Feisty woman from Snowy River
downside for me at that time. [It’s] very different from the United States, the opposite trajectory almost.’’
A few factors were at play – budgets certainly contracted, but shows set in that era simply went out of fashion. ‘‘It was another kind of cringe. Only more recently have we started to mature and realise that there’s room for all of it – historical, futuristic, sciencefiction, contemporary. All of it. And that’s what’s so exciting. The strongest story can be set in any period.’’
Which brings us to Thornton’s current mission: championing writers. The shift away from film to television in recent years was in large part the result of writers moving away from the big screen. ‘‘Because the writing is where it all starts, the writing is the fundamental key to everything. If the writing is great, everything else flows from that.’’
Fresh back from a planning day in Sydney for Scripted Ink, a board she recently joined, she’s excited about the work ahead. Founded by Australian writer/producer Shane Brennan, best known for his work on the NCIS franchise, the not-forprofit organisation was set up to help scriptwriters. Part of that is ensuring writers get a bigger slice of the financial pie but it’s more about positioning them as the foundation of creative work.
It was fabulous writing that attracted her to the groundbreaking SeaChange. After some time ‘‘in the wilderness’’, Thornton reinvented herself in the late 1990s in the lead role of Laura Gibson; audiences fell in love with her neurotic, big-hearted city lawyer turned small-town judge. She was complex and messed up and honest about life being a struggle.
‘‘We found her at the threshold of something and we were able to explore this new world through her eyes and get a better look at it because she was a stranger.
‘‘I can’t think of very many things about SeaChange that weren’t completely joyful for me. Fundamentally, it was because the writing was so rich but also Andrew [Knight] and Deb [Cox] created something very unusual at the time – the fact of it being comedy/drama, that was very new in Australian television.’’
The show was pioneering in part because it reflected reality, especially the people who don’t fit stereotypes. ‘‘The alchemy of the cast was extraordinary. There was something about that group of people coming together with that material at that point in time that was very special,’’ Thornton says.
‘‘It showed you people that you knew... and there are lots of people out there like that. Even though those people were quirky and stranger than truth, they were people we could understand and relate to and empathise with.
‘‘They weren’t tacked on, they were genuinely embedded in that community. The beautiful thing the show was about was community interaction.’’ – Fairfax
returns 8.35pm, Monday, TVNZ2.