IT'S A WINNER
MELANIE VALLEJO AND THE REST OF THE WINNERS & LOSERS TEAM ARE BACK ON THE SILVER SCREEN
Melanie Vallejo’s Winners & Losers alter ego, Sophie Wong, is sick of running. The flighty, feisty woman who wouldn’t be tied down is ready to settle down. And that, says Vallejo is a good thing – both for her, and Winners & Losers, as the Aussie drama enters its fifth season.
“I certainly didn’t think we’d be doing this five seasons on,” says Vallejo, who auditioned for the show off the back of a hilarious Dare Iced Coffee commercial, and thanks to Winners & Losers’ success has parlayed the role into her longest-running TV gig.
“There has been a lot of ‘how lucky are we?’ and even other actors on other shows are saying ‘wow, you’re still filming? That’s amazing’.”
The added benefit of the drama, which centres on the fortunes (literally – they won the Lotto in the inaugural episodes) of its central cast of Sophie (Vallejo) Jenny (Melissa Bergland) and, Frances (Virginia Gay), is the lifetime friendships she’s developed with her castmates.
The fourth of the “friends”, Zoe Tuckwell-Smith’s Bec, left the show last season, leaving a close-knit gang of three originals.
“We just shot the 100th episode and me and Virginia and Melissa especially – because we’ve been there from the start, got a bit tipsy and spent time reminiscing,” Vallejo says.
“It’s a huge milestone. Back then I think we were so excited to be employed and working that we weren’t thinking about how long it would last.”
The trio didn’t know each other before the show but quickly found genuine chemistry.
“Before the show I’d met Virginia briefly at a party,” Vallejo says.
“She’d seen me in the Dare commercial and she kind of bailed me up and said ‘I think you’re really funny’ and then wandered off and I thought ‘that woman’s hilarious. I don’t know her, but she’s full on’.
“Melissa (Bergland) apparently saw me in a play when she was still at school and I was at uni. At auditions she said ‘I thought at the time I wanted to be friends with you’, which made me feel really old, but it’s cute.”
Five years on the friendships are more solid than ever.
Co-star Gay reveals the depth of the friendship: “Melanie Vallejo … oh that woman, I would walk through fire for her. To see her troubled, on my screen … if she is in tears, my tears follow.”
Five seasons is a long run for Australian drama in the current climate – the popular Offspring wrapped last year after hitting the magic 65 episodes which meant tax rebates ran out and made it more costly to produce, and A Place to Call Home was cancelled for similar reasons, before being resurrected by Foxtel and Seven.
With shooting on Winners & Losers season five almost complete, Vallejo says whatever happens, she’s ready.
“We never find out what’s happening till later in the year, but I know that at some point will happen and it will be the old actor thing of ‘Oh my God I think I am going to be unemployed again’,” she says.
Richard Davies (who was on Offspring) said to me the other day ‘you guys will be fine if you finish’ and I was like ‘no, it never leaves you, that idea that you may never work again’.
“Five years is a long time. But I don’t want to count my chickens or anything.”
Vallejo has embraced the changes to her character.
“She’s finally decided to get serious with Luke (Nathin Butler) and of course being a drama when they decided to do that, he got rushed to hospital and now his life is in the balance.”
Hospitals aside, Sophie seems to have things on track. “She has spent a lot of time running. I think she’s tired of running. You can only run for so long, before you work out what you’re running from and slow down,” says Vallejo.
Vallejo, 35, stopped running a long time ago, recently celebrating her fourth wedding anniversary with husband Matt Kingston.
Maybe Sophie is finally catching up.
Virginia Gay, Melanie Vallejo, Katherine Hicks and Melissa Bergland have become good friends in real life.