YOUNG AT HEART

Shar­ing the screen with Jemima and Big Ted has been an in­trigu­ing but en­joy­able change of pace for Abi Tucker. Guy Davis peered through the round win­dow to speak with the for­mer McLeod’s Daugh­ters star.

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Af­ter han­dling horses and wran­gling live­stock down on Drovers Run dur­ing her two-year stint as Grace Kingston on the long-run­ning Nine se­ries McLeod’s Daugh­ters, Abi Tucker is work­ing with a diff er­ent kind of an­i­mal in her new job – a stuff ed bear known as Big Ted.

Yes, Tucker is the lat­est fa­mil­iar face to join the line-up of pre­sen­ters on what could cer­tainly be called one of Aus­tralia’s favourite kids’ shows, Play School.

Join­ing the ABC pro­gram and shar­ing the screen with the well-loved likes of Jemima and Big Ted has proven to be an in­ter­est­ing change of pace for the multi-tal­ented per­former, who’s equally well-re­garded as both an ac­tor and a singer-song­writer.

Af­ter all, while play­ing a role in a fi lm or a TV se­ries re­quires an ac­tor to ig­nore the cam­era, be­com­ing part of the Play School fam­ily and en­gag­ing the show’s young au­di­ence means mak­ing friends with the cam­era.

“ That’s some­thing I’ve had to get used to, but I’ve fallen into us­ing the cam­era a lot more be­cause it be­comes an­other per­son on Play School,” said Tucker. “ It’s a diff er­ent kind of play, re­ally. And I’ve worked with diff er­ent guys on the show – some of them, like Matt Pass­more and Jay Laga’aia, were also on McLeod’s – and ev­ery time I do a new episode with some­one I get great ad­vice.”

Tucker was con­tacted by the mak­ers of Play School be­fore the most re­cent round of au­di­tions for new pre­sen­ters, and found the process of screen-test­ing for the show fun and in­trigu­ing … if a lit­tle un­usual.

“ The toys are the char­ac­ters you’re bounc­ing off ,” she laughed. “ You’ve got Jemima on one side, Big Ted on the other and you think ‘ OK then, here we are’. It’s not so much about act­ing or singing as it is about sto­ry­telling.

“ And I’m learn­ing the tech­nique of sto­ry­telling – if you’re hold­ing an imag­i­nary box in your hands, you’re try­ing to con­vey the vibe of the box. It’s been an in­ter­est­ing process but I love its use of sim­ple things to con­vey a mes­sage.”

And be­ing Abi Tucker on screen, as op­posed to Grace Kingston or any other char­ac­ter she has por­trayed, has also taken a lit­tle get­ting used to.

“ You have to try to re­lax but at the same time not re­lax too much, so it’s a strange dy­namic,” she said.

“ When you’re play­ing a role, it brings out cer­tain facets of your­self. You know, your emo­tional side or this or that. But this is com­pletely be­ing your­self, which is some­thing that takes some get­ting used to when you’re a char­ac­ter ac­tor, when you’re work­ing on a TV se­ries and play­ing some­one else.

“ It’s diff er­ent. It’s a good chal­lenge for me and I felt very lucky when I got it.”

Tucker is cur­rently bal­anc­ing her Play School ap­pear­ances – “ I’ve done fi ve episodes so far and each one of them has been a diff er­ent ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said – with writ­ing a new batch of songs ( her sec­ond al­bum, One De­cem­ber Moon, was re­leased last year) and oc­ca­sion­ally hit­ting the road on an im­promptu tour.

“ I’ll go on a bit of a jaunt oc­ca­sion­ally, pulling a band to­gether and go­ing out to do gigs here and there,” she said.

Learn­ing curve: Ac­tor Abi Tucker is get­ting more comfortable play­ing “ her­self” on Play School.

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