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From portraying Roberta Williams in Underbelly to a coke- snorting TV presenter in Tangle, Kat Stewart rarely plays nice, writes Darren Devlyn
KAT Stewart stood anxiously in the shadows, waiting for her cue.
Wearing wings, the Grade 2 student was nudged gently on stage to make her acting debut in a nativity play.
A love of performing may well have been sparked in Stewart that day in Victoria’s rural Bairnsdale, but she’s hardly been offered a ‘‘ good girl’’ role since. Stewart had bit parts in
local dramas including Blue Heelers and Stingers, but the seminal moment in her career came when she was cast in the original and best series of Underbelly.
Such was the hype about Underbelly that Roberta Williams, the wife of slain underworld figure Carl Williams, arrived on set hoping to meet the actor playing her.
It’s probably fortunate Stewart wasn’t on set at the time, given Williams later said Underbelly was ‘‘ a load of crap’’ and that she was portrayed ‘‘ as everything I’m not – a bad mother, a filthy- mouthed skank’’.
Stewart, meanwhile, was busy collecting an AFI Award and Logie for the feral intensity she brought to the screen.
She invested so much in playing Williams she ‘‘ missed her’’ when shooting ended.
‘‘ You have to try to see life from their point of view,’’ Stewart says.
‘‘ I always find myself attached to them because of it.’’
Stewart has managed to bolster her stocks further with standout performances in Tangle and Offspring.
Billie, her character in Offspring ( returns to TDT in May), has been described as ‘‘ out there’’, abrasive and spikey.
In Tangle, she’s TV presenter Nat Manning, who thinks nothing of snorting a line of cocaine as a ‘‘ pick me up’’ to help her recover from a late night.
It’s a far cry from Stewart’s real life role as a wife and mother.
Just two months ago, Channel 10 sent out a release announcing Stewart had welcomed her very own offspring into the world with the birth in a Melbourne hospital of her son Archie Nicholas, the first child for Stewart and her husband David Whiteley.
‘‘ It would have been a challenge to work through pregnancy on Tangle and return to work so soon on Offspring,’’ says Stewart, if she’d not had the staunch support of her husband and the producers of the two shows.
‘‘ At the moment I’m filming Offspring, which is going well and it wraps in the next three weeks.
‘‘ I’ve been very lucky. I’ve got Archie here with me right now. He’s here with David and I’m about to go and feed him. I do have a newfound respect for working mothers. I am very lucky I can have Archie on set.
‘‘ I’ve got such a supportive work environment where they are doing absolutely everything possible for me. I am much luckier than most, trying to do both [ acting and motherhood]. I am thrilled, it’s fantastic.
‘‘ It might be more difficult having him [ Archie] on set down the track when he’s running around hitting people with sticks,’’ she adds with a laugh.
Stewart’s lips are sealed when asked about a rumoured new drama she’s expected to film alongside Shaun Micallef later this year.
She’s more vocal when offered the opportunity to talk about Tangle which, like
Offspring, is produced by John Edwards and Imogen Banks.
Tangle is one very complex relationships drama.
Max ( Blake Davis) is Nat’s teenage son and the product of her romance with Tim ( Joel Tobeck).
Max has for years lived with his dad and stepmum Christine ( Catherine Mcclements), but decides he’s leaving home and moving in with Nat.
Of deep concern is that Nat behaves like a teenager herself and is certain to find forming a conventional mother- son relationship challenging.
‘‘ I didn’t know where they were going to take Nat this series,’’ Stewart says.
‘‘ That’s half the fun, being shocked along the way.
‘‘ It’s always been a show that can be confronting, with characters that are a little grey, not wholly good or bad.’’
How will Max’s friends and schoolmates react when they realise his mum is to appear in a billboard campaign promoting safe sex?
‘‘ She never thinks that way [ about the possible impact on her son],’’ Stewart says of Nat.
‘‘ She just thinks it’s great coverage, it’s lots of money. And she feels she’s helping people because people know she’s had a lot of sex and can give them good advice.’’
After a night out, Nat is seen snorting cocaine before she races out the door to work. It seems inevitable her lifestyle is going to clash disastrously with her role as a mother.
‘‘ Nat’s always had this dream to have Max back, for him to love her,’’ Stewart says.
‘‘ But she also wants to . . . have her own life, so she’s going out all the time.
‘‘ She pushes it too far.’’