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Home away from home

The Courier-Mail

12 January 2006

Working on an iconic soap is a whirlwind, two young stars tell Sarah Nicholson

HOME and Away returns with a bang (and a crash) on Monday when Summer Bay is hit by a cyclone.

The long-running Channel 7 soap reached new heights last year, with stalkers and killers drawing in record viewers. And scriptwriters are not about to rest on their laurels by allowing their characters a moment's peace.

The cyclone (curiously unnamed) sweeps through town, destroying homes, possibly lives and setting up another year of dramatic plot possibilities.

For longtime cast member Kate Ritchie, filming brought back memories of earlier work.

"When I was a six-year-old child I worked on the miniseries Cyclone Tracy, so all the wind and rain effects brought all these memories back."

For newer characters it was their first introduction to onscreen natural disasters, although for some it was just a matter of time.

Relative newcomer, Sharni Vinson, who plays 15-year-old Cassie Turner, always knew she was destined to be on television. The Home and Away starlet was born into what she described as a "massive show business family" and started performing at three before appearing in her first TV commercial while still in primary school.

"My grandmother was sent to England to be a ballerina when she was just 14 and my mother was a great dancer, singer and acrobat who managed to make a living from the theatre," the 22-year-old says.

"From a young age I got dragged to all the shows she was doing and when I wasn't backstage trying on her costumes, I was at home listening to the adults preparing for their next audition.

"This was what I always wanted to do, I was never going to university, so I decided it was never going to be too early for me to get serious about acting."

But for her Home and Away castmate Jodi Gordon -- who visited Brisbane late last year with Vinson -- the road from a childhood with an "average" family to a regular spot on the long-running soap was not as direct.

Gordon, who says she came from a family of "footy heads, beach types and laid-back people", started off her career modelling and even lived in Italy's fashion capital Milan before auditioning for the show late last year.

"I was supposed to go and live in America this year, and even had my visa organised, when my agent called me and told me there was a part open on Home and Away," she says.

Gordon, who plays Martha Mackenzie the granddaughter of Ray Meagher's founding character Alf Stewart, has been getting used to the demands of her new profession since joining the show's team a year ago.

"Acting requires a lot more skill than modelling but, at the end of the day, it's a lot more rewarding," she says.

The hardest skill to master is learning her lines for the five half-hour programs each week.

Gordon says the soap is teaching her more about the craft than any other acting experience. "The amount of things I learn every day is mind blowing, things I hadn't even thought about like camera angles and lighting."

Home and Away returns to Seven, Monday 7pm

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