Catherine McClements joined Water Rats and worked closely with Colin Friels to build the show into a big hit of the 90’s. The very talented and popular actress caught up with TV Flashback to reflect on her contribution to the action series…
1) How did you become involved with Water Rats?
I auditioned for the show, I think with the idea that it could be a good opportunity to do something different. I hadn’t been involved in a lot of television before that. After getting the role, the research started, and I spoke to some female police officers about their experiences. I have a lot of respect for what they do.
2) What did you think of the concept of the show when it was presented to you?
I thought the concept was interesting. At the time they had Blue Heelers, and with Water Rats, with Hal McElroy producing, you just knew it would be good, too. Having the focus on the detectives and everyone else around them in support, and obviously the harbour always there in the background! It’s hard to look away!
3) Water Rats was known for a gruelling filming schedule, being a lead you must have been worked hard? How did you cope with that?
It was quite tough at the time! Early on in the show we had quite a while to film an episode, I think it was about a week or so if I remember right. The tough part really just came from the day in day out, getting up early, going home late. It probably doesn’t seem like a lot but it all just adds up eventually. Down time and relaxing was definitely important to me.
4) How involved were you in the stunts? I believe you did a lot of the stunt driving yourself? Any scary moments?
Yes I did some of my own stunts! Driving was a big part of Water Rats, especially for the detectives. And I think Rachel had a bit of a thing for driving too. I tried to do as much of the driving stunts as I could. Same with the fight, chase and tackle scenes. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I didn’t get to do water stunts.
I’d say the scariest thing that happened to me was nearly falling off The Gap. Something wasn’t quite right with the harness initially. But I don’t think I would have fallen all the way down as such, it was just that horrible feeling.
5) What was it like working so close with Colin? Hal previously said you didn’t do any initial testing with Colin, so why do you think you had a relationship that worked so well on the show?
Colin is an amazing actor and person. He’s very generous as an actor. I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly what it was that made it click. It was a bit of an unspoken thing in many ways because we didn’t always talk a lot, maybe there was a feeling like we didn’t really have to. And I guess that started to come across in our characters as well. Sometimes it’s just the looks you give each other in a scene which can say it all and that just seemed to work for Frank and Rachel!
6) After his health scare did things change for the both of you? It must have been emotional and he must have felt really drained? Did that make shooting scenes harder?
After Colin’s health scare, I think we just tried to keep everything as normal as we could on set. It was frightening for Colin and a shock to the rest of us. I don’t remember feeling it made scenes harder to film as such, but it was certainly hard to see Colin unwell. He was the biggest trouper though. The fact that he still filmed episodes when he could is a testament to himself and a bit of an inspiration too.
7) What did you think about adding Steve Bisley to the lineup? Did you think his character was a good replacement when Colin left?
Steve coming onto the show was really quite terrific. He came with such energy and intensity which I felt reflected in his character too. Steve was certainly an excellent replacement for Colin, the obvious and right choice. I think it especially helped that the character of Jack had already been fairly well established in season 3. There were a lot of storylines that could be played with when he came back.
8) All of the cast seemed to get on, did you have any special bonds with other cast members?
I found the entire cast on Water Rats got along and I hope that reflected with the relationships between characters too. There were a few actors who I interacted with more mainly because I had the majority of my scenes with them, like Colin, Toni Scanlan, Peter Bensley and of course Steve when he began. But it did gel quite well. It’s always nice when that happens.
I enjoyed working with everyone! Though I must say I did enjoy scenes with Jay Laga’aia. There were a number of episodes when he filled in for Colin and he was always fun.
9) Rachel was a strong character, but had some turmoil, initially losing David in the custody battle, shooting Knocker and the PTSD afterwards. How hard was it balancing a strong character but also knowing when she could show a vulnerable side?
Rachel was a pretty interesting character. She certainly had a lot of aspects about her personality that I could use as an actor. Early on yes she did have that turmoil of losing access to her son in the custody battle. Treffyn Koreshoff was amazing as David I must add! I think losing him for the amount of time she did was a big moment for her. She wasn’t perfect.
Shooting Knocker was another big moment that I felt really affected Rachel for almost the rest of her time on the show in many ways. I enjoyed the different sides to her, the strong and tough cop side but yes she was also vulnerable at times, too, and that’s always good to play.
