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KAT Ste­wart has found it dif­fi­cult to es­cape the aura of Roberta Wil­liams. The ac­tor won ac­co­lades for her portrayal of gang­land fig­ure Carl Wil­liams’ wife in Un­der­belly, but it came at a cost.

It was a ca­reer-defin­ing role — one that had view­ers com­ing up to Ste­wart on the street to quote choice di­a­logue. Wil­liams called Un­der­belly ‘‘ a load of crap’’ and was sting­ing in her as­sess­ment of Ste­wart’s per­for­mance.

‘‘ I was por­trayed as ev­ery­thing I’m not— a bad mother, a filthy-mouthed skank,’’ Wil­liams said at the time.

Wil­liams even ar­rived on the Un­der­belly set dur­ing film­ing. For­tu­nately Ste­wart wasn’t there.

For months Ste­wart was concerned there would be a real-life con­fronta­tion with Wil­liams.

Even now, Un­der­belly de­fines most peo­ple’s per­cep­tion of Ste­wart and her tal­ents. She

I’m grate­ful for Un­der­belly and I loved do­ing it, but it was three years ago

re­ceived an AFI Award and Out­stand­ing Ac­tress Lo­gie for the per­for­mance.

Ste­wart has moved on pro­fes­sion­ally, but con­fesses Wil­liams is never far from her thoughts.

‘‘ As an ac­tor it’s your job to un­der­stand the char­ac­ters that you play,’’ Ste­wart ex­plains.

‘‘ You have to try to see life from their point of view and their rea­sons for com­ing at it from that point of view.

‘‘ I al­ways find my­self at­tached to them (char­ac­ters) be­cause of it. I loved her (Wil­liams) and I miss her.’’ Play­ing Mar­ion West in the Com­edy Chan­nel’s ad­ver­tis­ing satire 30 Sec­onds showed Ste­wart could play for laughs.

The role of TV pre­sen­ter Nat Man­ning in the Show­case re­la­tion­ship drama Tan­gle was far darker.

But it’s Ste­wart’s per­for­mance as Bil­lie Proud­man in quirky ro­man­tic drama Off

spring that is set to wipe mem­o­ries of her in Un­der­belly from the pub­lic’s mind.

‘‘ I’m grate­ful for Un­der­belly and I loved do­ing it, but it was three years ago,’’ Ste­wart says.

‘‘ I’ve done a lot since, but that (Un­der­belly) was very high-pro­file and this (Off

spring) is my first thing on net­work (com­mer­cial) TV again.’’

Off­spring re­volves around Nina Proud­man, played by Asher Ked­die, a thir­tysome­thing ob­ste­tri­cian whose chaotic fam­ily — es­pe­cially sis­ter Bil­lie (Ste­wart)— is never short of emer­gen­cies.

The show, aimed firmly at fe­male view­ers, fea­tures ex­tended voiceovers and fan­tasy se­quences as it charts Nina’s search for love and ful­fil­ment.

The se­ries, pro­duced by John Ed­wards and Imo­gen Banks and co-cre­ated by De­bra Oswald, also stars Don Hany (East West 101), Deb­o­rah Mail­man (The Se­cret Life of

Us), Ed­die Per­fect (stage show Shane Warne The Mu­si­cal), Linda Crop­per (Melba) and John Wa­ters (All Saints).

‘‘ There was no script at first, but the idea was that it (Off

spring) would be buoy­ant and fresh and un­usual and that ex­cited me straight away,’’ Ste­wart says.

‘‘ The no­tion of it be­ing about a lov­ing and messy re­la­tion­ship be­tween sis­ters also in­ter­ested me. I’d vis­ited some of that ter­ri­tory with

Tan­gle, but this sounded quite dif­fer­ent.

‘‘ What I like about Bil­lie is that she’s quite out there, quite spiky and abra­sive, but there’s some­thing about her hon­esty — and her vul­ner­a­bil­ity — that I re­ally like.’’ The suc­cess of Off

spring will de­pend largely on the au­then­tic­ity of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Nina and Bil­lie. View­ers have to be­lieve they re­ally are sis­ters.

Ste­wart says that she and Ked­die clicked from the start.

‘‘ I’ve ad­mired Asher’s work ever since I saw Love My

Way,’’ Ste­wart says. ‘‘ We have quite dif­fer­ent en­er­gies, but there’s a great chem­istry. I think those dif­fer­ent en­er­gies (as ac­tors) re­flect the dif­fer­ent en­er­gies of the char­ac­ters.’’

Pic­ture: ALEX COP­PEL

Evolv­ing: Kat Ste­wart en­joys the hon­esty and vul­ner­a­bil­ity of Bil­lie, the char­ac­ter she plays in

Off­spring, which stars Asher Ked­die (above).

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