Packed To The Rafters: articles

It's back to Packed to the Rafters

AS memorable movie character Forrest Gump once said: "My momma always said life was like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get."

It is a poignant line, which can be used to describe the many different journeys through life, especially that of a cast of strangers uniting for a new program such as Packed To The Rafters, which broke new ground with its fresh, dynamic and relatable plots when it premiered last year.

For a cast of actors to create such believable chemistry as a family unit is no easy feat, but after flicking through a batch of behind-the-scenes photographs, it is clear the leading cast of this runaway hit stuck like glue from the outset.

When the second season of the program debuts this week the Packed To The Rafters ensemble, including Rebecca Gibney, Erik Thomson, Jessica Marais, Angus McLaren and Jessica McNamee, will have returned from a two-week production break.

Chatting candidly with actress Zoe Ventoura, 29, who plays nurse Melissa Bannon, her affection for her cast mates, especially Hugh Sheridan and George Houvardas, with whom she shares most of her scenes, is obviously genuine and so close she even lets slip the two Packed To The Rafters pranksters can grate on her nerves at times.

"To be honest they are like my little brothers, they are so annoying," she laughs. "They are like 12-year-olds."

Sheridan, 24, plays middle Rafter sibling Ben, Bannon's on-again-off-again boyfriend, while Houvardas, 27, plays Nick 'Carbo' Karandonis, Ben's long-time best friend.

Perth-raised actress Ventoura says it's no flash in the pan to see the trio down at the local pub rehearsing their lines over a bottle of wine and a relaxing bite to eat after a hard day on set.

"It's great and I really feel like I've taken on a new family, which sounds really cheesy, but we do spend so much time together," Ventoura says.

"I was just thinking this week because I've had a busy week and I've spent more time with them and haven't seen my family or boyfriend, but you become so close to them and it's a huge bonus that we all get on so well. It's easier to rehearse your lines but also nice to have a drink with mates as well."

Never ones to shy away from a practical joke, Sheridan laughs as he recalls baring all with his mate Houvardas while filming the last scenes for the first season late last year.

Dubbed the 'naked surprise', the troublesome twosome — with just bowls to cover their privates — waltzed into other actors' scenes to cause a stir.

"It probably wasn't that much of a surprise by the time we did it because we had been saying we were going to walk on set naked and everyone had dared us to do it," he says while spending his time off in Western Australia's Margaret River region with Houvardas.

"But I think people had sort of forgotten by the time we did it . . . Rebecca didn't realise we were naked straight away but was shocked when she did!"

The boys' relationship was a natural from day one with the pair sharing similar funny bones during the audition process.

By that stage there were two actors vying for the major children parts and after a disastrous chemistry with the first person up for the audition, Sheridan says he was glad when Houvardas arrived.

"The first time we met was at the audition and we hit it off straight away," he says. "The other person auditioning for George's role was tall, scary and not funny, so that was a bit worrying. He was the first Carbo on set and then George came in and it was like, 'Please dear God'. He was so hilarious and very funny."

Just like crime drama Underbelly, Packed To The Rafters has invigorated the state of locally made drama and reinforces the truism that if a product is good, it will sell.

This was further emphasised when the two Australian dramas dominated the 51st Logie Awards earlier this year with showbiz survivor Gibney, 44, securing the coveted Gold statue.

Sheridan won the Most Popular New Male Talent prizes during the event, while Marais, 24, won the female equivalent, as well as triumphing a second time to win the Graham Kennedy Award For Most Outstanding New Talent.

There's no denying the show is a hit, attracting an average national weekly audience of 1.9 million in its first season. However, Thomson, 42, who plays father and husband Dave Rafter, says the cast will never let success go to their heads.

"We have 10-and-a-half weeks coming up and we will be back on air so that puts the wind in your sails," he says, recalling how during the filming of the first season the cast were flying blind because the program hadn't yet been broadcast.

"Hopefully the show will continue to kick a few goals."

Packed To The Rafters, Tuesday, Seven, 8.30pm.

By Erin McWhirter
June 24, 2009
The Courier-Mail