10) The Knocker shooting did have a massive impact on Rachel, do you think that’s something Australian police shows get right with police shootings?
Those shooting storylines on cop shows have generally been done well over the years, which I think is a great thing. The aftermath for the character involved is usually very realistic.
11) Was it interesting playing a Jewish character and did you do any research or did you worry about portraying that side of your character?
Prior to getting the role on Water Rats, I’d played a character in a theatre production who was Jewish, so I didn’t feel I needed to do too much research there. But the Jewish side of Rachel wasn’t something that came up a whole lot. I remember she wore a Star of David necklace throughout season 1 but I think it disappeared after that.
12) Why did you decide to leave? Were you involved in the leaving storyline and do you think Rachel should have left like Frank?
My leaving was really a combination of exhaustion and wanting to do some other things I guess. On something as big as Water Rats, there was never really time to do anything else. But mostly I was stuffed! There wasn’t any other way Rachel could leave, let’s face it!
She wouldn’t have done what Frank did, because I doubt she would have left her son like that. And I think she liked being a cop too much. She could have been transferred to another police department, but that’s pretty boring! We wanted it to be dramatic. I feel they had to make it one of those wrong place at the wrong time type scenarios because I couldn’t actually imagine anyone would have set out with a deliberate intention of hurting her.
13) Looking back now do you regret leaving when you did? Do you think Rachel had more storylines that could have been explored?
No regrets in leaving, no. I had to do it for my own wellbeing at the end of the day, which I hope doesn’t sound too selfish! There are probably things with Rachel that could have been fleshed out more if I had stayed, like seeing the Jewish side of her would have been interesting.
Her relationship with Jack was always quite an enjoyable one too, I liked the niggle Steve and I brought to it. Though I’m not sure where it could have gone! But all of that, I don’t think it really feels like a cop show anymore if they start focusing too much on those things. So perhaps she had run her course as a character.
14) Did you have a favourite episode or storyline?
Season 1 with Peter Mochrie as Knocker and his corruption storyline was well done, not only for that particular character but also for Rachel and Frank being so close to him.
Episode 100 I think stands out to me as well, when David is kidnapped. The episodes where you get to play a wide variety of emotions are fulfilling as an actor. I mean it can be exhausting going from being happy, to anxious, to angry, to breaking down all in one episode. But they’re the kind of episodes and storylines I liked.
Getting to climb the Harbour Bridge in an episode was really fun too. Not for Rachel, but certainly for me!
15) Any funny times on set? Days when things just didn’t go right?
Some funny times did happen a bit on Water Rats, which I think helped us all because it could be such a serious show. Whether it was someone forgetting their lines, or ad libbing or even just laughing or smiling at the wrong time (I had a few of those moments)!
For me, days that didn’t quite go right were sometimes the ones where I was overly tired. Or when you had to do the same scene a number of times because something wasn’t quite right or the director wasn’t happy with how it looked, that could make the day drag as well.
16) What will you treasure the most from your time working on Water Rats?
I’d say what I treasure most about being on Water Rats would be meeting and getting to know all the wonderful people who worked on the show. Every day there was someone new on set too, like guest actors and they were always great to work with as well. Working on Goat Island and to actually be able to say “I work on an island in the middle of Sydney Harbour”! It was spectacular. At the time so much hard work was put into it, but now it’s a mostly wonderful experience to think about.
17) You were involved with the start of what became a popular reboot with Wentworth, do you think a reboot of Water Rats would work now? And if something did happen would you ever consider a guest role as a different character?
No I don’t think a reboot of Water Rats would work these days. A show like Wentworth works because they had characters they could reimagine and reimagine well. Somehow I don’t feel it would work with Water Rats, unless they went with entirely different characters. Which to me wouldn’t really make it Water Rats! Never say never if it came about and I was asked though.
Thanks to Catherine for an in-depth look at her time on Water Rats, this interview was such a delight and I’m pleased to announce that we have another interview with Catherine to come, watch out for that!
If you miss Water Rats, you can pick up a copy of the entire series on DVD here.
Just for something a bit different. Below is a music video featuring Catherine in Water Rats. Music is “Goldies Theme” from Water Rats, sung by Cathi Ogden. If you can find a copy, it’s on the Water Rats Soundtrack (1999).