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