This week ev­ery­body’s talk­ing about... PETER HELLIAR

For this fun­ny­man, shar­ing the screen and a TV ro­mance with Lisa Mc­Cune was a mar­riage made in heaven, writes Colin Vick­ery

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WHEN Peter Helliar and Lisa Mc­Cune teamed up as Greg and Em for an episode of It’s a Date, no one could have pre­dicted that it would be the start of a new com­edy part­ner­ship.

Helliar had es­tab­lished his com­edy chops with Colling­wood footy club tragic Bryan Strauchan on top of Rove

and movie I Love You Too.

Mc­Cune was a reve­la­tion. Who knew that the ac­tor best known as Sen-Con­sta­ble Mag­gie Doyle in Blue Heel­ers

and Lt Kate McGre­gor in Sea Pa­trol could be so amus­ing?

On How To Stay Mar­ried,

Greg and Em have been mar­ried 14 years. They have two daugh­ters, five-year-old Chloe (Vivien Turner) and teenager So­phie (Wil­low Ryan-Fuller).

The mar­riage is strong, if a lit­tle stale. But change is on the way when Em de­cides she would like to re­turn to work and Greg sud­denly loses his job.

Greg’s brother Brad (Phil Lloyd), and neigh­bours Terry (Dar­ren Gil­shenan) and Marlo (Nikki Brit­ton) are also in the mix. Helliar, now best known as co-pre­sen­ter on The Project and wife Brid­get have three sons, Liam, Ai­dan and Os­car.

When did you re­alise that more could come of your

It’s a Date episode with Lisa Mc­Cune? The way we wrote It’s a Date was that we got the ac­tors into the room be­fore we started writ­ing each episode. We had Lisa in for a few days and it was great to get to know her. I had in­ter­viewed her on ra­dio and she had been on Rove but we hadn’t spent any time with each other. I got to see how her mind ticked and how she ap­proached com­edy and what she thought we could do, what she was pre­pared to do and the lengths she would go to. She was re­ally giv­ing.

I had al­ways thought of Lisa as more of a dra­matic ac­tor.

We had a great time on set. I was pretty ner­vous be­ing along­side her the first day but you would know she is very gen­uine and kind and puts ev­ery­body at ease. Then the re­ac­tion to the episode was great and won a cou­ple of awards. It felt like ‘there’s some­thing def­i­nitely here’. Peo­ple haven’t known how funny Lisa is. She is fear­less. She is our se­cret weapon.

Why did you choose to make

How To Stay

Mar­ried a tra­di­tional sit­com? Mar­i­tal sit­coms have been done a lot but we couldn’t re­ally think of any Aus­tralian ones. You look at Front­line, Mother and Son, and even Hey Dad and All To­gether Now were wid­ow­ers. We thought ‘let’s give it a bash’.

How chal­leng­ing was it?

It (cre­at­ing a sit­com) is al­ways some­thing I’d wanted to do. It was find­ing the op­por­tu­nity and It’s a Date was such a great step­ping stone. There are some other characters in It’s a Date that I would also love to ex­plore more. I made sure I sur­rounded my­self with good peo­ple. I made sure I cast peo­ple (such as Lloyd, Gil­shenan and Brit­ton) who could bring stuff to their characters. So it felt like I was in pretty safe hands. You’re mar­ried and a dad. Did you draw in­spi­ra­tion from real life for the sit­u­a­tions con­fronting Greg and Em?

A lot of it was my own life. It’s not an ex­act trans­fer. I tried to put in things that have been is­sues in our house like the amount of screen time for kids, the high pressure stakes of scor­ing kids’ bas­ket­ball, hav­ing a va­sec­tomy, or bump­ing into your wife’s first love.

How would you de­scribe the state of Greg and Em’s mar­riage?

It is a com­edy so we don’t try to put them too much on the edge. They love each other. They are pretty sound but there are things that nig­gle. We didn’t want to make it too dra­matic or grim or about a mar­riage fall­ing apart. It is two peo­ple who have de­cided they want to make this work.

Greg loses his job just as Em goes back to the work­force. What they re­alise is that they were prob­a­bly play­ing out of po­si­tion all those years with the man work­ing and the woman be­ing the stay-home mum. What they re­alise is that Greg is prob­a­bly bet­ter at home and hands-on with the kids and Em is more am­bi­tious. She had dreams that she put on hold and now is her op­por­tu­nity. I talk about that with my wife a lot. I have been able to chase my dreams and my wife has been an amaz­ing stay-ath­ome mum. We have had those con­ver­sa­tions of ‘what would you want to do’ if you launched back into the work­force?’

I’m sure The Project con­sumes your life. How im­por­tant was it to be able to do How To Stay Mar­ried as well?

When I joined The Project

I was do­ing It’s a Date so it was a nice bal­ance. I don’t think I would have taken The Project on if it was go­ing to shut the door on do­ing these kind of things. I had it writ­ten into the con­tract that if I was to cre­ate a show I could go off and have some time to make it.



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