Marshall Law: articles

lisa mccune

Australia's new Ally McBeal?

Lisa McCune is back on the small screen with a new series described as Ally McBeal meets Sex And The City!

It wasn't long after 10-times Logie winner Lisa McCune dropped the bombshell that she was going to quit the Seven Network's top-rating drama series, Blue Heelers, that station executives were talking about taking her to court.

And Lisa loved the idea!

The court they had in mind was Melbourne's Magistrates' Court, around which they wanted to base a new series with Australia's favourite star in a decidedly different role from Maggie Doyle, the popular Mr Thomas country cop whose TV life ended tragically when she was ambushed in a seemingly deserted warehouse.

Once Lisa had made it clear that, after six years, she needed a break from the relentless pace of filming 42 one-hour episodes a year and that she really wanted to stretch her wings professionally, the production team at Seven worked hard to come up with a format that would encourage Lisa to remain there.

After all, it's not every day you discover someone whose appeal is such that she has four times taken out the Gold Logie for the Most Popular Personality on Australian TV, a further five Silver Logies as Australia's Most Popular Female Actor and a Best New Talent Logie, not to mention a couple of People's Choice Awards.

So no one at the network was in a hurry to see someone with that sort of pulling power slip through their fingers.

When the concept of Marshall Law was first discussed, Lisa was already committed to starring on stage as Maria in The Sound Of Music—the musical which proved a box-office bonanza for the show's producers, tacking up record=breaking audiences.

However, Lisa never imagined when she left Blue Heelers that it would be two-and-a-half years before she'd be back in front of the cameras again. But she hadn't reckoned on a couple of unexpected developments.

The first was the surprise discovery, while Lisa and her film technician husband Tim Disney were in the middle of a round-the-world holiday, that she was going to be a mum for the first time. She gave birth to Archer midway through last year.

Lisa and Tim happily admit to being so besotted with their baby son they feel they have a new dimension to their lives they could never have imagined.

"We both feel so blessed," Lisa says. "I wanted to have time to settle into a routine at home with Archer, so the time I've had away has worked out perfectly.

"I felt I needed a break and I'm sure everyone at home must have needed a break from me." she adds, smiling. But she's delighted to be back at work on Marshall Law, in which she plays lawyer Ros Marshall.

With her sister Verity (played by Alison Whyte) being dux of her school and carving a reputation for herself at the bar, and Ros and Verity's father a legend in legal circles, Ros initially fought against having anything to do with the law. But Dylan (William McInnes)—an eminent QC and Verity's former husband—convinced Ros her destiny lay in the law and, after she went back to her studies, he found Ros a job in the Office of the Public Prosecutor. She knows this is perhaps her last real chance to prove herself.

"My character Ros is a fun girl. She takes her cases seriously and she's committed to doing the best by her clients, but her approach to life suggests she's quite immature," Lisa explains.

While reluctant to pigeonhole the new format, those associated with the show suggest it's not in the mould of Seven's US produced legal drama The Practice, but more Ally McBeal meets Sex And The City. Marshall Law producer Alan Hardy says Ros and Verity disagree on just about everything.

"we had this scene where we were screaming at each other the first day we began working," Lisa recalls.

"I've never had a sister? I grew up with brothers—so I wasn't sure where I was going to go with this. But working with Alison's been an absolute gift,

"Verity is ambitious—about her career and her life, but content to stay at home when she's not working. She's virtually brought Ros up and she often acts more like a mother than a sister.

"she resents that Ros is always out on another date with a new lover, so there's a healthy sibling rivalry there.

"Ros has always looked up to Verity, who is the high-achiever in the family. But Verity is quietly envious of Ros's more relaxed, fun-loving attitude."

While Lisa enjoys playing Ros in the new series, she says she's closer to Verity—Alison's character—in real life.

"Everything must be organised within an inch of my life or I panic," she smiles.

"Ros is immensely fond of Dylan, Verity's ex. She thinks of him as a big brother and was devastated when he and Verity split.

"She relies of him for advice and he's obviously very fond of Ros but he has the ability to provoke situations when Ros and Verity are together, and there's all this unresolved sexual tension between Verity and Dylan.

"It's a great cast, with Anne Phelan, Frank Gallacher and Jane Hall—and you've never seen a better pair of legs in stilettos that that girl," Lisa adds, laughing.

Meanwhile, Alison Whyte suggests she couldn't be further away from the conservative, uptight, fiercely ambitious Verity.

"I wish I was that well=groomed, but it takes a team of experts to achieve this," Alison laughs of her sleek, straightened, shoulder-length hair. perfect makeup and designer suits.

In the original pilot of the new series, which had the working title Leather & Silk, Alison had been cast in the role of younger barrister Prue Staley—now played by Jane Hall.

Kerry Armstrong, who stars in the ABC's new medical legal drama series MDA, was initially cast as Ros's sister Verity.

"I had just had my first baby—she was only four weeks old when we made the pilot," Alison explains. "I don't know how I did it, because having a young child is so exhausting.

"Rose is almost a year old and my life revolves around looking after her, work and sleep. Lisa and I share a dressing room and we spend most of out time swapping baby stories. We're fortunate because we have such supportive partners. Tim and Fred [Alison's husband, actor Fred Whitlock] are just fantastic, otherwise it would be impossible to do this."

The casting of William McInnes as Dylan in Marshall Law reunites Lisa with her former Blue Heelers cast mate. For five years, William played the stoic Snr Con Nick Schultz before he sent female pulses racing as Max Connors, the world-weary former foreign correspondent who won the heart of Laura Gibson (Sigrid Thornton) in the ABC's SeaChange.

"The big pluses on Marshall Law for me are working with Lisa and the fact it's being done in Melbourne, which means I get i go home every night to my family," William says.

"It's a different situation when you're committed to a set number of episodes. I couldn't see myself going back to the sort of schedule where you're doing 42 a year, as was the case with Heelers."

During her pregnancy, Lisa sat in the public gallery during court hearings to familiarise herself with procedure, but she feels her most valuable research was spent chatting to barristers about case histories.

William says he didn't feel the need to research that heavily to get into his new character. "Most of it's there in the writing," he says. "I'd met a couple of judges and barristers. There are a few who have dabbled in acting and there are similarities in the way some barristers perform in the court—but, in their case, the pay's a little better," he adds with a smile.

Alan Hardy says storylines are based on actual cases.

"For anyone who ever thought the law was dull, you'll soon change your mind. This series is anything but," Alan says.

"It's based around research done on the professional and private lives of a group of lawyers, barristers and judges—and they're some of the sharpest, funniest people you'll meet.

"William is an absolute firecracker. He's incredibly quick-witted and he tends to keep the vibe going on the set.

"I'd never worked with Lisa before, but I admired her work and she's an amazing young woman. She has this warmth which endears her to audiences, but there's so much more to her. She's going to surprise a few people here.

"It ain't Maggie Doyle, that's for sure."

By Patrice Fidgeon
August 03, 2002
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