‘Lisa’ (5 May 1996)

5 May 1996
Sun Herald

LISA McCune, officially voted Australia’s most popular actress and most eligible woman, is having a bad day. Out of bed at the crack of dawn, she’s filming a scene in Melbourne’s historic Williamstown as the rain drizzles down and the bitter wind blows, and she’s feeling anything but popular or eligible.

She’s up to the fifth take and keeps stumbling over her lines – all legal jargonese.

Finally she cracks and lets forth a stream of language which would make even the cops at the NSW Royal Commission blush as the Blue Heelers’ crew looks on and laughs good naturedly.

Snapping back into focus, she smiles through gritted teeth: “I can get this right. Do I look worried?”

And get it right she does, on the very next take.

“Some days it just does not go well,” she says later, sitting inside the Williamstown Historical Society’s headquarters, which provides the rustic old world charm for today’s location. “One day I had to do 19 takes before I got it right. I was beside myself. I was throwing my hat on the ground, jumping up and down screaming, ‘Why isn’t this f***ing working?!”

“You have your good days and your bad days. I can be grumpy one day and floating on air the next. That’s just life. It’s just as well no one takes it too seriously.”

It’s hard to picture the unflappably nice, angelic-looking blonde having a hissy fit – but then, there is much more behind this girl-next-door than meets the eye.

“You wouldn’t think it to look at her, but she can go off – she loves a dance, likes a drink, likes a good time,” says Martin Sacks, who plays fellow cop and Maggie Doyle’s on-off love interest.

“On the show she’s so straight and Pollyanna-ish, but in real life she’s not like that at all.”

At NOW’s photo shoot, Sydney-born, Perth-bred 25-year-old McCune speaks enthusiastically about her plans for the weekend. She’s flying up to the Gold Coast launch of the Hard Rock Cafe with boyfriend Jamie Osborne, the guitarist in rock band Choice, who she met three years ago while doing back-up vocals for the group.

“Jamie and I went to the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in Melbourne and it was great – all this free booze. We got smashed! So I hope it’s like that on the Gold Coast,” she jokes.

Not that she’s a lush. Her Blue Heelers schedule doesn’t allow for it. As she points out, there’s no way she wants to rise at 5am with a sore head for a day of car chases and catching crims. Besides, the action scenes are her favourite.

“I love a good gun-toting siege and I love a car chase,” she says, beaming. “I love getting out on location and there are fast cars and skids and prangs. The bogan in you comes out and it’s fantastic!”

When McCune started on Blue Heelers 2 1/2 years ago, the then director, now supervising producer Ric Pellizzeri, thought the doll-sized actress looked too fragile to play a feisty cop, but has been surprised by her mettle.

“I thought, she’s so tiny, she’s dwarfed by the rest of the guys, how is she going to play a cop?,” he recalls.

“But she turned out to have a strong physicality. I’ve just watched her do a search in a shearing shed, where she has to upturn people’s belongings. She just rips into it. She’s the same with the cars and the guns. She’s always covered in bruises, but she never complains. She likes the danger and excitement. She’s certainly a woman of contrasts, because on one hand she looks like she needs to be protected and looked after, but on the other there’s this very strong person who enjoys bashing our guest actors over the head.”

Contradictions abound in Lisa McCune. While she’s adored by the public and receives sackloads of fan mail, mainly from girls who see Maggie Doyle as a role model, she is wary of being pigeon-holed as the ever-smiling girl-next-door.

“I guess it’s better than being labled Lisa McCune super-vixen,” she laughs. “But it’s not me. Sometimes, when people tell me that, I think, ‘How nice, but if only they knew …’

“The problem with having that image is that you have to break out of it.”

Much as McCune adores Blue Heelers and Maggie Doyle, she wants her next role to be as far removed from that as possible. She’s currently playing an emotionally abused wife in the low-budget film Inner Sanctuary, but says she’d love to play a prostitute after observing the streetwalkers outside her recently bought apartment in Melbourne’s red light district, St Kilda.

But McCune’s not in a hurry to hang up her holster. She joined Blue Heelers as a 23-year-old after an inauspicious TV debut as the face of the Coles supermarket chain. While most of her contemporaries from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts have had periods of pulling beers or waiting tables, McCune has enjoyed a dream run which about she has no illusions.

Trained as a singer, she admits to being riddled with insecurity about her acting ability, having a crisis over turning 25 because each passing year means fewer opportunities, and prone to moments of panic about her future despite being tagged one of the country’s brightest young talents.

“You can never believe what you read because, although people might think I’m hot at the moment, the minute I’m not doing Blue Heelers any more people will say ‘Lisa who?’ and then I’ll start appearing in whatever-happened-to articles,” she says, her brow furrowing.

“If I get work, that’s great. I think the one thing that may help me is that I’ve done this show and it has credibility. Hopefully later on I won’t have to take a job because I’m on the brink of bankruptcy, I’ll take it because I want to do it.”

The modesty is not false. Martin Sacks says he just shakes his head in disbelief when he hears his co-star talk that way.

“She’s very self-deprecating,” he says. “I mean, she’s been on the show for two and a half years and she’ll still turn around and say ‘Is that okay?’ after every take.

“She has a strong sense of self-doubt which isn’t matched by her work. Lisa’s always convinced that if she does something wrong she’ll get the sack, while I think ‘they day they sack you will be the day hell freezes over’.

Ric Pellizzeri says McCune will be the one to call the shots in her career.

“There are so many variables in this industry, but Lisa’s certainly got the ability and the talent and the ‘it’ factor to go as far as she wants to.

“But we hope she doesn’t – well, not immediately, anyway – we’d miss her too much on Blue Heelers.”