For almost 30 years, Lynne McGranger has played the role of the lovable Irene Roberts. A mother of four, recovering alcoholic Irene has been through the wringer, but, with a heart of gold and a fantastic sense of humour, she became a pseudo mother to many, taking in more stray teens than times she’s fallen off the wagon… and that’s a lot!
With her book Acting Up released today in Australia and the UK, Lynne spoke to Back to the Bay about all things Summer Bay, her character’s interesting love life and the time Ada slapped her!
When Lynne McGranger set down to write a book, it seemed a natural progression in her career.
After decades as a stage actor, followed by a record-breaking stint on Australian soap Home and Away, the boisterous actress, known for her signature red hair and Australianisms, started an online book club with best friend and co-star Ada Nicodemou.
The idea was that it could keep fans connected during the lockdown, and indeed Lynne and Ada alike. While the weekly 6pm Instagram lives may be far more sporadic these days, the concept remains. In fact, Lynne’s book Acting Up could be the very next one they review!
Released today through Echo Publishing, the book totes a very Lynne, and indeed Irene, quote that gives the reader an insight into its contents:
From a young age, I could lie like a chop in gravy. I loved the thrill of crafting a story. It wasn’t until my twenties that I made the connection that lying is a lot like acting…
However, beyond the foreword, is a very raw story of the ups and downs experienced in life.
As a fan myself, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. However, when I finally sat down and read it over 3 days, leading up to a phone interview with Lynne, I was surprised at the rollercoaster of emotions the reader would endure.
Some parts of the book made me actually laugh out loud – deep throating a pelican, anyone? – whilst others had me on the verge of tears. Her recollection of a devastating loss whilst playing out one of Irene’s most notable stories is something that will pull at the heartstrings.
In the end, what Lynne was able to do by balancing humour with the raw reality of life is give the book an edgy charm that only perhaps an actor could do.
While the book juggles the comical with the serious, it does touch on heavy topics including her eating disorder, the loss of her parents and her miscarriage.
However, when Lynne went about writing her memoir, she had no real plan in mind.
“I was kind of flying blind, to be honest,” she tells Back to the Bay.
The process more so involved Lynne zooming with co-writer ‘the wonderful’ Summer Land, who asked Lynne questions about her life. As she answered, the story began to tell itself.
“Naturally, I don’t remember everything that happened in my life, plus I had a great time in the 70s!”
The more Summer asked, the more Lynne unravelled, and so too did the contents of the book.
Unravelling naturally seems to be something that follows Lynne. When it came to a career in the entertainment industry, it made sense.
Following in the footsteps of her paternal grandmother who was an entertainer through the First World War, and her parents – both of whom could sing – Lynne found herself drawn to the world of performance.
Although she set her heart on becoming a primary school teacher, she quickly realised that a life of looking after children wasn’t for her and she settled into something she really enjoyed – being on stage.
“I was never one of those people who went through life going ‘I’m going to do that when I get older’,” she recounts, adding that when she finally stumbled across performance, it was something she was really good at, and that she loved.
“And then suddenly one day someone paid me for it!”
When the first paid theatre gig came up, Lynne’s life as an actor was cemented. What followed was a life of performance across the country, including stints in both Sydney and Melbourne.
However, for several years in between, Lynne set up home on the border of NSW and Victoria, in the beautiful regional city of Albury/Wodonga. The cross-border hub brought Lynne new experiences as she got involved with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.
Whilst in Albury, Lynne co-founded a comedy troupe known as The Sensational Spangles. Their stomping ground? A quaint alley-like bar of the New Albury dubbed the Galah Bar. Now, it is what the locals know as Paddy’s.
It was during these years that she met her partner, Paul McWaters.
After four years, Lynne and Paul moved to Melbourne. It was not long after that Lynne got her first big acting gig on the screen – playing a guest character called Janet Williams on The Flying Doctors.
“I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing,” she laughs.
Her nerves were calmed by Bill Hughes, the director of the block, who she’s since worked with again for several years on Home and Away.
For those interested in seeing Lynne’s performance as Janet, you can find the full episode “The Last Rodeo” on 9Now!
It would be three years later that Lynne got the call that would change her life forever!
Alas, when Lynne auditioned to take over a role on Home and Away from Jacqy Phillips, she had been struck down with the worst case of food poisoning. Whilst enduring what Lynne describes as ‘exorcist type projectile vomiting and bowel movements’, she mustered up the courage to make her way to the audition.
There, when she was given the character brief, she realised just what casting director Liz Mullinar had seen that warranted her to audition.
‘Irene: thin, wasted alcoholic.’
Ironically, while Lynne rued the dodgy spring roll she blamed at the time, it might have been the catalyst for her landing the role of the lovable Irene Roberts.
“Getting a three-month guestie is wonderful enough,” she says, before adding that on her last day, the producer approached her.
His question was whether she would come back. The answer seemed an obvious one, but in Lynne’s mind, it was a mere formality. So, when she got another call from her agent, the only thing that Lynne could think was ‘wow’.
“They want you back for twelve months,” she was told.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
“It really is like winning the acting lottery!”
For the first twelve months of her stint as a regular, Irene’s stories erred on the more comedic side. They included her sleepwalking, teaching Scottish dancing (something Lynne knew how to do!), coaching a netball team and becoming a psychic.
