Lyn Collingwood plays bubbly loudmouth Colleen Smart in the show. She takes some time out to chat to us.
Interview conducted by Stephen in February 2002 for homeandaway.org — the site merged with BTTB in 2004
I think that the Colleen that came in 1989, I think it was in 1989 that I was first here, she was a more of a pantomime character than she is now and a lot of the work was with Lance and Martin. I did have a lot of fun then I don’t think I laugh on set quite so much now. We used to sometimes get an attack of the giggles and go to another take.
I think my role then was more as the sort of mother of Lance. I think that has remained to a certain extent that now her function in the show is more of a gossip to pass on the information to the audience as much as anything else.
When a new storyline comes in very often Colleen will be the one to burst through the doors of the Dinner and says “oh no, oh gosh someone has just had an accident”. There is a lot of people going to the hospital as you know all the time.
So she is the one, I think and then when a character is not supposed to know something, if Colleen is within earshot of someone, she is off and the one that tells- blabbermouth aspect of her character is more important now.
And I think also, well of course Leah was not in it in the early days. The relationship with the older woman in Leah is quite important.
What I like about Colleen is that she is a very sort of bigotist sort of character in many ways and she will make up her mind very quickly about many things and after she is right.
In the case of when Ada’s character first came in- Colleen was going on about foreigners and Greeks and all this sort of stuff and I think she is the sort of who as a blanket thing will dismiss a whole lot of people.
She has also being recently being saying “once a criminal, always a criminal”, that was once in jail. But in the end she says “what a hero, he is”.
She’s sort of in a one to one thing, she is often sympathetic to people, that she will very often dismiss a whole block of people as a group and I think that’s really true to life, I think very often people are racist, or bigots. But when they actually meet an individual they reassess everything. They do behave differently one on one that they do with a whole group.
I think also Colleen is there for the human and I like the characters she has a long relationship with, like Alf, because she has been in and out. Some fans say “when is Colleen going to get together with Alf. (laughs).
We’re sort of fairly intolerant of each other in particular—– he and Fisher. She will often do things that I think Fisher or someone would actually protest about.
I think that everyone understands that there is no point in really arguing with Colleen. I think she’s there for laughs.
What was your first acting role?
I started acting when I was in University I was with – there was a group of us who were quite reknown in Australia. Now I don’t know how reknown they might have been in Britain, John Bell who has his own Shakesphere Co. in Australia. Richard Ward(?) who died who ran the Sydney Theatre Co. for a long time. We did a lot of undergraduate shows. That was really where it started and then when I graduated, I taught for about 7 years and then while I was teaching I was working with a graduate group and I also used to do the school plays and it was often I had been teaching for a while that I did an Australian musical and the director said why don’t I get an agent. That was quite a long time ago and so I did get an agent and when I first started I did a lot of commercials and some of them were quite good. I was normally playing someone’s mother- usually the dinner table feeding people in the family.
Some of them were quite good and some of them were like you’d do six ads for the same product. That was really the financial support that I needed to keep going and my first television was probably Number 96 which was a popular Australian series and I come in right near the end of that.
What else did you do before Home and Away?
Well I did a lot of different things- I did stage plays- quite a lot of stage plays and television. Channel 7, which is the production house making Home and Away are very supportive of Australian drama. I have been up here quite a lot on shows like A Country Practice, All Saints, Rafertty’s World, there’s quite a lot of shows I’ve done with Channel 7.
I’ve done a lot of stage plays and my favourite stage play which I did about 3 years ago Purple white (?), I played a bigoted neighbour in that who might be a bit like Colleen. I had 7 job offers out of that stage play.
Do you enjoy playing Colleen?
I do enjoy playing Colleen. I sometimes look at the script and I’d love to change some of the words if I feel the vocabulary is funnier and I’d like to mix the metaphors. So things I like with Colleen is when she is sparking off another character particularly if there is an antcipity between them and you can get something going. Particularly there are two blokes that I’ve just been working with and their pace is a bit slower than Colleen so there is a bit of tension and a bit of spark coming off the other person. I like interacting.
I’m a bit conservative- I’m not politically conservative, but I’m conservative about if I see a building pulled down and another building going up and I think it is uglier that the building that was pulled down. That sort of thing bothers me.
Some of the things I say about pay television- Colleen says there’s not much choice there are a few things she says that I tend to agree with, but I think the similarities might be as much as difference.
I laugh at Colleen’s character as a part of characterisation- not as an extension of myself. I look at her as a separate creation.
Can you add a bit of life to Home and Away?
Well I hope so. I can see that quite scientifically as an actor. I look at it, I look at the words on the page quite separate from myself and I think right now that if she said this instead of this would it be funnier and would it be more concrete. I do like images rather that waffle. It’s easy to learn and you’re learning, it’s easy to say a little bird told me that than just say I heard something. It is easy to remember because there is a little image.
