The new Friends

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW FEN­TON

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.

WON­DER­LAND

TDT, Wed­nes­day, 8.30pm

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