15 years ago today, at the young age of 33, Sophie Heathcote sadly passed away after an aneurism cut her life short. It was a shock to her family, friends, and to the Australian television industry. She left behind her husband Chris Clarke, son James, and daughter Madeleine.
Sophie was on Australian television screens for much of the 90’s and early 00’s. Her breakout role was in A Country Practice as Steve Brennan. The hard working farmer met a sad end in a dramatic storyline after 2 years on the show, and her death had a lasting impact on both the folk in Wandin Valley, and the television audiences who had grown to love Steve.
Her next major role was in Water Rats as Senior Constable Fiona Cassidy, where she worked closely with Jay Laga’aia and Brett Partridge as a member of the Nemesis boat crew.
TV Flashback asked Hal McElroy, the Executive Producer of Water Rats, about casting Sophie in the role: “When we were researching Water Rats we were delighted to hear coppers saying “Oh we love policing on the water – everyone’s friendly, they smile and wave. No-one does that if you’re in a cop car!” That confirmed what we already knew, having lived on the harbour on and off boats all year round. Water changes people’s attitude – they relax. So that helped set the tone for the show – upbeat, sunny, friendly interwoven with action and drama.
“So we were looking for a cast to represent that. Colin and Catherine, drama, Sophie, Aaron, Jay and Brett, action and fun. So finding Sophie was like gold. Not only could she act, she was a classic ‘Aussie’ blonde, blue eyed girl but also physically and mentally tough. Nice balance, nice girl, sad to see her leave us when so young.”
Just over a year into Water Rats she left the popular action series and moved to Melbourne to star in the ABC series Raw FM, which ran for 13 episodes, working opposite Nadine Garner and Dominic Purcell.
Her last major TV role was in Geoffrey Atherden’s (creator and writer of Mother and Son) popular ABC series Grass Roots, as go-getter and conservative mayoral candidate Biddy Marchant. She starred opposite Geoff Morrell for the first series and her role would lead to Sophie being nominated for an Australian Film Institute award.
After her passing, Peter Mochrie who worked with Sophie on Water Rats spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald.
He described Heathcote’s passing as a terrible loss to the industry. “She was inspirational, she was fresh, she was talented,” said Mochrie, who studied at NIDA a few years ahead of Heathcote.
“We worked for a year on Water Rats and she had a great young energy that was vibrant, alive, challenging and exciting.”
He reiterated these thoughts to TV Flashback recently: “She was a very present actress, always well prepared, aware and generous. It was a terrible loss.”
TV Flashback also spoke to Catherine McClements about her time working with Sophie: “I didn’t have many scenes with her on Water Rats but off set Sophie was such a generous and kind person, and I think that came across in her acting as well.
“One thing I remember about Sophie is her always coming back from filming on the water long before everyone else as she got very seasick!”
Catherine shared a couple of pictures of Sophie from behind the scenes on the Water Rats set.
TV Flashback has created a tribute video to Sophie, which celebrates some of her career highlights from A Country Practice, Water Rats and Grass Roots.
Sophie Heathcote 1972 – 2006.