With nearly 50 years experience under her belt, Neighbours star Colette Mann figured she would quickly grasp the new health and safety guidelines when filming resumed.
What the actress, who plays meddlesome barmaid Sheila Canning, hadn’t counted on was her tactile instinct.
So the instant she grabbed the arm of Bonnie Anderson, who plays Bea Nilsson, she knew that was a no-no. “It was just muscle memory,” Mann, a regular on the Fremantle/10 Peach show since 2012, tells IF.
“When you’re in the moment, that’s what you would normally do. But we are getting so used to the safe-distancing rules.
“The directors and all the young actors are being amazing about it. Viewers will notice we don’t sit close to each other any more but the integrity of the script is there.”
Mann credits series producer Natalie Lynch with ensuring cast and crew had input into the guidelines.
During a two-week production break, which was extended by two weeks when employees was stood down, Lynch invited Mann and co-star Ryan Moloney to sit in on Zoom meetings with showrunner Jason Herbison and several directors to get the talent’s perspective.
As a result of those discussions it was decided that each actor can only touch his or her props, which are handed to them in a sealed plastic bag by the art department.
There was a unanimous vote to return to work, accompanied by safety officers and a nurse.
Herbison has been busy rewriting scripts to accommodate the new filming paradigm, such as cutting down scenes which featured four or five characters to two or three.
Mann revealed one filming trick: In one scene Sheila’s grandson Kyle (Chris Milligan) and Roxy (Zima Anderson) each kiss a mirror and that’s spliced together to make it appear an actual smooch.
Colette as Sheila reacting to news of her son Gary’s death.
One challenge she has found in the COVID-19 era is being able to cry on cue. In the past she would have called for a ‘tear-blower,’ which contains menthol, to be sprayed into her eyes by the make-up artist. So on the last occasion it took her two or three minutes to summons the tears.
Her advice to young actors: “If you can’t cry, don’t pretend, or what I call boo-hoo acting. Find another way to play the scene, whether you play anger or denial or something else.”
Neighbours’ fans with good memories will know Colette made her debut on the serial in 1995. She was about to finish her shift on 3AW one Friday when the show’s then-producer Ian Bradley turned up.
Bradley asked her to take on the role of Cheryl Stark the following Monday – handling 50 scenes that day – for six weeks as a fill-in after Caroline Gillmer fell ill. Mann had worked with Bradley when she played Doreen in Prisoner.
The actress started her professional career in 1971 in the musical Godspell. In her first TV role, she had a sex scene with John Jarratt in the ABC telemovie The Champion.
Aged 70, she is keen to stay with Neighbours for as long as the producers want her.
“It’s a fantastic job,” she says. “I love working with young people; they are really respectful and want to learn. I’m lucky that I’ve had a fairly long career.”