Blue Heelers: articles

Happy on the run

After five years on Blue Heelers, Jane Allsop is spreading her wings. Kylie Miller reports.

When Jane Allsop finished work on Blue Heelers last month, the first thing she did was call her hairdresser. After five years as a brunette, the actor returned to her natural blonde, shedding the long chocolate tresses the drama’s producers chose for her character, Constable Jo Parrish, exactly 200 episodes earlier.

“It was a bit symbolic of taking the reins back on my life, I guess,” Allsop says.

“My hair was blonde and curly and long and I came on the show and they said they wanted it dark and straight. I sort of thought, well why did you give me the job?”

But an earlier guest role on Heelers had convinced the producers that Allsop was the woman for the role, a brunette foil to Lisa McCune’s blonde girl-next-door Maggie Doyle.

Allsop joined the Southern Star series in May 1999, replacing Tasma Walton, who, coincidentally, had landed the role of Constable Dash McKinley for which Allsop first auditioned three years earlier. At 23, she had just finished studying at VCA’s School of Creative Arts and was teaching drama.

The “life-changing break” on the then top-rating Australian drama brought with it long hours, a steep learning curve, financial security and fame.

Now 28, she has decided to move on and, in an episode screening on July 7, Constable Parrish is caught in a blast that triggers a tragic chain of events in Mt Thomas, billed by the script department as “The Cataclysm”.

Although Allsop was initially unfazed by the producers’ decision to kill off her character, the nonchalance didn’t last.

“I was telling (partner) Dave (Serafin) later and I suddenly got really upset. I felt really funny that this was upsetting me, but she’s someone I know,” she says.

Allsop remains close to many on the Heelers set. Her horse is agisted on co-star John Wood’s rural property and her fondest memories are of working with people with whom she became friends.

Moments such as watching co-star Martin Sacks mugging in the background over the shoulder of a gushing female fan who had bailed up Allsop in the country.

“Marty was in the background rolling his eyes and then he just tripped over in a ditch and twisted his ankle. It was a great moment of karma,” Allsop says, laughing.

Memorable also was competing with members of the crew to come up with words for parts of the anatomy to write in her “official” police duty book—most of them bawdy. The book—complete with dozens of farewell messages and a song written by Wood and performed at her send-off—was given as a gift to Allsop.

“Being at Heelers after learning the ropes was sort of like pressing pause, and it was pressing pause at a really happy time of my life, but I had to live, to take the next step of my life… it wasn’t the challenge it used to be, and you get hungry,” she says.

What is feeding Allsop’s hunger is finishing a film script she started writing after college. Born of a frustration with the lack of strong female roles in scripts, it is a drama about a girl who starts to uncover secrets in her family’s past and the implications it has on her present and those around her.

“It’s taken me five years to get the balls to show it to anyone,” she says with characteristic candour. “I held back and held back, not really knowing other than my own judgement whether it was good or not. You get really scared of being another bloody actor who is trying to write something.”

The feedback from industry peers, including John Wood and former Heelersproducer Ric Pellizzeri, who now oversees Neighbours for Grundy, was positive.

If the film is made, Allsop is uncertain whether she would retain the role she wrote for herself.

“It’s very tempting for an actor to manipulate the writing to make something what they think it should be. There are a lot of things that I have written that the actor in me doesn’t like; it’s like ‘Don’t make me do that scene!’ But you have got to separate those things. I’m looking forward to pumping out another draft, hopefully over the next couple of months,” she says.

Financially, Allsop says she does not need to work if the right projects don’t come her way. Instead, she is planning a tropical holiday with Serafin, whom she met in drama classes at 13, is starting to cook after years of on-set catering, and is supervising work on their home.

Recently the couple renovated the courtyard, installing a four-person spa and an inside-outside bar, playfully signposted Bada Bing, after mob boss Tony Soprano’s topless haunt in the cult drama The Sopranos. Redesigning the bathroom is her next venture, hopefully with the assistance of her recently retired father.

“It’s nice to have the pressure off—I feel that I don’t need to make any huge decisions over the next couple of years about taking on any things that are not the right thing to do,” Allsop says.

And she is hoping the new hairdo will distract the fans, who for the past few years have been a regular, if sometimes disconcerting, part of her world.

“It can be a bit eerie,” she says, smiling. “You find yourself holding a pair of undies in Myer or somewhere and these people are standing really close to you talking about you as if you can’t hear.”

Blue Heelers screens on Wednesdays at 8.30pm on Channel Seven. Allsop’s final episode screens on July 7.

By Kylie Miller
June 24, 2004
The Age