NATALIE Imbruglia is back on Australian TV for the first time in six years – but she is a world away from Ramsay Street.
The former Neighbours star is standing in front of Ray Martin at Uluru, preparing for a life-changing experience.
Imbruglia, an international chart-topper with her song Torn, is one of six celebrities taking part in the second season of FirstContact.
The 41-year-old, along with former One Nation politician David Oldfield, TV judge Ian “Dicko” Dickson, comedian Tom Ballard, former Miss Universe Australia Renae Ayris and actor Nicki Wendt, visits remote Aboriginal communities decimated by drug and alcohol addiction and high rates of suicide.
Imbruglia, who spends most of her time bouncing between London and LA, admits she’s a novice.
“I haven’t had a conversation with an Aboriginal person,” she says. “I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen them in the distance on the street.”
FirstContact is the first time Imbruglia has been on Aussie TV since her judging stint on talent show TheXFactor in 2010. In July last year, she released covers album Male. But other than that, she has been off the grid. So what has she been up to?
“I am songwriting actually and I’m seeing what kind of an album that’s going to turn into,” she says. “I also have a couple of business ventures I’m working on. I tend to keep quiet unless I’ve got something to talk about. I don’t self-promote between jobs. I just get on with life.
“As far as acting, at the moment I don’t have any plans. But who knows. I haven’t been actively pursuing it [acting] but I’d love to do another play at some point. I’m certainly not saying no.”
Imbruglia admits she needed some reassurance before saying yes to First Contact. She hadn’t seen the first series, which featured six ordinary Australians who spent 28 days in remote Aboriginal communities.
“I wanted to be sure what the tone of the show was going to be … that things weren’t going to be set up in such a way that they were contrived,” Imbruglia says.
“I wanted to make sure it was going to play out in a real way.”
In episode one, the group goes to Kununurra, in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, to spend a night at the town’s soberingup shelter. They learn the Kimberley has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.
In episode two, they visit the tiny town of Elliott – halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs, where up to 20 people live in a fourbedroom house.
“There were situations where I clashed with David [Oldfield],” Imbruglia says. “When you’re walking into people’s homes, sometimes he delivered opinions [to Aboriginals] that made me really uncomfortable.
“It [his confrontational style] was difficult because it dominated and got in the way of us [celebrities] having our experience.”
Imbruglia’s most emotionally affecting experience came when she, Ayris and Wendt travelled to Cootamundra to hear first-hand from women separated from their families as children – the stolen generation.
“It is one thing to know that it happened, but to sit there with people who experienced it was a lot,” Imbruglia says of the visit.
“Some of them were still struggling with the trauma but so many of them were looking to the future. I found that incredibly inspiring.
“It [ FirstContact] was quite emotionally and physically exhausting. We did a lot in a short space of time.
“I would have liked to have stayed in each place longer. It was a lot to digest.
“I would like to get back to some of the places we visited in my own time. That is a promise I made to myself.” LAST season’s finale of The Blacklist had a shock twist no one saw coming.
Season four – which is well and truly under way – is taking audiences on an equally wild ride.
“There’s a lot going on, and a lot to contend with,” says James Spader (below), who plays former criminal and now FBI informant Raymond “Red” Reddington.
“If I have one complaint, it’s that circumstances [are] pretty dire right from the jump.
“We ended the second season with things just thrown up in the air in so many pieces.
“Things remained pretty dire to the end of the third season.”
Which posed the question for producers: where to from there?
They knew they needed to mix things up – having Liz (Megan Boone) break away from Red certainly changed the dynamic.
“I think what we might have had a deficit of, is some of the lust for life and joy and fun that Red supplied to the show [in earlier seasons]” Spader says. “We tried as much as we could to maintain that, but it can feel so implausible at times considering what he was faced with throughout the season.
“We were definitely always going to push for that. But it was a struggle. It was often hard to find the thing to be irreverent about.” WEDNESDAY, 9.30PM, SEVEN