8th May 1999
Lisa McCune is in seventh heaven playing her first period role on TV…
With her blonde locks (dyed red) and hanging full around her face, and her tiny waist sinched in tight, TV WEEK Gold Logie winner Lisa McCune (right) is a far cry from her days on the beat as Blue Heeler Maggie Doyle.
Lisa’s transformation is to do with her leading role in the epic Seven Network miniseries The Potato Factory.
The mini-series offers Lisa the chance to play another gutsy young woman – Mary Abacus, a battler with a sordid past who is deported from 18th century London to Australia and ends up in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).
Dressed in period costume, it is only when Lisa drops her cockney accent that glimpses of Maggie Doyle come through.
“The red hair takes me away from Maggie visually from the word go!” she says of her latest role.
The Potato Factory, based on the trilogy of books from writer Bryce Courtenay, is the most ambitious mini-series ever made on Australian soil.
It cost $8 million and was filmed during a nine-week shoot in Sydney and southeastern New South Wales.
“I so badly wanted to be the person he (Bryce) expected in the role,” Lisa says.
“I was so worried he might say, ‘Oh no, she is wrong’. It would be hard releasing your baby over for people to work with.” Having the chance to step back in time is an opportunity Lisa is obviously relishing.
Her self-satisfaction is understandable, as she was once told she was “too contemporary” and would be limited in the choice of roles she could undertake.
“When I’m not doing Blue Heelers, I try to do either a play or something like this. You have to make yourself more employable,” she says.
And as for answering her earlier detractors?
“Look at me now. Never say never, I suppose,” she says, without any trace of animosity.
“I love the London part of this. For me the past is very interesting. It’s another century and another world.
“I have always wanted to do a period piece. I love the hair, the frocks and the horses, and I feel very lucky to finally do this.
“It has well and truly taken me away from Maggie.”
Securing the role of Mary has also given Lisa the chance to work with some of Australia’s finest actors and behind-the-scenes talent, as well as acclaimed British actor Ben Cross (Chariots Of Fire).
In the mini-series, she and Ben (top, with Lisa) are part of a passionate love triangle that takes the sweeping saga across two continents.
“He has been fantastic and very generous,” she says of her leading man.
“It is great Australia is doing a production of this magnitude. Money is being spent, with some of the top people in the business being attracted to it, and it shows. The talent behind the scenes is amazing.
“Everyone gets along really well. How well a job goes has a lot to do with the actors and how they get along.”
Even a hot and humid Sydney day can’t dampen Lisa’s enthusiasm for The Potato Factory.
“Everyone is calling it Hollywood on the Canal,” she laughs, in reference to the set’s location beside a canal in the inner suburb of Leichhardt. “Except it’s London in 35 degree heat!” And being strapped into a constricting corset is all in a day’s work.
“I really like the corsetry.
A lot of people complain about it, but I like it. It gives your whole carriage an erectness, and the skirts are great,” she says, smoothing out the folds of her flowing frock. “It’s beautiful. I love a bit of a dress-up.” While she was a redhead and has since returned to her smooth blonde locks, Lisa hopes her next role will take her to another place in time.
“I would love to do something like a Star Wars movie – all those futuristic costumes. That would be great!” she enthuses.
By Marina Williams
Original content copyright TV Week.