MDA: articles

Donovan and McConnell

Alice McConnell's character loves thy ex-Neighbour Jason Donovan in MDA.

Landing a dream job… opposite a dreamboat

When she was a kid, posters of the young Jason Donovan—then at the height of his post-Neighbours fame—jostled for space on Alice McConnell's bedroom walls.

Her ambition at the time was to be Australia's first female prime minister. Donovan, she recalls, was going to be her boyfriend.

Years down the track, and less than a year out of drama school, McConnell finds herself in a clinch with the actor, nuzzling his nipples and running her fingers through his hair. The scene is broadcast around the country on the ABC drama series, MDA.

"I tell him everything, but I don't think I've told him about that," McConnell chuckles later, as she speaks of her childhood crush. "I had a picture of Jason Donovan on my wall when I was about 12. I always wanted to meet him and have Jason as a boyfriend!"

She may not be prime minister and Donovan is not her boyfriend, but McConnell has the next best thing: the pair are good mates and costars in the medico-legal drama, MDA.

She plays Caitlin King, a young Medical Defence Australia case manager and lover to his toughasnails litigator, Richard Savage.

There is little similarity between the highly ambitious Caitlin and the actor who portrays her, and McConnell sometimes shudders as her alter ego treads a minefield of personal and professional politics.

"She's frustrating," she says. "I sometimes think 'What are you thinking?' "

But the character deals with issues that working women face daily, and McConnell is proud to portray that.

"Unfortunately, when young women make mistakes in the workforce, they cop the sexism and prejudice."

Take, for example, that relationship between Caitlin and Savage, nemesis of the MDA team.

When Caitlin's boss, Happy Henderson (Shane Bourne), learns about the relationship, he sacks her in a fit of fury. The decision is reversed, but he later accuses Caitlin of undermining MDA cases by leaking information to her lover, of letting her heart lead her head.

His reaction is very different when Caitlin's male colleague gets personal with a client.

"If you look at the way Happy dealt with the developing personal relationship between Jamie and Wendy Rossi, there were such obvious differences in their treatment," McConnell says, feelings of injustice apparent in her tone.

"But she learns from her mistakes, she's not afraid to go in there head first and f--k up, she keeps going, climbing that ladder, challenging those men."

For McConnell, too, the past year presented a challenge. She landed the role in MDA soon after graduating from the Victorian College of Arts and, apart from a short stint playing the adulterous Naomi in an ABC adaptation of Elizabeth Coleman's Secret Bridesmaid's Business, had never worked in television or film.

"The transition has been an interesting one, a steep learning curve, eyeopening and very educational as well. It has almost felt like fourthyear training because we didn't get any camera training at VCA."

She has relished working with a cast she likens to a "company of clowns" and cried with joy when she learnt she had been cast alongside the talented Kerry Armstrong. "It was just so huge straight out of drama school!"

But McConnell's real love is theatre and she dreams of returning to London, where she previously spent a year, to continue her career.

"There is something about the feeling of their industry over there that I feel an understanding of. I just enjoy the finer qualities of the way they work both in film and television or theatre."

Now that London-based Donovan has returned to the UK, she might even have a place to stay.

MDA airs on Tuesdays at 9.30pm on the ABC.

By Kylie Miller
October 24, 2002
The Age