Jan Russ received a call from author Reg Watson in Sydney as she was casting the latter years of Prisoner from a little terrace house in High Street, Prahran.
“My audition space was a cramped area right next to a music room with a window in it. Therefore, whenever I had someone in for an audition, I had to walk into the music room and ask the musicians to turn the music down, she says TV Tonight.
“Reg Watson called me on the phone and said, ‘We’re thinking about doing a new show. I’ll give you a few scripts via email. The original title of the scripts was Living Together. After reading the scripts, I began to assemble a cast.
The 1984 Seven-commissioned programme was renamed Neighbours, and under Russ’ talent-spotting eye, Kylie Minogue and Margot Robbie became household names around the world.
Francis Bell, Dasha Blahova, Peter O’Brien, David Clencie, Stefan Dennis, Vikki Blanche, Darius Perkins, Kylie Flinker, Anne Haddy, Paul Keane, and Elaine Smith were all members of the original cast; however, Alan Dale as Jim Robinson almost didn’t make the cut.
“We had a night of socialising with the cast to observe how they interacted and supported one another. The producer John Holmes and I instantly turned and remarked, “We’ve made a mistake,” while we were viewing them. She recalled thinking, “We’ve got to do something about it!
“So we called Reg Watson and requested Alan Dale’s release so he could play Jim Robinson. We miscast a part, and it’s our fault! Alan was likely performing Posession at the moment.
He protested and said, “No, no, but they let me go, and I came down to play Jim Robinson on Channel Seven. After four months of performing there, we were abruptly fired. I believe I have a copy of Truth that reads, “TV Soapie Axed!” We were heartbroken. We believed that was the end of it. Outside the studio in South Melbourne, there were fans with black armbands decorated with red carnations.
Although the Sydney audience did not connect with the Melbourne-produced play, Russ can vividly remember that day as he awaited a momentous phone call.
“I recall that John Holmes and I were waiting in my office for that phone call to see if someone had picked us up. I believe the associate producer was also there. A bottle of champagne was present. When John picked up the phone, he responded, “Yes, yes, all right. Channel 10 has taken notice of us. Launch the bubbly. It ended there!
“However, Channel Seven’s sets mysteriously “burned down.” They consequently had to construct new sets, and at that time, Brian Walsh in the publicity division and Eileen O’Shea, with their incredible talents, really helped elevate the programme from when we were at Channel Seven. They had Kylie and Jason fly across Australia on the weekends to give away TVs.
Russ would cast actors who would go on to become household names for the remaining 36 years of the programme, including: Guy Pearce, Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue, Natalie Imbruglia, Holly Valance, Jesse Spencer, Craig McLachlan, Annie Jones, Ryan Moloney, Rhada Mitchell, Delta Goodrem, and Daniel Macpherson, in addition to seasoned actors like Ian Smith, Anne Charleston, Jackie Woodburne, Alan Fletcher, and Tom Oliver, to
What does she remember about those initial casting sessions?
“Kylie was such a timid little thing when she entered the audition room, and I’ll never forget that. However, she moved in front of the camera, and when I saw the monitor, I said, “Oh, my God!” Just one of those “moments,” when something spectacular occurs. I said, “This is the girl,” after her outstanding audition. Nobody else has approached her in any way. She is going to be ideal.
The son of television star Terrence Donovan, Jason Donovan, appeared at the audition wearing a De La Salle uniform.
“His tie was skew-whiff all over. He had spent the entire day in school, like other teenage boys, but when he performed his audition, I was astounded. I gave him the part because “talent is definitely handed down through the family.”
Father Terry would insist that Jason finish his HSC, hence the proposal was turned down. Donovan was given the opportunity to take over as Scott Robinson when the show switched from Seven to Ten while actor Darius Perkins did not.
After appearing in a Mars bar ad while riding a water bike in Geelong, Guy Pearce was given the role.
Guy was always the underdog in my eyes. I always had the impression that Guy was much more than that. that as an actor, he was going to offer much more. And he has demonstrated that, putting in some extraordinary work.
“Putting that bunch together and watching how they would function was lovely. because when casting, it’s crucial that everyone appears to be on the same page.
You must consider it as a jigsaw puzzle and determine whether people will get along. This is crucial because if they don’t, it will show up on the screen.
After making her acting debut in the drama The Elephant Princess by Jonathan M. Shiff, Margot Robbie would later be cast by Russ.
“We have a truly outstanding person here; we must employ her, I reasoned. She will do well. I can still picture her approaching me when I looked up. “This chick has something going for her,”
“However, all of the people that have continued on were incredibly brilliant and willing to put in a lot of effort, practise their skill, and learn new things. And that was crucial. However, I don’t believe many of them today want to do that.
Russell Crowe made a brief appearance in the production during his Melbourne run of a stage musical after his agent encouraged him to do so.
I asked him, “What’s your time frame?” because he was a very intense young man but also an interesting one. Since he was limited to six weeks with Rocky Horror, we had him on for that period.
Russ was asked to testify for actor Shane Connor in his lawsuit against producers Fremantle over his dismissal, which was one of the most challenging moments.
It was a particularly difficult period because I was being pulled in two directions. I had to tell the truth, though. I took that action.
Despite Russ casting a variety of ethnically diverse performers, Ramsay Street has received criticism for its lack of diversity. She does, however, admit that data suggests that the audience did not react.
They devoted a lot of time to researching well-known characters, what they preferred to see, and what they preferred to avoid. Thus, that played a significant role.
The largest obstacle arose in 2009 when producers at the time summoned her to what she thought was a casting meeting. However, she was greeted by an HR representative in what would later serve as her formal Fremantle notice.
“They claimed that this originated somewhere else. We’re not behind it. I asked, “What’s happening?” she recalled.
“You have four weeks to give notice.
“I sincerely apologised and thanked you before returning to my office. I told the cast that I wanted to leave.
“I didn’t converse with anyone. When the press called, I just said, “No comment.”
So, for a month, I merely sat there, devastated. Absolutely devastated That’s what I got after 26 years? I couldn’t believe it. They may have thought, “She’s getting on in years; we need youthful blood,” I believe. However, knowledge and expertise cannot be replaced.
Thankfully, a part in City Homicide and a performance at the Comedy Festival made things easier. Russ acknowledges that after that, it became too difficult for her to watch the show.
“I still don’t think I’m over it completely. I did had a small breakdown following it, and I received assistance for the next five months. It was utter hell.
But Russ is happy to see resurrected historical figures after the show’s historic finale, which producer Jason Herbison infused with nostalgia.
It’s incredible. The fact that so many of them have returned is wonderful. And because the show has set them up, I think, “Well, they should have come back.” Would they be where they are now if they hadn’t appeared on Neighbours? ” she queries.
“I’m very sorry that the programme is ending; I hate to see people lose their employment,” you said. I believe that’s the most difficult thing. But in my opinion, everything has to finish. The show’s 37-year run astounded me.
“But I believe it has changed Australia’s history in several ways. That is amazing all by itself. And having kicked off the whole thing is kind of impressive, so I do feel pleased of that.
You do get a sense of ownership over it.
Neighbours Finale Week:
Tuesday July 26 6:30pm – 8pm 10 Peach
Wednesday July 27 6:30pm – 8pm 10 Peach
Thursday July 28 7.30pm – 9pm on 10 and 10 Peach