At the end of 1994, Lynne became the Dolly Parton of Summer Bay.
When the opportunity arose for her to enter a singing competition, it seemed the perfect chance for Irene, as well as Lynne. She was finally able to put her singing skills to use on the show.
The song, ‘Picking Up the Pieces’, was written by story editor Boaz Stark and debuted on the series over a montage of Irene’s son Damian (Matt Doran) failing to set up the makeshift recording studio properly.
This storyline marked the beginning of Irene’s on and off singing career on the show. Over the years, she would sing numerous songs including ‘All My Friends Are Getting Married’ in a pub with Ailsa (Judy Nunn) and two performances of Billy Aztec’s ‘Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)’ in 2001 and 2012.
Lynne’s even sang the Home and Away theme song, in a promo for New Zealand’s TV2!
Over the next three years, she was accused of murdering her sleazy ex-husband Mud (Tom Richards), got caught up in saving her foster child Selina (Tempany Deckert) from a cult, and became a surrogate for her daughter Fin (Tina Thomsen). However, when she gave birth, the child was kidnapped and Irene found herself the prime suspect.
Speaking of the sharp turn into large dramatic stories, Lynne admits that it was likely due to the ensemble.
“I suppose they thought they’d give me a guernsey,” she says.
Although she enjoys the big dramatic storylines, Lynne loves the comedy just as much.
“Often the comedy is purely relief for other dramatic storylines,” she clarifies. “But sometimes you work with certain actors and the comedy just comes naturally.”
Ryan Kwanten, who played Vinnie Patterson, was one such actor. The pair used to have a ball together. In fact, one of the most memorable Irene/Vinnie moments was part of a story in 1998 where a spider had crawled onto baby Olivia’s nappy bag.
While in the diner, the spider made its way out of the bag and up Vinnie’s leg. However, with Irene sitting across from him, the young jokester naturally thought that it was her, rubbing his inner thigh with her foot!
Funnily enough, it isn’t that moment that Lynne remembers about the spider storyline!
Later in the episode, the spider crawled up Irene’s arm. Only now has Lynne admitted that it wasn’t her arm.
“They used one of those big whistling spiders,” she tells us, adding that it was ‘frigging enormous’.
“They said ‘would you be okay if it walks up your arm? I said, ‘abso-bloody-lutely not! I’m not having that thing anywhere near me!”
As a result, one of the props girls, Sally, acted as an arm stand-in.
While Irene hasn’t had much luck with spiders, it seems that luck hasn’t made its way into her love life either.
Over her time in Summer Bay, she’s had four major love interests, and several minor ones. Her first major love was Ken Smith, played by the ‘lovely Tony Phelan’. Both recovering alcoholics, Ken and Irene were able to bring the best out in one another.
However, as their big day approached, Ken decided to spend money he’d allocated for a new car jack on an engagement ring. As a result, whilst working under a car, he was crushed to death.
Still one of the most haunting moments in Summer Bay history was Irene, in her wedding dress, being informed that Ken had died.
“It was the closest Irene came to getting married.”
Her next major love interest was high school principal and her boss Paris Burnett (Rhett Giles).
“He was a bit of a good sort,” she remembers.
“The funny thing about that was that I would have been early 50s, playing early 40s. He was [playing] mid 30s, but as it turned out he was 28 and I was 51. It was a little bit creepy; it was very weird.”
Men aside, perhaps the most enduring person in Irene’s life, and in fact one in Lynne’s as well, is Ada Nicodemou, who plays the ethereal Leah Patterson.
The friendship onscreen between the women is as real as the one offscreen. The only difference? Five years ago, the onscreen friendship was pushed to the limits and it took a toll on both Lynne and Ada.
Recalling the complex connections in the lengthy saga that followed after Irene revealed she was molested as a teenager, Lynne explains that the custody battle for baby Luc Patterson was the catalyst for a dark time.
“One day, on the Pier, she [Ada] had to slap me. It was terrifying. We are such good mates. It was really hard,” she recalls.
It wasn’t just Lynne who felt that way. Ada was in the same boat. The two friends had had small tiffs before, mostly regarding the Diner, but this set them against one another, in enemy territory. For weeks, this went on.
“It was full on – I found that quite traumatising.”
Although unlucky in love, it seems Lynne has been lucky enough to escape death in the Bay, despite a multitude of those around her being dealt a hand of fate.
Despite plans to write her out in 2002, as first revealed in our interview with Coral Drouyn, Irene has endured much heartache in her time. Although her loved ones may have passed on, Irene has a very touching way of keeping spirits alive in the Beach House – and it was all Lynne’s idea, after she grew tired of Irene’s photo frames being moved around.
“I’ve always had this thing where I have two shelves and it bothered me when they were mixed up,” she explains.
“I didn’t want the alive people in the same area as the dead people, so I said ‘we are going to have a dead shelf and we are going to have an alive shelf’, and thus it has remained.”
“We have quite a few on the dead shelf, but thankfully more on the alive shelf.”
Favourite Holiday Destination?
Short Cuts by Robert Altman
Favourite TV Series (other than Home and Away)?
Boy Swallows Universe
Lynne’s book Acting Up is available from all major retailers in Australia and the UK from November 2nd. The audiobook is also available, read by Lynne herself.