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Jess Tovey On Home And Away, And What It Feels Like To Die On Primetime

Well, you’ve heard the news by now.

Dr. Patrick Reid — one of the favourite characters of Channel Ten’s Offspring, the partner of Asher Keddie’s Nina, and a father-to-be – died last night, in a shock car crash necessitated by the growing profile and commitments of Matthew Le Nevez.

And all of a sudden it was like everyone on Facebook had been watching Offspring for the past three years.

It’s not unusual for our country to mourn a beloved TV character; especially one so central to the plot, who dies so suddenly. But there’s one person no one seems to think about: the actor.

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When I call Jessica Tovey, she’s on set in Pagewood, NSW, about halfway through shooting the first season of Wonderland – a new warm and lighthearted drama which is premiering on Network Ten on August 21. Wonderland is a big deal for Ten; taking over Offspring‘s coveted Wednesday night timeslot after season four wraps up next week, it’s an ensemble piece that stars Tovey alongside another Logie-nominated actor, Michael Dorman (Secret Life Of Us), and Logie-winning Brooke Satchwell (Neighbours, Water Rats, Packed To The Rafters). The show revolves around four young couples who share a beach-side apartment block.

It’s a big role for Jess Tovey too, who’s in the middle of her 20s and a peaking career. Recently, she’s enjoyed lead roles in two acclaimed Australian series – Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo and Underbelly: Golden Mile – and she has a few films out this year too: the upcoming Tracks, with Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver, and Adore (nee: The Grandmothers), with Robyn Wright-Penn and Naomi Watts.

But most people recognise Tovey as Susan ‘Belle’ Taylor, who became one of Home And Away‘s main characters in 2006. Belle was a fan-favourite and a focal point of the show for three and a half years, until the actress decided to quit in 2009 — and the writers decided to kill her off. After a hard battle with drugs and a cancer diagnosis, Belle died dramatically in her husband Aden’s arms soon after their honeymoon.

A lot of people were sad about this. Like, tribute video sad. But what does it feel like to actually DIE?

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So you get to decide to leave the show, but the writers get to decide how it happens. What did it feel like when they told you that Belle was being killed off Home And Away?

Jess Tovey: I remember thinking, ‘Well! That’s a bit violent!’ It’s a weird thing to be told, that you’re going to DIE.

But in some ways it made sense — and I was kind of glad, because it felt pretty final. I was like, ‘Well, at least there’s no way I can ever come back.’

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Well, you probably could have. You could have played a secret identical twin, or come back as a ghost. 

Totally. I mean really, I’m sure they could have just brought me back from the dead if they wanted to.

But there was something nice about it, too. It was just so tragic. Let’s face it – it felt pretty fitting to leave a soap opera by getting married and then dying.

So let’s get to the on-screen death. How did that feel?

It’s weird to admit this, you know — it’s a TV show — but I was with those people for ten hours a day for four years. I was so close to the character by the end of it. It was really emotional. Really sad.

What was it like shooting the actual scene? I imagine that’s one of the hardest things you’ve done.

Absolutely. It was full-on. The other thing is, that was the last scene I ever shot for Home and Away. Usually with TV, they shoot scenes out of order — but that was my final ever moment on camera and my final ever moment on screen, which was pretty intense. I had such a great time on that show, the cast were really close to each other, so I was saying goodbye to a lot.

And on top of that I was really close to the guy who played my husband [Todd Lasance, who plays Aden Jefferies]. I was lying on a bed, and he was crying, screaming, and the cast and crew are watching, but I have to be dead. I’m like “don’t blink, don’t blink, don’t blink!”

Did you watch it when it aired?

Oh we had a full thing! My family and my friends all got together and held a wake for Belle — we all wore black, lit candles, the whole thing!

Did you cry?

I did, actually. It’s really unusual to get that involved in something you’re in, but it was really upsetting to watch that scene. And then the aftermath, the funeral, when all these characters — who are my friends in real life — are mourning my character, crying, talking about her, how much they miss her; it sounds silly, but it was like watching them miss me, in a way.

How long did it take to get over it?

[Laughs] This is embarrassing, but quite a long time. I mean when you leave a show, you mourn the time you’ve spent there – that’s one thing. But the finality of it, the fact that this character that you spent so long playing is not going to come back. It’s a big deal.

The other thing is I was 17 when I started on Home And Away, and I was playing a character who was going through a lot of the same things I was. First kiss, first relationship, first break-up. I really felt connected to her, so in that way it was kind of like losing a friend or something.

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What about the show’s fans? Did people come up to you on the street after you died, to talk it through?

People still come up to me to talk about it, which is weird. I’ve had a few people come up and talk about how upsetting it was for them – ‘You were my favourite character, it was so, so sad when you died.’ And about the drug storyline that led to my death, especially; a lot of people would come up to me with their own stories. It makes you think, ‘Wow, a lot of people are really connecting to this.’

And that’s another amazing thing, thinking about people crying for your character; the audience is the whole reason TV exists, but you never really think about it.

There was that whole outpouring of grief with The Red Wedding earlier this year…

And kudos to Game Of Thrones for that. For a show so centered around fantasy, they really built up those characters to a point where something like the Red Wedding could bring out that kind of a response. It’s easier to do that with a soap like Home and Away, which is about real people going through real things.

A friend of mine made a really good point about it recently. Prime time shows tend to be watched by whole families, at home, together in the living room. You’re watching in the comfort of your own home, with people you love all around you, and with Home and Away, you’re watching people your age, doing the stuff that you do – it’s really easy to take that warmth and transfer it to the characters on the screen.

But at the end of the day, death is just really good for ratings!

Jess Tovey’s new show, Wonderland, premieres on Channel Ten on Wednesday August 21, at 8.30pm. Visit the show’s website here, and watch the teaser below.

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  • Lorena May

    Great read! Very interesting to hear about on-screen death from an actor’s perspective. And I am as well still in shock from the Red Wedding… RIP Grey Wind!!

  • Nathan Jolly

    Forget the Red Wedding, I’m still reeling from Bel’s death.