Winners & Losers: articles

REUNITED: Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Melissa Bergland, Virginia Gay and Melanie Vallejo in Winners and Losers.

Standout actor Melanie Vallejo's new drama could be a real winner

WILL Melanie Vallejo be Australia's next big TV star? That is the question people who have seen the first episode of Winners & Losers are asking.

The 31-year-old is the standout actor in Channel 7's new drama from Packed to the Rafters creator Bevan Lee.

Winners & Losers is a massive gamble for Seven. The series is nothing like Rafters. It is quirky, raunchy and aimed squarely at female TV viewers.

The plot revolves around four inner-city women (played by Vallejo, Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Melissa Bergland and Virginia Gay) who meet up at their high school reunion.

At school, the quartet were nicknamed "the losers" and they are still traumatised by the experience a decade later.

At the end of the first episode, a major plot twist occurs which turns them into winners and changes their lives forever.

Think of Winners & Losers as Sex and the City meets Ugly Betty with a dash of teen-revenge movie Heathers thrown in.

"This feels like a very special show and a great opportunity for me personally," says Vallejo.

She plays 27-year-old Sophie Wong, who was teased throughout her school years and nicknamed "So Wong".

Back then, Wong was the target of bullies for being fat, smart, and part-Asian.

It is a very different Wong who fronts up to the reunion -- a toned gym instructor who is into parties, casual sex and sports a cocaine habit.

Sophie is a breakout role for Vallejo. Many viewers will remember her as Kat Ripley, who had a brief fling with Ben (Hugh Sheridan), on Rafters.

"I feel very lucky as the actress who gets to play her (Sophie) because she does stand out in the first episode," Vallejo says.

"You see all these layers to her straight away, whereas with the other girls the layers come out as the series progresses."

Vallejo is being modest. Quite simply, she has "it" -- that special quality that could turn her into the next Jessica Marais.

Like Sophie, Vallejo is of mixed heritage. Her father is half-Spanish and half-Filipino and her mother's background is Ukrainian.

She grew up in Adelaide and completed a drama degree at Flinders University.

TV appearances include All Saints and Cops L.A.C. as well as Rafters (she has remained good friends with Sheridan) and a swag of TV commercials.

Vallejo moved to Melbourne with fiance Matt when she won the Winners & Losers role.

"To find four actresses who actually like each other is quite rare," Vallejo says.

"The producers wanted to keep us in a little bubble, let us really connect, and develop real friendships."

Gay played Gabrielle Jaeger on All Saints, Bergland featured in Underbelly: Tell Them Lucifer Was Here, and Tuckwell-Smith has been seen on All Saints, Home and Away and The Strip.

It is Sophie's cocaine use that will be most confronting for viewers. Seven is taking a big risk in giving a lead character in a major drama a drug habit. It could easily alienate viewers.

"You're not supposed to judge a character (but) in the first couple of episodes I was thinking, 'Why is she acting like this?' " Vallejo says.

"Sophie is also the one who has changed the most in her looks and personality (from her high school years).

"You meet her at a time of life when she's at the height of her craziness."

Vallejo is glad that Seven has taken a "softly-softly" approach to Winners & Losers.

The show has been quietly filming in Melbourne since September with little fanfare.

Vallejo knows that any show "from the creator of Packed to the Rafters" will inevitably be compared to Seven's standout hit, which averages around 1.8 million viewers each week.

"Packed to the Rafters is such a phenomenon. The planets aligned, but we're a really different show," she says.

"Their show is about family and ours is about friends.

"I don't have any (ratings expectations). I just want people to like it."

Winners & Losers, Channel 7, Tuesday, 8.30pm

By Colin Vickery
March 16, 2011
The Courier-Mail