career to open a male strip club. This is Gordon's first major television role. She was named best supporting actress at the 2001 NZ Film Awards for her part in Stickmen.
Jodie Rimmer — Melissa's best friend, Kathryn Moore, a fun-loving flirt who fits a law career around a frenetic social life. Rimmer is best known for roles in Shortland Street, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Robbie Magasiva — Plays Adam Lima, (right) the most talented of the strippers at Melissa's club and the man who consistently turns up in her daydreams. Magasiva was the lead in Stickmen and starred in two seasons of the television drama Jacksons Wharf.
Renee Ellwood — Melissa's surprisingly sophisticated adolescent daughter, Paige. A sixth-former at Nayland College in Nelson, Ellwood has only been on TV once before — as a skeleton in Cloud 9.
Janice Finn — Melissa's pushy mother, Leslie Lonsdale. Starred in Close to Home in the 1970s before giving up acting to produce 80s soapie Gloss and a raft of other local programmes.
By ELEANOR BLACK