Night­mare Ram­say St on

Baby theft, a hit and run, jail and a break­down. Why Carla Bon­ner is back for more drama

Herald Sun - Switched On - - FRONT PAGE -

Since 1999 Carla Bon­ner has faced an in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of chal­lenges on­screen. She’s been dumped at the al­tar, had an af­fair, bat­tled breast can­cer, suf­fered a psy­chotic break, stole a baby and was thrown in jail for run­ning over Ringo.

But when the much loved ac­tress stepped back onto the Neigh­bours set in July, five years af­ter her last reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance as Steph Scully, she faced her big­gest chal­lenge yet — pre­tend­ing to be a stranger to her own son, Har­ley, who joined the show as Josh Wil­lis in 2013.

“How about that?” she says. “That’s a pretty amaz­ing sit­u­a­tion that we’re in. That doesn’t hap­pen. Mother and son work­ing on the same show, hav­ing scenes to­gether where they’re ‘com­plete strangers’?

“It’s like: ‘Are we go­ing to pull this off? (I thought:) ‘How am I go­ing to look at you and ac­tu­ally not have that moth­erly in­stinct for you’?”

Har­ley, 24, told Switched On ear­lier this year his mum had been a huge sup­port, tap­ing the show ev­ery night to give him in­sider tips. “She gives me con­struc­tive crit­i­cism,” he said. “She will tell me if I was crap, which is good!”

Bon­ner says she’s im­mensely proud and that watch­ing Har­ley on screen for so long made it eas­ier to pre­tend ‘Josh’ was a sep­a­rate per­son.

“I was able to snap into that mind­set when we ended up do­ing scenes,” she says. “I don’t know how I was able to pull it off, but it worked.”

Af­ter play­ing the down to earth, mo­tor­cy­cle rid­ing Steph for 11 years, Bon­ner left in 2010 to spend more time look­ing af­ter her youngest son Jhye, then 12. “I just felt it was time, I felt we’d told a lot of sto­ries with Steph and she needed a rest,” Bon­ner says. “I wanted to de­vote some time to my kids, and do all of those mun­dane ev­ery­day mummy things.”

Re­ports at the time sug­gested she was head­ing to Los An­ge­les to try her luck, but she say that was never on the cards — although she was in LA briefly to study screen act­ing.

“I couldn’t up­root my kids and take them to Amer­ica and I didn’t want to,” she says. “So that just wasn’t ever re­ally part of my plan.”

Bon­ner has since be­come a teacher her­self, run­ning reg­u­lar screen act­ing work­shops that teach as­pir­ing stars how to put in con­vinc­ing per­for­mances un­der the enor­mous time pres­sures of nightly soaps.

She also had a guest role in the first sea­son of prison drama Went­worth – where she ex­pe­ri­enced the un­heard of lux­ury (for Neigh­bours) of a full ta­ble read be­fore shoot­ing – and re­leased a dat­ing book Hook, Line and Sink Her which she’s cur­rently de­vel­op­ing as a TV dram­edy.

But ab­sence makes the heart grow fonder, and by 2012 she was al­ready talk­ing about mak­ing a re­turn to Ram­say Street. “It was a mas­sive part of my life, so it was a big void,” she ex­plains.

Se­ries pro­ducer Jason Her­bi­son says the warm re­ac­tion to Bon­ner’s guest ap­pear­ance in 2013 proves there’s a lot of life left in the char­ac­ter. The plot saw Steph locked up in a men­tal fa­cil­ity af­ter steal­ing Lu­cas’s child be­liev­ing it to be her own.

“It was clear that fans world­wide were still very in­vested in Steph Scully,” he says. “(Now) we are in an ex­cit­ing po­si­tion to re­set the char­ac­ter and see if she can over­come her dark past.”

Step­ping back onto the Pin Oak Court set in the Mel­bourne sub­urb of Ver­mont South in July was an emo­tional mo­ment.

“It was a great feel­ing, very nos­tal­gic and just as Steph was meant to be draw­ing on a lot of history there in the street, so was Carla Bon­ner draw­ing on a lot of history — it’s been so many years of my life.” And de­spite 50-60 hour work weeks, Bon­ner won’t be leav­ing Erins­bor­ough any­time soon. “Let’s say at this stage, a cou­ple of years,” Bon­ner says.

“That’s a pretty amaz­ing sit­u­a­tion that we’re in. That doesn’t hap­pen”

BON­NER ON ACT­ING WITH HER SON

NEIGH­BOURS, ELEVEN, WEEK­DAYS, 6.30PM

Carla Bon­ner and, be­low, with Ryan Moloney in Neigh­bours.

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