Blue Heelers: articles

Lisa's Dilemma… To Be (Maggie) Or Not To Be

As Australia's most successful drama, Blue Heelers, chalks up episode number 150, gold Logie winner Lisa McCune is confused about her future. Should she stay and risk turning stale and being typecast? Or should she leave while she and the show are at their peak to pursue other goals? McCune took off her other hat—that of Constable Maggie Doyle—and talked to Lisa Mitchell.

The conundrum is, to stay at the top you've got to return to the bottom.

Lisa McCune has just completed the 150th episode of Blue Heelers (8 July). Since the program premiered in January 1994, she has won four Logies and scooped the Gold, all in her first big gig. Where to from here?

"Winning the Gold Logie throws you into a state of confusion… I'm so happy that I got it because it means the people you're doing it for like you… But now I've kind of got to start again at the bottom. I don't want to stay on that level. I feel like I want to start the hard work again, now."

The "hard work" is of building a character and show from scratch. For three and a half years, McCune had focused her energies on a formula-driven show that evolves the characters at the speed of flightless birds. It's hardly grist to the mill for new talent. But a successful stint in the theatre in March—in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music—followed by a starring role in the Logies has given McCune the impetus for change.

I was really ready to do it (theatre). I said to Ric (Pellizzeri, the producer), for me to be interested in Blue Heelers any longer, I've got to be aware I can do other things."

After speaking to the writers last week about Maggie Doyle's future, McCune thinks she will stay for the next year though nothing is finalised. Loyalty to fans and Seven for giving her two pilots (Radio Waves, Newlyweds) before Heelers, is obviously a big factor in this decision.

"It's not time yet. It would be so easy to walk away with doing a successful show and get something else but it would never be as good. I'd never be as happy with the cast and crew."

When and what to do after the top-rating program are vexing questions and McCune's tick list is a lengthy one that she is happy to talk about under the "Freedom Of Uncertainty Act".

It includes a telemovie—although there are no offers yet—another television series, more theatre a role in TV production, some comedy, photography, and to produce and present a "one-off, funny, Australian special" using the core crew from Heelers during Seven's non-ratings period. "I'm saving my money so when I'm finished I can choose what I want to do and I am getting better (at deciding what I want). I'm thinking I don't want to jump into a series half way through. I don't ant to be the third doctor in a row.

Off the box, which adds weight and years to the 26-year-old performer, McCune appears elfin and those large almond eyes are quite bewitching. She is unrecognisable as the golden girl with a poodle-do at the Logies: her shoes need polishing, her pony tail is messy, her roots need doing, she looks fabulous without make-up but you know this is not on her mind as she eases into another bout of publicity. Underwhelmingly normal.

She is reluctant to categorise herself in any way but realises that if she doesn't, we will do it for her. So, while the "sweet" and "nice" tags apply, so do "strong", "average punter" and "fiery temper". But this is never enough. How does it feel to have her life continually summed up in column centimetres?

"It's great when you read something and you think, 'Great. They didn't make me sound like I don't have a brain'. I'm lucky I don't play a ditsy role but it's hard because I'm quite a scatty person. You should see me some days, just off with the fairies, just giggly, just girlie."

Not to forget "klutzy"

This is someone who can have a serious conversation about the importance of balance in her life and then get up and fall flat on her face. A sort of endearing clumsiness and comedic streak that falls into the Oh-my-God-I-can't-believe-she-said-that category.

"I think it's good that people are guessing. Maybe that's instinctively why I can never say what I'm like because, as an actor, you can never let anybody know too much about you because they can never watch your performance. They know more about Lisa McCune than the character."

She prefers not to talk in depth about her family in Perth—mother, father and brother—but is open enough about Tim Disney the former stand-by props man who know works on Ocean Girl. They have been an item for nearly a year.

So how did her bloke handle the Blue Heelers episodes between Maggie and P.J.—the big snog and the big bonk? Very well, she says. It was, after all, the tamest resolve of sexual tension. "I don't want Maggie rolling around in bed with people… It's a funny thing, but I'm kind of guarded about her sexuality."

Maggie's alter ego, on the other hand would not have a bar of it: "I could never handle them kissing someone and I don't know how he (Disney) does it." Disney is very protective of her, she says, and it has only been in the past six months that she has received some "weird" fan mail from "boys". Adoring fan mail on the Internet—the Home of Miss Lisa McCune web site—are more explicit in their devotion to her and her response when shown one e-mail message is, "Wow, amazing. Oh, yuk!"

The next few paragraphs remain unwritten as the conversation turns classified. Girl talk, Men, the dating game, and strategy. Followed by a brief mention of cooking and cleaning, both of which McCune enjoys as therapy after a day on the set. It seems we are unlikely to lose her to Hollywood or feature films just yet, if ever. McCune sees herself very much as a "TV animal", working either in front of or behind the camera. She enjoys the pace of TV filming and the ability to perfect performances in the editing suite or on the set and drawing the viewer into a character with good close-up work.

Early forays into feature film—a cameo in a friend's yet-to-be finished film, Inner Sanctuary, and another in a schlock horror Body Melt—did not leave her hankering for more.

"When I leave Blue Heelers, I'm not going to be out to prove anything… I'm not out to prove I'm a fantastic actress or terrific singer, I'm out really for my own kicks. It's my hobby and I do it for a profession. I'm really lucky."

Ahh, it seems like only yesterday that Blue Heelers all began, she reminisces, a little too well. Something about a cover story, a Green Guide cover story and it trashed the premiere… Time to go.

By Lisa Mitchel
June 26, 1997
The Age