Particularly as Colleen I try to get her to talk fast, so I’ve really got to know my words absolutely off by heart. I don’t have time to pause, so if I make it easier for myself to learn and also funnier then it works better because I think she’s a bit manic.
Do you have any embarrassing moments?
I really can’t think of anything off the top of my head.
What about when you first started?
Yes- oh I know once they but the camera up and it was static because they weren’t going to move it at all and we started the scene and I looked up because there was no camera operator behind the camera because the camera was just still. And I can remember looking up and there no one behind the camera. Well that was a bit embarrassing I suppose.
Once we were up at Palm Beach where a lot of the fans go and sometimes you play and it’s almost like playing to an audience in the theatre. And instead of saying I live in my mobile home- I went on about living in my mobile home and I did that for the whole speech which obviously didn’t make any sense at all. So we had to do that again.
That was a bit embarrassing because it was infront. I’d rather work privately that rather all the fans around. I just find it a bit distracting. I can’t really think of anything apart from those two.
I try to when I’m learning it, also to do the geography in my head, I like to keep things physically moving so that they wouldn’t do a scene like us two sitting here. It would be too boring to look at. Like I’d be getting up and down. Before we do the first take, I like to know exactly what I’m doing and to try and do it in 1 take or 2 takes.
Have you travelled outside of Australia?
Well I have been overseas quite a few times. The first time was when I was about 30. I travelled to Europe then and I went skiing, I fell over a lot but in winter- I was in Paris and London in the winter- I can remember that quite clearly.
Then about 10 years ago I went overseas for a year and I went to Europe- everywhere really- Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Italy- we went to Sicily which I like. I learned Italian before I went to Sicily. We lived in Glasgow for three months, I stayed in London with friends.
We did go to Ireland- we went to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. I loved Ireland, I love Dublin, I was there before it became the expensive city in the world. We were in Rosslare. We got the ferry from France to South Ireland. So I was very keen on Ireland. I found the people very friendly and very talkative and in Dublin we were at a university and there was a law student who talked to us all afternoon and he had his exams the next day and he just wanted to talk and I couldn’t believe that you know he had exams the next day and he just wanted to talk and I couldn’t believe that he had exams the next day and was wasting so much time talking to us. I thought Ireland was terrific.
I haven’t been to a pantomine. I have been asked. My agent wants me to go and I’m a bit, I’m not sure, to me it’s raw. I do take everything really seriously. Sometimes by the end of the year, I’m exhausted. I’m very much involved in a local theatre company here and I’m putting up a review soon and we’re doing an Oscar Wilde season and Marty Dingleroo (?) who is in the show is going to read. 3 others are going to be reading Oscar Wilde fairy stories. We’re doing that in about 2 weeks time. So I do have a lot of other things I do. So by the time Christmas comes around I just want to have a rest.
I have only passed through America. I really haven’t any desire to go to Hollywood. Not interested.
How long were you in Ireland for?
Oh only a couple of weeks I think and then we got the ferry over to Wales. That was about ten years ago. My daughter was having a birthday in England and we had to get over for her 21st birthday.
Was it cold?
No it wasn’t- it was about October when we were in Glasgow about Christmas time, that was cold, it was freezing. I don’t mind the cold- I have been to Iceland. I love Iceland. Its one of my favourite places, but it was snowing in Iceland. We were there about six weeks- but that was in the winter. I think it would be too expensive to go there in the summer anyway.
Do you have any kids and would you like Colleen to rear them?
Well I have a daughter. I think I should say yes to that because you obviously expect me to say no. She believes in education and family values, heart. I don’t think I’d object at all. I think I’d be keener on her rearing them. I can’t think of any other character in the play, I think Shelley’s character might be the ideal mother, but I don’t think there would be a problem with Colleen and if they were bright, they’d work out how to handle her (laughs).
Would you like Lance as a son?
Well the real person- the person who plays Lance is very much different to what he was at the beginning. So he is in about his early 30s now and he is doing a postgraduate degree somewhere. I don’t think I’d like someone who is quite so easily dominated by women because she dominates him and the new wife dominates him. But no I don’t think so, I think I’d want to give him a kick up the bum.
Lance is like a mammy’s boy?
Oh he’s very much like a mammy’s boy. He is a bit hopeless with work and everything. He is a bit of a fool.
Who would you like to be stuck on an island with?
Oh dear that’s a hard one isn’t it. People I’d admire are Nelson Mandela, I’d hate to be stuck with most of the politicians I know about. I think Paul McCarthy is terrific- quite a wise person and he’s about my age I think.