how Offspring changed her life
It’s a chilly afternoon in Melbourne and Offspring’s Kat Stewart is talking to us from her car. She’s parked outside the rehearsal venue of her new play, where her four-month-old daughter has spent the morning with her while she works. After Kat’s chat with us, Gigi will be due for her next feed.
It’s a glimpse into the busy life of the popular actress who became a household name with her awardwinning performance in Underbelly in 2008, and captured hearts in her role as Billie Proudman over five series of Offspring, which has screened in 11 countries around the world since its debut in 2010.
The series five finale (shown here early last year), was to be the last of the much-loved show, which followed the chaotic life of obstetrician Dr Nina Proudman and her close, complex and endearingly frenzied family. But, to the delight of fans, it was announced in September 2015 that the show would be back for a sixth season.
Kat, 43, who had committed to that season before falling pregnant with Gigi (Georgia), was faced with the choice of either breaking the obligation or bringing her then three-week-old girl and a babysitter on set. After consultation with the Offspring crew, she chose the latter. She’s had experience in that juggle before, having done the same with her son Archie in season four, which she started filming when he was just five weeks old.
“I am so lucky Offspring are so supportive,” she says of the decision. “Gigi was basically running the show – when she was hungry, we would stop and I would feed her and then we would get back on.
“Credit to Offspring, and to the play I am in at the moment, for making that possible. I felt really strongly that I wanted to be with her and feed her because she was so little, and I am sure it probably drove them crazy sometimes but they made it possible. I am very lucky to be doing both.”
While she works, her husband, fellow actor David Whiteley, takes the reins at home with four-year-old Archie. Asked how she has managed the admirable task of working with a newborn, Kat is humble.
“I am probably running on adrenalin to be honest, because she is still very little. ‘I don’t know’ is the honest answer; I am just muddling through like everyone else does. I’ve had the help of a babysitter on set, which is huge, and means David is free to look after Archie and the house.”
Season six started with a bang last month with the shock death of central character Darcy Proudman (John Waters) – father of Nina, Billie, Jimmy, Ray and a newly revealed brother, Will.
Kat says John Water’s departure was a blow for the close-knit crew, but ultimately provided an opportunity for the writers to explore new territory with the characters.
“It sets the tone for the series because it is such a profound shock and change, and it really shakes up the whole family. Even though it is really sad and I personally miss John, it has given all the characters an opportunity for growth. Darcy’s place in the family was huge and he was such a force for good. He was frustrating for [exwife and Billie’s mum] Geraldine, but everyone loved him.”
Kat says while Darcy’s character is gone, his presence is very much a part of the sixth season because people are missing him.
“But in typical Offspring fashion, not in the way you might expect,” says Kat of their grief. “Billie is waiting for it to hit her and she doesn’t know why it hasn’t. Everyone digests grief differently I suppose and certainly that is the case with the Proudmans. They all react differently.”
It has been two years since the actors last worked together but Kat says connections have remained strong between the cast. “With friends and family – and I think we have morphed into that – you pick up where you left off.”
Is the hilarity one would expect in making a show like Offspring a
reality? “Yeah, I lose it,” Kat says with a giggle. “We are working with just such funny people. There were some opportunities for me to do some scenes with Deborah Mailman, Alicia
Gardiner and Jane Harber [who play Cherie, Kim and Zara] this season, and I pride myself on being able to keep it together, but
I was absolutely helpless – I just couldn’t go on and I ruined so many good takes.”
Asher Keddie [Nina] also had a baby between seasons five and six and she too brought one-yearold Valentino on set. “Valentino is quite a bit older than Gigi and at the running around stage, so we didn’t see as much of him because he is a busy guy, but he is just gorgeous,” says Kat, who is close to Asher.
“We get on so well, there is shorthand between us as people and characters. You can’t put a price on the hours we have spent together and the experiences we have had over the past seven years.”
The character who has gone through the most noticeable change since the last series wrapped is Nina’s on-screen baby, Zoe Proudman-Reid (Isabella Monaghan).
“She was a baby at the end of last series, and now she is three,” says Kat about the little girl her character Billie has helped Nina raise on the show. “She’s amazing. She was a natural when she was a baby and she is a natural now – she can improvise.”
With babies being a central theme of Offspring, and in the life of her character Billie, it was inevitable it may have some effect on Kat’s own decisions around motherhood.
“That is more than a bit true,” Kat says. “In series two Billie is trying to get pregnant and was investigating IVF and so – standard character research – I did a bit of reading on it. I was 38 at the time and when I looked at the stats I thought, hang on a minute. I hadn’t really put motherhood at the front of our agenda, because I was so busy, but seeing those stats forced me to think about it and I am so glad I did because by the end of series four my son was on the way.”
It took some clever work with pizza boxes, pot plants and large handbags to conceal Kat’s ever growing belly. Then there was a trip to New Zealand, where character Billie communicated with partner Mick over Skype.
“They could have easily used my pregnancy in the story, because Billie wanted to have a baby, but I am so happy they didn’t because babies aren’t the answer for everyone and it isn’t the only recipe for happiness. I like that Billie has explored that on TV.
“The great thing with Billie is I have never got bored with her – they are always tossing up new challenges. I really thought at the end of season five that it was probably it, and I am just thrilled that we got the chance to do it again.”
When filming wrapped on season six, Kat jumped straight into her next project – the Melbourne Theatre Company play Disgraced, which runs until October. After that, she and husband David will swap roles.
“Oh God, he is absolutely amazing,” she says of her spouse of eight years. “We have really had to take turns this year. Once I have finished this play, David starts a play, and he also has some TV stuff to do, so I will be manning the fort at home and he will be working for the rest of the year.”
But while she is looking forward to some time at home with her children, it may not be long before we see her back on our screens.
“I have a few things on the boil – I have been developing a project with Jane Harber, who plays Zara on Offspring, and another wonderful actress called Dianna Glenn. It is a show called The Elementals about three co-dependent, past-their-prime superheroes living together. We have just received some funding from Film Australia to develop that.”
Her practice being a superwoman this year may just pay off!
LEFT: As Billie in Offspring with Asher Keddie and baby Isabella Monaghan and (bottom) Eddie Perfect.