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A year of living dangerously

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A year of living dangerously

By Stephen Downie

Daily Telegraph

7 November 2007

There is never a dull moment for Martha MacKenzie. This year, the feisty teenager crashed like a roaring wave on the Summer Bay shore, while struggling to deal with divorce, alcohol addiction and a stint as a pole dancer in a seedy club.

Thank goodness the sunny actress who plays her on Seven's Home And Away, Australia's favourite soap, Jodi Gordon, 22, has her feet planted firmly in the sand.

"Oh my God, I feel like it's non-stop with her," Gordon sighs at the mere mention of her alter-ego.

In episodes of H&A screened earlier this year, Martha hit rock bottom.

On the rebound from her divorce with the love of her life, Jack Campbell (Paul O'Brien), she hooked up with a dodgy nightclub owner named Cameron Reynalds, who encouraged her to quit her job and start work as his star pole dancer.

So steamy were the scenes, at least by H&A standards, that some months after the episodes featuring the dancing aired, the media watchdog decided they were a breach of the television code of standards.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) ruled that the pole-dancing scenes contained "visual depictions of sexual behaviour" and that the episodes should have been rated PG, rather than G.

Gordon says she was surprised by the ruling. "It was kind of bizarre that it came so long after the episodes had aired," she says. "[The pole dancing] was a little bit raunchy, but it was important to the storyline. It wasn't about pole dancing, it was about Martha and the emotional stuff she went through. It was very honest."

Subsequent to the ACMA finding, it was revealed that many young Sydneysiders had taken up pole dancing as a sport. Gordon, although unaware of the controversy, believes that pole dancing is "great fitness", although not necessarily for younger people.

"There is certainly an age group of women who do find it interesting for sporting reasons," she says.

"When I was doing classes [in preparation for the role] it was all about getting your body into shape.

I think it is very misleading when you hear about pole dancing. It can be looked at as sport, and not so much what men think of it as."

It hasn't been the easiest year for Gordon, either. In March, her boyfriend, Chris Burkhardt, 23, died after battling leukaemia.

More recently, it is Ryan Stokes, the son of Seven owner, Kerry Stokes, who has been helping mend Gordon's broken heart.

Gordon was born in Mackay, Queensland. When she was just 13, her life took a dramatic turn when she gained a contract with Viviens modelling agency. The contract took her to Japan, Milan (where she lived for five months) and London.

Arriving back home in 2004, she continued modelling until she took a chance at auditioning for H&A.

"I'd never done any acting. So I did a few little acting course things and then I kind of fluked the part [of Martha]," she recalls.

On her first day at work, Gordon remembers feeling "intimidated" at meeting long-standing cast members such as Kate Ritchie and Ray Meagher (who plays Alf Stewart, Martha's grandfather). And she has vague memories of watching former casties Bec Cartwright and Isabel Lucas filming scenes together. All were welcoming and encouraging.

"You feel like a lost dog in this big city. It was quite scary. I guess it's like any new job. Now I feel like one of the old hands. I guess I'm the person helping others now."

It may have been a tumultuous year for Martha, but it's not getting any easier for her in the lead up to the soap's final episodes of the season.

Poor Martha is shattered that her ex-hubbie Jack is getting re-married to Sam (Jessica Chapnik).

In coming weeks, Martha is caught trying on Sam's wedding dress as she tries to figure out whether she still has feelings for Jack. "People think Martha and Jack should be together.

From day one, they have wanted to be together, but they're never in the same headspace. I'm a sucker. I want Jack and Martha to be together. But I think Martha has kind of missed the boat."

Of course, the Martha/Jack situation and how it is played is a classic soapie technique. Bring the characters together, push them apart, but always leave open the possibility that they could get back together. It has worked for Days Of Our Lives' John Black and Marlena Evans.

Given Martha's helter skelter life, Gordon is looking forward to next year, and hoping her character might find some stability in Summer Bay. "I think the producers are going to focus on her being able to find some happiness with the right people," she laughs.

But when reminded that in the world of soap, happiness may equal boring, she adds: "There will always be a little bit of trouble attached to Martha.

She will always be a little bit mischievous."

* Home And Away, weekdays, Seven, 7pm

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