Mcleod's Daughters: articles

Lisa Chappell loses Gloss for cowgirl role

Lisa Chappell

How many New Zealanders does it take to make an Australian drama? More than you'd think.

The producers of McLeod's Daughter auditioned for four long months to find their lead — a true-blue Australian cowgirl. They found her in New Zealand actor Lisa Chappell.

The New Zealand contingent doesn't stop there. Marshall Napier, his real life daughter Jessica and Aaron Jeffery all hail from our neck of the woods. Ex-Shortland Streeters are also part of the kiwi mix — Stelios Yiakmis plays a local cop and Chris Hobbs retains the white coat as a vet.

And behind the scenes there's New Zealand talent in director Chris Martin Jones, who directed the Kevin Smith-Angela Dotchin vehicle, Lawless.

McLeod's Daughters is based on a telemovie of the same name made seven years ago. Last week, a two-hour special did the perfunctory task of the set up for the 22-episode run that starts on TV2 this week.

Chappell is in the middle of shooting the second series of McLeod's Daughters in Adelaide, but has been whisked to Sydney to shoot the new season Channel Nine promotion. It's a welcome opportunity for Chappell to don something other than farm-wear.

"I am a bit over wearing jeans and work shirts. Would you believe I am now in diamante shoes?"

With more than the usual quota of New Zealanders involved in McLeod's Daughters, Chappell is feeling at home. "At the start it was weird not knowing anyone on set. In New Zealand you work a lot with the same faces."

There's no denying it was a coup for Chappell to get the lead role in Channel Nine's biggest drama since Stringers in 1998. "I was a complete unknown. I said outright I couldn't ride. I was the only one who didn't lie on that one," she says.

Chappell has been in Australia since last year. She boned up on her skills and confidence at a course at the Actor Centre in Sydney, which covered the basics of voice and acting technique, with an element of spiritual and personal development thrown in for good measure.

Being known on New Zealand screens means little in Australia — which is a good thing.

"It feels like starting again," she says. "You don't have a reputation to rely on, so you are judged purely on your work."

Getting the part undoubtedly re-launched Chappell's career. "It's instant exposure. The Australian television industry now knows exactly who I am."

But the part was demanding for city-slicker Chappell. "TV moves fairly fast and this is such a physically demanding role," she says. "We shoot 10 to 14-hour days and conditions are hard because we're outside all the time. I long for the days of Gloss — put on a Liz Mitchell and swan around."

So there's more to looking good in a pair of ultra-fitting jeans and a sweat-soaked singlet? Chappell had to learn to ride and shear a few unfortunate sheep. "The poor sheep looked like Norman Gunston by the time I'd finished."

Chappell is sure McLeod's Daughters will open doors for her and it's definitely given her attitude. "You have to push for work in this country. If the doors aren't open, I'll knock them down."

Chappell has heard good things about New Zealand's dramas, particularly Street Legal which recently sold to an Australian network. So does this mean she wouldn't turn up her nose at working back in New Zealand? "I'm a gypsy. I go anywhere there's a good story."

The Australian television industry appears optimistic about local drama continuing to grow. After the success of shows like SeaChange and Water Rats, new and original shows are coming out and going global.

This year, Channel Ten's The Secret Life of Us had a much-promoted debut in Britain before coming across the ditch. Now McLeod's Daughters are saddling up.

Touted as one of the biggest dramas to be launched by Channel Nine in recent years, the series has rated well in Australia.

The network showed huge confidence in the project by shelling out a rumoured $A500,000 ($625,000) to buy the 55ha property in the Barossa valley where the telemovie was shot.

Nine's head of drama, Kris Noble liked the concept because it was different from the dominant police and medical genres,

"We have had every conceivable medical and police show and they will never go away because with those shows the stories walk in the door," he says.

"You don't have to torture the concept to make the show work. But every day you poke your head out the window and test what the audience wants.

"You also have to think 18 months in advance and when we looked at McLeod's Daughters it felt like people wanted to see something life-affirming, more accessible. It ticked all the boxes."

According to the Age, McLeod's Daughters was guaranteed audiences in 100 countries. US-based Hallmark pay TV network, which has 68 million subscribers, bought the show. Noble says Nine had already put its hand into its pockets before the Hallmark deal, but admits Hallmark's involvement has been a bonus.

With a second series underway, Chappell is confident of a third. "Channel Nine stick by their choices," she says. "All Saints is the most popular show here by far and it took three series to make that happen".

. . . and the story so far

After the death of her father Jack, Claire McLeod is left in charge of Drovers Run — a large cattle property in the middle of nowhere. Out of the blue, half-sister Tess turns up wanting her share. But trouble is brewing and good help is hard to find.

First, Tess leaves the gate open and a couple of cows are run over by one of the redneck farmhands who are helping themselves to barrel loads of the Drovers Run fuel. All this on the day the cows were to be converted to much-needed cash. Those blokes are fired and another pack of Australian salt-of-the-earth manhood is hired.

Unfortunately, taking orders from a woman proves too much for the shearing gang, who quit with only half the flock shorn. Never mind, Claire can shear as good as any man. The women pull together to meet the wool sale deadline, only to realise the sale isn't until next week. By now the relationship between the estranged sisters has mellowed and Tess decides to stick around for a while.

Meanwhile, the other women are developing their own sub-plots.

Becky manages to go to bed with a shearer, but she is a bit "free" with her sexuality. Jodi manages to change outfits and sleep throughout the shearing all-nighter, but she is a teenager. And Meg cooks a lot, but she is a mother.

Lurking in the wings with the potential for conflict are the Ryans, the owners of the neighbouring farm, Killarney, who are waiting to buy out Drovers Run but manage to provide convenient love interests along the way.

By Ana Samways
December 06, 2001
New Zealand Herald