The new Friends
CHANNEL Ten’s new 22- part ensemble comedy- drama Wonderland might be a big gamble for the struggling network, but it’s one that’ll pay off according to Jessica Tovey.
“Everyone on this show believes in this show,” the former Home and Away and Paper Giants star explains with genuine passion. “We laughed when we read it, we laughed at the read through, we laughed the whole time on set and we were still laughing last night when we watched it, fi ve months later.
“That’s very rare you have people feeling that way – it’s very exciting and it’s genuine.” We’re sitting on a couch in one of the Wonderland apartments ( a realisticlooking rabbit warren of sets in Eveleigh, Sydney) and everyone else on the production, from producer Andy Walker to stars Brooke Satchwell and Emma Lung, feels exactly the same way about the show and the friendships they’ve built on set during fi ve months of fi lming.
If they can transfer their easy camaraderie on to the screen, Ten’s decision to back 22 hours of expensive local drama before the fi rst episode had even found an audience will be vindicated.
The early signs look promising and the show’s appeal, like that of sitcom Friends, will lie in viewers wanting to count this group of characters as their own mates.
“After last night [ the fi rst cast screening] some actually said that, because there is this quirky kind of element of a Friends- style sitcom,” Tovey says. “And I think we would all happily welcome anyone comparing us to the most successful television show [ ever].”
Blending Walker’s comedy background ( A Moody Christmas, The Librarians) with executive producer Jo Porter’s drama knowhow ( Packed to the Rafters, Wentworth), Wonderland is about the intersecting lives of four young couples living in an apartment complex on Sydney’s eastern beaches.
The set- up sees the wedding of Gen Y PR princess Dani ( Tovey) to fi nancial adviser Steve ( Tim Ross) ruined by the fallout from bachelor Tom’s ( Michael Dorman) latest spectacular break- up with another female from the block. The friends force Tom to agree not to sleep with anyone else from Wonderland on pain of losing his beloved 1964 Falcon. Which is, of course, the moment Tom’s perfect woman, Miranda ( Anna Bamford), moves in.
Tovey’s on- screen husband Ross says the cast was thrown in the deep end fi lming the opening wedding episode. “Most of us didn’t know each other from a bar of soap,” he says. “I’d never met Jess, so we had a few nights out, getting to know each other over a few drinks and we bonded very quickly.” And now he says, they’ll be “mates for life”. Tovey’s character of Dani is a modern Gen Y girl, who she says is: “Maybe a little too Gen Y and she tends to act a little entitled.”
So what were the producers trying to tell Tovey when they refused to allow her to audition for any other part?
“They went ‘ No, no, no, you’re defi nitely Dani’,” she laughs. “In my mind, I think Dani and I are very different, but I fi nd the more I play her, the more we are alike than I probably realised. She’s warm and funny and smart, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind. Which is maybe the part I’m slowly realising I’m identifying with more and more.”
Tovey is best known for her two- time Logienominated role as Belle Taylor on Home and Away, but unlike some of that soap’s alumni, she’s forged a varied career since, nominated for an IF Award for Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, and making appearances in Underbelly: The Golden Mile, Rescue Special Ops and Mr and Mrs Murder.
She also filmed three movies last year, including real- life camel odyssey story Tracks; the French film about mothers sleeping with each others teenage sons, Adore, with Naomi Watts, and horror movie Lemon Tree Passage.
Tovey reveals there was another big attraction to taking on an open- ended series role in Wonderland.
“Last year I spent all up only four months in Sydney and I was constantly moving around for work so when I heard about this I thought, ‘ how lovely to just be able to be in Sydney, with people who I really respect and admire’,” she says. And she hopes it never ends.
“I think we’d all happily stay on as long as the Australian public will have us,” Tovey says.
TDT, Wednesday, 8.30pm