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Comment > A Model Casting by Matt

Neighbours has frequently been criticised in the media for its attractive cast, often made up of young, unknown actors, but in recent years, the press have also turned on them for casting actors who have had little, or no, professional training, coming from modelling and reality television backgrounds. Most viewers want to see actors who, as a result of their training, can portray characters in an effective and believable way, and that understand the demands of an acting career. However, there have been a few additions to the show, over the years, who have done the exact opposite; they have had no professional training at all, using Neighbours to learn a new craft. Let’s take a look at a few of the controversial castings of recent years…

Though plenty of models had been cast in Neighbours in the 90s, the recent trend for this ‘stunt casting’ arguably began in 2001, when Blair McDonough, fresh from his runner-up position on the first Australian series of Big Brother had the role of country boy Stuart Parker created for him. Fans were very sceptical, but Blair proved himself to be a competent actor and slowly became one of the most popular members of the cast during his three and a half years in Erinsborough. Indeed, many of Stuart’s relatives also ended up in Ramsay Street, with his older brother, Steve, still living at 26 Ramsay Street with his family today.

Nicky Whelan came to Neighbours in 2006 with very little acting experience under her belt. Her modelling was what she was best known for in Australia; having worked since 2000, as a full-time model for five years, for magazines such as Inside Sport and Ralph, Nicky became an established face in the Australian media. Despite some shaky early performances, she was clearly at home in front of the camera and her natural, bubbly personality came through on screen. That is the key – some just have the natural ability to portray a character, and Nicky Whelan is a perfect example of this. It was clear she wasn’t just reading the lines, as she added her own little quirks to the character and Pepper became very popular. Sadly, after only a year on screen, Nicky cut short her contract, but the character of Pepper wasn’t soon forgotten by the show’s fans.

Another blonde from a modelling background was Imogen Bailey, who, like Blair McDonough, had reality tv experience, though unlike him, she was already famous as a model before joining the Celebrity Big Brother house. With the role of vixen Nicola West, Imogen had a huge acting challenge ahead of her, and many were worried that, with her limited experience, she would struggle. So it was a pleasant surprise when Imogen brought Nicola to life with confidence, acting out her evil deeds, constant state of heightened emotion and eventual mental breakdown like a pro. As with Nicky, it was a bold move to cast such a strong character with an inexperienced actor, but the decision paid off.

Another of Ramsay Street’s recent departees, Ned Parker, was also another fine example of the successful switch from an alternative career, to acting. Dan O’Connor first made his name on reality show Australian Idol in 2004, finishing in eleventh place. Originally a graphic designer, Dan’s real passion lay in singing and it was during his appearance on Australian Idol that Jan Russ, Neighbours’ casting director, warmed to his personality and stage presence, and felt that he would be a great asset to the soap. Like with Nicky Whelan, Dan got a trial run on the show, to see if he was suited to the demands of acting, and that initial trial run became three years! Though many fans felt Ned was a little wooden, and only really came into his own with the introduction of his son, Mickey and his relationship with Janae, Dan O’Connor was a hugely popular member of the cast, proving his worth by winning awards including Dolly’s King of Soap in 2007. After Erinsborough, Ned moved to Perth, while Dan moved to London, bringing his career full circle as a contestant on another reality show, CelebAir, leaving the show in the semi-final stage.

Staying with the theme of music, another ex-Australian Idol contestant, Dean Geyer, joined the Neighbours cast in 2008. Like Dan O’Connor, Dean’s heart lies in music, and has done since the age of 15, when he and his family emigrated from South Africa. Yet, after trying his hand at some acting workshops, he got the chance to take his guitar with him to Ramsay Street, as resident muso Ty Harper. Ty’s character could almost be seen as a mirror image of Dean himself – a young lad with a passion for all things musical. In fact, this was the producer’s intention; the character’s storylines were purposely written to reflect his real-life career. Initial fears about Dean’s acting and his South African accent proved to be unfounded, and his popularity with co-star Caitlin Stasey (Rachel) led to the opportunity to release another single, Unforgettable, which Dean and Caitlin sang at the Year 10 Formal.

In fact, arguably, the only error in recent years has come with the casting of, Erin McNaught, who just finished at Neighbours as Carmella’s cousin Sienna. Originally a Wildlife Biology Student, like Dan O’Connor as a graphic designer, entering into the media world was far from a small change. A year after winning her modelling title, Erin was crowned 2006’s Miss Australia, and went on to appear topless in Zoo Weekly, Erin was the subject of a lot of controversy long before Neighbours signed her up. Although, it wasn’t all negative, as her decision to try all different forms of modelling, be it ‘lads mags’ or fashion magazines, Erin began to receive offers of work on a global scale. Like Nicky, television presenting also followed on from modelling, as Erin became the host of gadget show CyberShack on Network Ten. Joining the cast of Neighbours enabled Erin to change direction in her career, but up until her last few episodes, Erin wasn’t featured on the show that much, and viewers didn’t get to see much of Erin’s potential. With her Neighbours stint behind her, Erin is said to be still planning an acting career, obviously intent on proving that the failure of the Sienna character was more down to the writers than her.

So, while most of the risks with untrained actors have paid off, one or two probably weren’t worth the effort. But though some succeed, and some fail, one thing’s certain; Neighbours has always been one of the best springboards to a great career – just take a look at Kylie!