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 reluctant star of
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.”