COVER STORY PAGE
Home And Away actor Kestie Morassi reveals how her character’s cancer diagnosis has affected her family. Kerry Harvey reports.
Home And Away actress tells how character’s cancer diagnosis affected her family.
As Home And Away’s Maggie Astoni slowly recovers from cancer, one special fan could not be happier. “My nonna has been really affected by seeing me sick onscreen,” says Kestie Morassi, who plays the matriarch of the first nuclear family to live in Summer Bay in nearly two decades. “She’s enjoying the performance but finds it hard to separate. Bless her.” The Astonis – Maggie, Ben (Rohan Nichol) and daughters Ziggy (Sophie Dillman) and Coco (Anna Cocquerel) – moved to the bay last year when Maggie was appointed principal at Summer Bay High. At the time, Morassi said she knew lots of things went wrong in the deceptively peaceful seaside town, but says she couldn’t have predicted her character’s battle with lymphoma. “I had no idea. I knew there would be drama – it’s a TV drama after all. When the script first landed in my hand I was initially nervous. You know there will be a long, emotional road ahead and you really want to do it justice,” she says. “I’ve had relatives pass away from cancer and friends who have been diagnosed and had treatment. There isn’t a person I know that hasn’t been affected in some way.” Conscious there would be few, if any, viewers who hadn’t felt the impact of cancer in some way, Morassi researched the effect it has on sufferers and those around them. “I have different ways I research – talking to people, reading, watching videos, drawing on my own life experiences and imaginings,” she says.
“I have close family members who have recently experienced their own real-life cancer story and they have let me know how proud they are of my work on screen.” – Kestie Morassi
“The internet can be a wonderful tool for research but imagination and my instincts are my greatest tools.”
Morassi was also gratified the show’s writers allowed the storyline to play out over months rather than rush it.
“I’m exceptionally happy that the journey was represented with as much realism and respect as possible, and for an actor it’s really important to know your work is ringing true,” she says.
“With every step and stage of her battle, from diagnosis to treatment, there were no shortcuts. Everything was laid bare.”
The storyline investigated both the emotional and physical aspects of the disease.
Maggie endured several rounds of chemotherapy and its effects, including hair loss, before toying with the suggestion by her mother Diana (Sara Chadwick) that she head overseas to take part in an as-yet-unproven treatment.
However, a last-minute stem-cell transplant starts her on the long road to recovery.
If the response from viewers is anything to go by, Morassi nailed it.
“I have close family members who have recently experienced their own real-life cancer story and they have let me know how proud they are of my work on screen with this character and that means absolutely everything to me,” she says. “To know I’ve honoured their story, there’s nothing more satisfying.”
Home And Away fans have also showered the actress with positive feedback.
“I have had nothing but the kindest, most supportive words from the show’s most dedicated fans and viewers,” Morassi adds.
“The stories people have told me about their own experiences have been very humbling. I’ve had people send me hand-written letters and messages via my social media expressing gratitude and love, and really genuinely rooting for my character to recover.
“It’s been overwhelming and it’s such a wonderful part of the job, if not the best part, to know people connect to and are comforted by the work you’ve done. It’s very special.”
Now in remission, Maggie is back home with her family but Morassi says she knows little about what the future holds for her character – or if the cancer is gone for good.
“I’m unsure about that. I haven’t been given any indication that it will (return), as we only really know the storylines about a month before we shoot them,” she says.
“What I do know is that the reality of a relapse will always be a concern. Her experience of cancer will have changed the way she sees the world and herself forever.
“I think it’s changed her for the better in that it’s given her a new and more profound appreciation for everything.”
Maggie (Kestie Morassi) sees her reflection without hair for the first time. Below: Maggie has the love and support of Ben (Rohan Nichol).