The Alice: articles

Jessica Napier

Outback dramas… Jessica Napier quit McLeod’'s Daughters and has been lured to The Alice

Alice lures McLeod

POOR old Jessica Napier. Unable to stand small-town life in Adelaide any longer, she quit her role on McLeod’s Daughters—only to find herself working in Alice Springs.

Outback dramas… Jessica Napier quit McLeod’s Daughters and has been lured to The Alice / File “When the producer, Robyn Sinclair, first talked to me about the job she was going ‘Oh, it’s only Alice Springs’,” Napier groans.

“And I was saying ‘Robyn, I don’t WANT to live in Alice Springs. I didn’t want to live in Adelaide—why would I want to live in Alice Springs?’.”

However, it turned out there was quite a good reason—Channel 9’s magical, funny and very moving new film The Alice, which like McLeod’s Daughters before it, may be translated next year from telemovie to series. It follows the intertwining stories of characters who descend on Alice Springs to witness a total eclipse.

Napier plays Jess Daily, a nurse who is trying to give her ailing mother (played by Anne Louise Lambert of Picnic at Hanging Rock fame) a dream trip to experience the eclipse in the town where the two once lived.

“It was just a beautiful script,” says Napier. “It’s so special, with this slightly surreal quality to it which makes sense because of the setting.”

But happily for Napier, she was only required to visit that astonishing outback setting.

All the interior scenes were filmed in her beloved Sydney, so she could keep living here.

“Even if the series goes ahead we’ll be based in Sydney and just get flown up to Alice every now and then,” she says.

“It’ll be like going on holiday to somewhere that’s warmer. Get a tan and come back.”

That was all-important to Napier, who admits she still hasn’t quite recovered from her three-year stint living in Adelaide while playing stationhand Becky Howard on McLeod’s.

“Adelaide, I found, is a very strange place,” she says.

“I found for some reason it was a real energy-sapper for me.

I would hop off the plane and go ‘Oh no, I’m tired, I can’t go on’.”

She says the character of Becky was also becoming frustrating.

“She was a great character, but I was there to support the lead characters and so a lot of my storylines became about what they were doing,” she says.

“I think with The Alice it’s such an ensemble piece that characters shouldn’t get neglected.

“I think each character will get stronger and really stand out in their own right. They’re not there to prop the other characters up, which I found happened to me a lot in McLeod’s.”

Erik Thomson, who half Australia still grieves for since his much-loved character Dr Mitch Stevens died on All Saints last year, was also attracted to The Alice by the unusual strength of the characters.

“The thing is, a lot of dramas say ‘Oh, we’re character-driven’,” says the actor, who plays Jack Jaffers, the lead singer of a two-hit wonder 1980s band which is still eking out a somewhat sad existence when the story opens.

“I’ve been in many dramas that have said that. But then it doesn’t turn out that way.

“They become genre-driven, like medical-driven or doctor-driven. Story-driven.

“But I really don’t know how that could happen to this one. It is so character-oriented.”

He says he would be thrilled to commit to a series of The Alice if it gets made.

“I didn’t leave All Saints because I didn’t want to do series television,” he says.

“I just didn’t want to do All Saints any more.

“I mean I’d done four-and-a-half years of it and I’d really got to the point where I thought I’d explored every single avenue I could with the character.

“I want to do stuff I believe in. And I did believe in All Saints for the majority of that time.

“But I certainly think for The Alice there’s enough meat in it for me to last five years.

“Just as long as there’s a landscape out in front of the character which is there to explore.”

Another bonus to The Alice is the presence of his real-life wife, Always Greener’s Caitlin McDougall.

She plays the long-suffering wife and “support team” of one of those strange types drawn to the outback so they can jog across it.

“It was a happy coincidence we weren’t cast as a job lot,” says Thomson. “I was cast and then a week later Caitlin was cast and it was great to work with her.

“But we were concerned that we wouldn’t have any on-screen chemistry,” he laughs.

There’s no fear of that, although the chemistry at this early stage in the characters’ development is kept to the merest spark.

Depending on how their stories develop, however, Thomson says both he and McDougall will be on guard against any attempts to use viewers’ knowledge of the real-life relationship to spice up what is happening on screen.

“It’s a fine line you walk, I think,” he says. “There’s not been any compromising so far with the situation of crossing into our private life.

“It will be a couple of conversations we’ll have to have with the producers and publicity and marketing and stuff at the right time.

“But the bottom line is that we’re both actors and we both love the show and so we’ll have to work out a way of dealing with it.”

Meanwhile, Napier says having fellow escapees from other television series in Thomson and McDougall in the telemovie was quite therapeutic.

“Erik and Caitlin definitely had gone through the same experience as me, we’d all got to the point where we thought we couldn’t take those characters any further and that meant I think we were all especially enthusiastic about these new roles,” she says.

“With my character, I can’t wait to see Jess come back. “She’s so alone in this movie, but she’s got so many places to go and connections to make.

“I can’t wait to see what will happen in her life.”

July 28, 2004
The Daily Telegraph