Stingers: articles

The big chill

IT IS a bleak Melbourne day and the Crimplex, as the Stingers studio is known, is as inviting as a deep freeze.

The split-level warehouse has been designed to house various sets, a wardrobe department and all those obscure knick-knacks that have at one stage been props in the undercover police drama.

The only problem is the Crimplex just wasn't made with seasonal changes in mind.

In winter, heavy jackets are mandatory to warm the bones when freezing drafts whirl around the building.

On this particular bleak Melbourne day, jackets are not enough for the make-up team who have taken to huddling together like chicks in a nest as they peer over the directors' shoulders.

The directors have their eyes fixed on Roxane Wilson (Constable Danni Mayo) and Anita Hegh (Detective Sergeant Ellen MacKenzie).

They appear uptight. (Maybe their joints have frozen from the cold.)

"She's my mother," MacKenzie says, holding up a photo of a woman.

Mayo says nothing.

Instead she receives the news with a disbelieving look that would be better placed on The Bold and the Beautiful.

The director calls "cut" and the make-up team dutifully rise from their nest and begin clucking over the actors.

As Hegh drops out of character she pulls a face and pretends to flash her undies at the camera.

The chilly atmosphere melts as Wilson bursts out laughing. "I'm much more silly than my character," Hegh says later.

That's an understatement. Fellow cast members describe Hegh as "wild" and the "furtherest away from her character" of them all.

Hegh doesn't disagree, but tries to bring her colleagues down with her.

"Often we're really quite silly and a lot of that, believe it or not, is a stress outlet," Hegh says.

"If you walk around too serious all the time I think you might burst."

If you keep a cold, serious tone on a television show for too long you risk the same fate.

The actors are at ease with a smile on their face so it is only natural their characters would also crave the warmth the odd giggle has to offer.

Wilson says, for this reason, scriptwriters have made a determined effort this season to brighten storylines with a little personality and humour.

"Basically, it was to bring in the female audience," Wilson says.

"The show was very dry, it was very serious and it was more like the undercover world really is. But there wasn't a lot of exposure to the characters' lives. Unless people know how going undercover is going to affect the character, they don't care."

Peter Phelps who plays Senior Constable Peter Church agrees the change is for the better.

"There was a conscious decision with the first series to just be undercover and have a mystery about the people. But we felt that if we wanted to keep the series going people would want to know about the lives of these characters so we explored where they're coming from, their past, their upbringing, what they feel about each other, where they live – all these things are going to open up," Phelps says.

Stingers actors are also letting down their guards and relying less on series adviser and former undercover police officer Guy Wilding.

It was Wilding who inspired Stingers. From the beginning he has worked closely with the scriptwriters and has recounted real-life experiences to the actors as well.

Sometimes he gave away too much information which resulted in the police warning Stingers producers they were jeopardising undercover work by revealing tricks of the trade.

So the Stingers cast are now taking a bit more poetic licence, according to Kate Kendall who plays Constable Angie Piper.

"Guy Wilding still oversees story lines but we're kind of just finding our own way now," Kendall says.

"We're in a very organic phase with it. There's not too much thinking going on – there's not as much conscious decision making. It's more like 'that feels good, let's do that'."

The mutual understanding the cast now have has been built both on set and off. Kendall says she enjoys horseriding in the Victorian mountains with "Phelpsy" and all the cast love heading around to his house for Thai food.

"I reckon it probably is unusual after three years that we still all get along," Kendall says.

"It is unique. It's pretty amazing that we even choose to spend some of our social time together."

It is even more amazing when you consider two of the cast are newlyweds and one is due to say "I do" at Christmas.

In January, Wilson married former Blue Heeler Grant Bowler.

Former Brisbane lad Ian Stenlake, who plays Constable Oliver Stone, married singer Rachel Beck earlier this year.

Stenlake says their jobs are so demanding it is difficult to see each other.

"It's tough," he admits. "We haven't had a day off together since the wedding."

Hegh is set to find out what Stenlake means when she ties the knot with theatre director Peter Evans in November. The fact they'll only have a few days off for their honeymoon over Christmas should be a sign of things to come.

But some things are worth the effort and the cast are hopeful viewers will warm to Stingers when it comes back on air.

Then the only thing that will need heating is the Crimplex.

Stingers, Channel 9, Tuesday, 9.30pm.

By Allison White
September 13, 2001
The Courier Mail