Mcleod's Daughters: articles

Dancing with horses

ROLLING stones may gather no moss but they can pick up an air of mystery. And in the case of Simmone Jade Mackinnon the touch of mystery extends to both actress and the character she plays.

Tonight Mackinnon makes her entrance, fittingly in a cloud of dust on horseback, as Stevie Hall in McLeod's Daughters.

Stevie, described as an "out-there" kind of person, has been a rodeo nomad and has a few secrets. She's a wild-child friend of Claire McLeod. She is tough, loyal and calls a spade a shovel. She also has the biggest collection of cowboy boots ever seen on Drovers Run, revealing a taste for showmanship.

McKinnon has never lived the rodeo life—despite being born in Mt Isa, home to one of the big events on the rodeo calendar—but she has spent much of her life on the move. As a child she lived in a caravan with her parents for many years as they travelled around Australia.

"Maybe that's why I get itchy feet after every couple of years. Got a bit of gypsy in me," she says, adopting a mysterious tone, her striking brown eyes sparkling mischievously.

But while there is a hint of the free spirit about her—it's a quality she admires in her McLeod's character—it is perhaps her role in the stage production of Cats which has left the most lasting mark.

Having trained as a classical ballet dancer, McKinnon started auditioning for more cabaret-style dance shows when she was 18. She got the role of Cassandra in Cats and toured with the production for two years.

She thinks it was Cats that sparked the desire to act. It has also left her with a feline grace, a look of supple power in a lean, small frame. And, like a cat, she looks comfortably curled on her chair, even though it is a hard fold-out type set at a table in a draughty hall where the McLeod's cast and crew have recently had lunch.

After Cats, McKinnon did TV commercials. Injury had taken its toll and, because she was still keen to perform, acting was the next step. In 1998 she got a job on Baywatch Down Under which led to a role on Baywatch Hawaii.

"I learned a lot. It was hard work, long hours, I wouldn't say it was emotionally draining," she laughs. "If you are in the water for 12 hours, even if you are in Hawaii, you end up cold. So in that way it was hard."

Because her character was a bit of a tomboy, an Australian who flew a helicopter, McKinnon doesn't think people saw her as a Baywatch babe. "I got to wear clothes," she says and then adds with a laugh, "every now and then."

Although viewers may not have seen her as a babe, it proved difficult to move onto something else in Los Angeles.

"Baywatch helped me get a visa but then to get an agent with the Baywatch tag on your head was near impossible. It took me quite a while. I thought being on a show I'd get an agent quite quickly. I don't know what world I was living in.

"I would just call up and they would say 'no, I'm sorry'—they just totally knocked me back. I'd ask, 'I'm in a show, doesn't that count for anything?' 'No, not here, especially not Baywatch.' So Baywatch got me there but then it hindered me."

Eventually McKinnon found an agent and picked up a role in Attila the Hun at her first audition. She spent three months in Lithuania playing Attila's lover and wife, two roles, and loved the change from Baywatch. Gone were the false eyelashes and layers of make-up. Instead McKinnon had to grab handfuls of dirt and rub it in her hair, on her arms and on her face to make herself look grubby enough to be convincing as tent-dwelling nomad.

While she doesn't have to apply her own dirt in McLeod's Daughters, McKinnon is again having to face the difficulties of shooting on location.

"I'm learning to deal with the rain," she says, touching on the current problem—rain forced the McLeod's team to reschedule and move the previous day's shoot.

The weather, and Bridie Carter going down with flu, put McKinnon in the front line for a week. "I've been in every scene but two, it's been pretty full on," she says, signing a pile of scripts while chatting during one of her few breaks. Just then a sound guy rushes up to retrieve a mike that was strapped to her during the morning's shoot.

It's at hectic times like this that she really appreciates the refuge that her trailer offers. "It's nice to have a little haven," she says. "It's nice to get away, no offence to anyone, but when you get fussed around and people fiddling with you non-stop, it's really nice to be alone."

From her expression it would seem coping with the business of having hair, make-up and wardrobe people dabbing and tugging at her whenever the cameras are not rolling takes as much energy as the acting itself.

When it comes to being Stevie, she is as unequivocal as the character. "I'm having a blast," she grins. But despite McKinnon's frankness, her willingness to answer questions, there is something enigmatic about her. Just like a cat.

By Liz Grant
October 08, 2003
The West Australian