A good dose of drama:

Aus­tralian ac­tress Tina Bur­sill stars in Doc­tor Doc­tor as out­spo­ken mayor and fam­ily ma­tri­arch Meryl Knight. She tells Sarah Nealon how land­ing the role helped her through a dif­fi­cult time.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

The re­luc­tant star of

Doc­tor Doc­tor.

Most of us know some­one like Doc­tor Doc­tor ma­tri­arch Meryl Knight. Opin­ion­ated, right­eous and giv­ing lit­tle or no con­sid­er­a­tion to what comes out of her mouth, she isn’t a woman to mess with.

Played by Tina Bur­sill, Meryl is the mayor of the fic­tional Aus­tralian town of Why hope and the mother of dis­graced sur­geon-turned-coun­try GP Hugh Knight (Rodger Corser).

“I think there are a lot of Meryls around,” says Bur­sill. “Her moral com­pass is ques­tion­able. How­ever, she is driven and mo­ti­vated. Her modus operandi is fam­ily first and then the com­mu­nity. And she sees her jour­ney as al­ways for the good.”

Bur­sill, 67, who is cur­rently film­ing Doc­tor Doc­tor’s third sea­son while New Zealand screens its sec­ond, has been a reg­u­lar on Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion for decades.

Her ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes roles on Pris­oner, Home And Away, Neigh­bours and The Moodys.

But when the chance to play Meryl Knight arose, Bur­sill had tem­po­rar­ily stepped away from her act­ing ca­reer.

“I had been a full-time carer for my fa­ther so my world was not at all fo­cused or func­tion­ing in my work­ing life,” she says.

“So it was six weeks af­ter my fa­ther passed away that I au­di­tioned for this job – re­luc­tantly I might add – be­cause some­thing in­spired me but at the same time I was feel­ing very timid.

“It was re­ally, ‘OK, all right, I’ll au­di­tion for it’.

“I knew when I was learn­ing the lines that I thought she (Meryl) was ter­rific. But it was a very dif­fer­ent thirst for a role. It was per­func­tory.

“I was just go­ing through the mo­tions to get my­self for­ti­fied as a hu­man be­ing. So that’s how that hap­pened.

“So when I got the job, which was within a week, I had four or five months be­fore I could ac­tu­ally play with her and it was a won­der­ful way to re­unite my­self with my craft and also to get back into the world.”

Doc­tor Doc­tor, a drama with

its fair share of comedic mo­ments, re­volves around the ups and downs of Dr Hugh Knight, his fam­ily and his col­leagues.

The cast in­cludes Went­worth star Ni­cole da Silva, New Zealan­der Brittany Clark (who had a mi­nor part on Short­land Street), and vet­eran ac­tor Steve Bis­ley (Wa­ter Rats, Po­lice Res­cue), who plays Meryl’s gruff hus­band Jim.

“Steve and I are con­tem­po­raries,” says Bur­sill.

“We started at Nida (Na­tional In­sti­tute Of Dra­matic Art) but not in the same year. He was Goose in Mad Max, the very first one. He be­gan his ca­reer with Mel Gib­son. He’s a sub­stan­tial ac­tor and he’s also now be­come a great writer.”

(Bur­sill is re­fer­ring to Bis­ley’s two me­moirs Still­ways and All The Burn­ing Bridges, a book she helped launch last year.)

Bur­sill grad­u­ated from Nida in the early 70s and, thanks to her mother’s in­flu­ence, had grown up ap­pre­ci­at­ing stage and screen pro­duc­tions.

“She was al­ways tak­ing me to see live shows from a very young age and also mu­sic was al­ways play­ing in the house,” says Bur­sill of her mother.

“She could paint, she could sing. She was a very flam­boy­ant and very colour­ful per­son and loved ev­ery­thing to do with films and the­atre and English and dress­ing up. We used to do lit­tle shows in the lounge room and she’d of­ten do a big song be­cause she had the most won­der­ful voice as a col­oratura so­prano. “She didn’t pur­sue her dreams but she cer­tainly had all her fin­gers in all the pies. She was won­der­ful as an artist. So she led the way for me in con­trast to my fa­ther who was a marine en­gi­neer and a stick­ler for, ‘She needs to get a job. Don’t take me down the other path’. “It was some­thing I pur­sued and my mother was a huge sup­port. Mum and Dad would have numer­ous al­ter­ca­tions over me want­ing to pur­sue the dream of be­com­ing an ac­tor. That was the great thing. I had a mother who loved just ev­ery­thing. “Be­cause of her era, she knew ev­ery movie star, ev­ery film, ev­ery show. It was noth­ing for her to say, if it was a rainy day, ‘Why don’t you stay home from school? There is a good movie on. I’ll make soup’.” Bur­sill’s mother, who has since died, would no doubt be proud of her daugh­ter in Doc­tor Doc­tor. Feed­back about the show has been good, says Bur­sill, al­though some of it gives peo­ple cause for con­cern – al­beit briefly. “Peo­ple say to me, ‘I love the show’ or they call out, ‘Doc­tor Doc­tor’,” she laughs, “and peo­ple think some­one has fallen to the ground and needs help.”

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