Next week Anne Phelan begins a new on-going role in Seven’s Winners and Losers.
While she is well known for roles in Prisoner and Neighbours, ‘Annie’s’ last regular roles on TV were Something in the Air (2000-2001) and Marshall Law (2002).
“That’s been it for the last 10 years I’ve been mainly in a lot of theatre and ‘guesties,’” she says.
“People don’t realise actors are freelancers. Up until Winners and Losers I had hardly worked for 12 months.
“I’d done a beautiful play called Do Not Go Gentle at 45 Downstairs (Melbourne) with a fabulous cast, and then pretty much I had a few voice-overs and that was it for the whole 12 months.”
Now on Winners and Losers, Phelan (pictured, left) plays Gross family matriarch ‘Nanna Dot.’
“The gorgeous Francis Greenslade is my son and Denise Scott is my daughter in law. So how much do I love that?” she laughs.
“And the calibre of the guest actors through the series…. it’s really, really good stuff. Not that I always got to work with them, but you’d walk into the Green Room and it was ‘Wow, so and so’s here!’
“The beaut thing about Nanna Dot and the semi-regular side of it is I average maybe 2 or 3 days a week. Sometimes 4 in a big week. And at my age, darling, how much do we love that?”
While she may not necessarily have the lion’s share of the scene, Phelan knows how to make the most of what she’s given.
“Sometimes I was in a scene and maybe didn’t have that much to do but when I did have a line by jeez it was a funny one,” she insists.
“They’re called the ‘zingers,’ which is a writer’s term for a funny line. You know the person in the background who comes in with a line? It’s a bit like that.
“But as the season progresses I get some lovely meaty stuff to do. So it wasn’t just this piece of fluff.”
As a seasoned pro she’s no stranger to zingers. And no stranger to auditions, many of which become social occasions for those she is in contention with.
“What’s very funny is when you get to a certain age there’s a mob of us and you know you’re going to catch up with all your mates at the audition. You know there’ll be Val Jellay, Joan Sidney, Elspeth Ballantyne. And we all know it. We all get there and laugh and the casting people come out to get the next person and everyone’s chatting away! All these old sheilas getting together having a great time.”
Thankfully on this occasion she’s having a great time beyond the audition, working with the Winners and Losers ensemble.
“It’s fabulous and it’s one of the nicest gigs,” she says.
“I’m not bullshitting, it’s a lovely company of actors. It’s a fabulous crew. A lot of them of course I know. But it’s one of the most efficient crews I’ve ever worked with. Paul Moloney, the producer is so respected. But he’s also a director and that makes a big difference. He was one of our directors on Prisoner, so it all comes full circle.
“The other wonderful thing, and it makes it a very cohesive ensemble, is they have read-throughs of every episode. Quite often in a series like this you never get to work with people for weeks on end. So consequently you never see them.
“The beautiful thing about the read-through is that everyone is there: the head writer, Bevan Lee, the producers and every actor. And I know it sounds like the simplest thing in the world but god it’s fabulous. Even if you’re not in an episode but you’re at the read-through you know what’s goin’ on.”
However grateful for the work opportunity, Phelan is also a pragmatist. She is hopeful but not presumptuous that Nanna Dot may return if the Seven drama proceeds to a third season.
“If it goes ahead,” she points out. “I’m an ‘if’ not ‘when.’ I’ve been around too long, darling, to just presume that Series 3 will happen. That’s just the way it is in this industry.
“I sincerely hope if there is a Series 3 that I’m there, but I’m also a realist and I’m 63 nearly 64 and I’ve been around a long time.
“We thought Something in the Air would run for 10 years, and I was quite happy to be in it for 10 years and Channel 2 axed it. Family and Friends a long, long time ago, same thing. Came to work one morning, got out of the car and someone said ‘Don’t worry about getting out of the car, we’ve been axed.’
“When I sign that contract then I know Series 3 is happening. That’s just the way I am.
“Never expect anything in this industry because it can turn the other way.
“I certainly hope Series 3 happens, I sincerely hope I’m in it and I hope Series 2 goes well. It’s got a nice feel about it.”
But the bottom line for this character performer isn’t the work, but the enjoyment factor.
“Unless I’m enjoying the job, I don’t care how fabulous the role is or how brilliant the series is. If I’m not enjoying myself, forget it.”
Winners and Losers airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on Seven.