She has been nominated for Gold and Silver Logies, has appeared on television for more than three decades, and holds the distinction of being the “third-longest serving actor in an Australian television soap” (for those keeping score at home, that’s 22 years and counting).
So it’s odd to consider that Ada Nicodemou almost didn’t become an actor at all.
In fact, the 45-year-old star, who has been playing the enduringly popular Leah Patterson on Home and Away since March 2000, still finds it difficult to believe she has been able to make a career out of acting 27 years after her first appearance on television in the role of Katerina Ioannou on the original Heartbreak High from the 1990s.
She tells The West Australian over the phone from Sydney, where she resides with her longtime partner Adam Rigby and her 10-year-old son Jonas, “It’s great, really.” “I’ve had a lot of luck; I’ve changed jobs frequently. And I didn’t really think I would, to be really honest.
“I had assumed that all I would have to do was take on this 12-week (guest role) on Heartbreak High and enrol in college.
“Acting was never really something I wanted to do! I kind of simply started out and continued going.
After all these years, it’s difficult to see Australian TV without her.
Without Leah, Summer Bay wouldn’t be the same place where people could cry on a caring shoulder.
Heartbreak High, the teen drama that was first produced for Network Ten, then ABC, commencing in 1994, was a show that Nicodemou auditioned for when she was just 16 years old for what she believed would be a brief spell.
Nicodemou adds that she went for the audition but her mother told her, “You are not doing it because you’d have to quit school,” noting that she was in the middle of her HSC (Higher School Certificate) at the time.
“I was able to persuade her that I would only undertake correspondence (studies) for the next 12 weeks.
But after that, it just carried on.
She did, in fact, graduate from high school and was prepared to enrol in college, but the producers had other plans, and her 12-week gig ended up turning into three seasons’ worth of work.
She recalls her final years of school by saying, “I taught myself, because we didn’t have tutors on set.” I was accepted to the university and deferred for a year, but I never returned.
After Heartbreak, parts on the ill-fated serial opera Breakers, a guest appearance on Police Rescue, and an unexpected supporting role in The Matrix all appeared.
That meant waiting for Uni.
She says, “Actually, I’ve been meaning to go back; it’s one of those things I’d still love to do. The thing I was meant to do was communicate, but I never did.
It’s incredible to consider that if Heartbreak High hadn’t been, Nicodemou might not have had her illustrious career. The show went above and beyond its time to cast multicultural actors, which is something we today take for granted but was a very new phenomenon when the show first aired in the middle of the 1990s.
“It was ahead of its time and unlike anything else that was on television – people like me just weren’t on TV back then, so it was incredibly innovative,” she adds of the programme, which was only just relaunched for the world’s largest streaming service, Netflix, to widespread praise.
Similar to the original series, which was broadcast across Europe and the UK, it is now available to watch in more than 100 countries across the world and has attracted a whole new generation of devoted viewers.
Although I had been on Home and Away for a long, she recalls, “I remember the first time I travelled to France, everyone recognised me from Heartbreak High, and it still is. It did really, really well here, but it also globally.”
Nicodemou is keen to point out that she never gave acting a serious thought simply because no one she knew had any connection to the field.
Even though she loved singing and dancing for her family, a 16-year-old girl from Minto in Sydney’s western suburbs could not expect to earn a life at acting. She admits she was a major admirer of Kylie and Jason on Neighbours.
Nicodemou says, “I was one of those kids who did love performing, and I used to dance, and whenever families would come over, I would put on a performance. She won the third season of Dancing with the Stars back in 2005, so it’s certainly a skill that’s stayed with her.
So I guess I was always one of those kids, but I never imagined it would become my profession.
You simply didn’t think that way; I was raised in a Greek home and never met an actor. Nevertheless, here I am.
Nicodemou acknowledges that she still derives great pleasure from her enduring role on Home and Away, even after three decades. She makes the point that every day offers something brand-new as long as the plot lines vary and there are fresh characters to interact with.
She declares, “I am truly pleased here; I enjoy it. “Why would I leave such a fantastic job when I have wonderful friends?
I’ve been doing it for so long that it has become a routine in my life. It’s a great lifestyle that I have managed to maintain: being a mother, a partner, and a worker.
Additionally, she still has compelling stories, such as the one this week between her character and Heather (Sophia Nolan), a disturbed newcomer who is Marilyn’s hidden daughter.
Ada’s character is the victim of a really vicious altercation this week.
Nicodemou reveals, “I get attacked,” but he is careful not to reveal too much more because he doesn’t want to give away any surprises to the audience.
She is enjoying working closely with newbie Sophia and co-star Emily Symons as well as the rich plot.
She remarks, “She does such a terrific job. The plot keeps moving along, and it makes for excellent viewing.
Keep a watch out for Nicodemou when she travels to Perth for Telethon later next month; as long as Summer Bay is delighted to have her as a resident, she will continue to show up to her much-loved profession and all the beautiful things that come with it.
Yes, there are hard hours and challenging days, but overall, she says, her job is incredibly enjoyable since she gets to travel, attend wonderful events like Telethon, and meet incredible people.
What about that backup university degree? It might need to hold off a little longer.
She says, “I still don’t believe (acting) will go forever and I still believe, ‘I’ll just do this for now and then just see what happens.'”
However, something tells us that Ada Nicodemou won’t be leaving anytime soon.