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Interviews > Shanyn Asmar

She made her debut on UK screens this week as eccentric fashion designer Saffron Jankievicz, and here actress Shanyn Asmar talks to us about joining the Neighbours team...

Can you tell us a little about your career before Neighbours?
I actually started my acting career as a model, from the age of 12. I was born in Brisbane, QLD and modelled extensively there and then went overseas for a very short while at the age of 21. When I came back I moved to Melbourne and married and had a daughter and trained at the National Theatre in St Kilda, studying stage acting. After my marriage broke up I raised my daughter on my own and worked modelling and auditioning from time to time for television commercials and acting roles. I did work as a guest actor on many of our home grown series, such as Blue Heelers, A Country Practice and The Feds, to name a few, but it wasn't until I moved to QLD that I got some great roles on some American television series, The Lost World and BeastMaster. Since then I have lived in Hobart, Tasmania, and now back in Melbourne.

How did the role of Saffron first come about for you? Was it just a typical audition?
I have a wonderful agent, Melissa Rose, and she asked me if I wanted to audition for Neighbours as they had requested me. The audition was a lot of fun because instead of using a script as one would expect, we improvised and I could basically do what I wanted to do as the character. So no it was not a typical audition, and thankfully the producers liked what I did, and I became Saffron Jankievicz.

How would you describe the character of Saffron Jankievizc?
I describe Saffron as someone who will stop at nothing to succeed. She came from a working class family and has strong work ethics. She definitely worked hard to make a name for herself in the fashion industry and had to make lots of sacrifices to attain that success. She is not the most easy going person unfortunately, probably due to the fact that she never sleeps and lives on coffee and pretzels and needs to EAT. Who wouldn't be cranky lol? Thankfully I didn't have to eat pretzels. They are not my favourite thing to munch on.

What do you remember about your first day on set?
My first day on set was wonderful. I remember the cold air at 5:30 am on that July morning and arriving with sinus problems due to a very bad flu I was trying to get over. I remember my ears totally blocking up and I couldn't hear Margot saying her lines so had to lip read what she was saying. That was rather frightening. All I could hear was my own voice lol. I was so focused on what I was doing that I didn't even remember what I was wearing that day til I saw it on the telly. The next day when I came to work I made sure I had some sinus medication so that wouldn't happen to me again. I took lots of photos too. I like to look back on my experiences through photography. There are some wonderful candid shots of the cast and crew. I really did have a great time working on the show. It was a great learning experience for me and there were lots of laughs.

Were there any actors you particularly enjoyed working with?
I enjoyed working with Margot. She was great, and so was Sam actually, but of course I worked mainly with Margot, who we nicknamed Maggot lol. I was poopy, because I stood in a big pile of dog poo one day while walking to the set from Makeup. I didn't realise til everyone started to notice how bad Saffron smelt lol. I appreciated that they took to my character so well. Apparently I stunk! lol

Saffron is a very distinctive character, in both appearance and the way she talks – did you base your portrayal on anyone you know?
I do play Saffron very "out there" and we had a bit of a laugh at some of the expressions Saffron pulls and they way that she says what she says. I based her character partly on people I knew when I was modelling from the age of 12, and also a couple of my school teachers and one particular nun (all female) that I must say frightened the life out of me when I was a young girl. Actually they all did. So I guess I made Saffron very scary at times because I felt that in order for the younger viewers watching, she really did have to be scary and mean and abrupt etc to get Donna to snap to it the way she did. And it is always good to see nasty people like that get theirs in the end. The accent was really based on my perceptions as a young model of how fashion designers and organisers spoke. Always "Darling this" and "Darling that." So I have a bit of a laugh at myself bunging that on too.

How did it feel to be working alongside such an established cast?
Working with the cast of Neighbours was a real treat. One of the actors, Alan Fletcher, I had met years ago, since my daughter was about 3, she is now 19. He used to take my actor head shots, and when I ran into him at the studios it was such a blast; I hadn't seen him for about 13 years. I was so happy to be able to say hi and catch up on the gos. The same goes for Jane Hall, who I met when I was about 22, just before I got married. I worked on an ep of A Country Practice, which she starred in. So being there and working with such a friendly, professional group, which includes the crew, not just the actors, was such a joy. They made me feel very welcomed and I relaxed straight away. I was never nervous, and I am a rather nervy person to be honest. I really had so much fun and wish it could all happen again.

Would you ever consider a regular role in the series, if the opportunity arose?
I would love to continue as Saffron if the opportunity arose. Perhaps the writers could think of a way to get her back lol. I would love to see how a character like Saffron could evolve.

Can you give us any hints about what’s to come for the character?
As far as telling you about the storyline, I will say that it is quite worth a watch. I have been told that I play a great bitch, so I hope the fans really enjoy watching this storyline, and seeing Donna go for her dream and maybe succeed; maybe not. You will have to watch and see.

Have you ever been a viewer of the series yourself?
Have I ever been a viewer of Neighbours? Well yes I did watch one particular story line many, many moons ago. It involved Dr Karl and he had a very sexy nurse working for him and I do believe they had an affair. I watched that with great interest lol. Naughty Dr Karl. These days I don't get to watch the telly that much. I am still at work.

What’s next for you?
Well I do have another job which I enjoy very much. I work as an Accredited Clinique Consultant in one of our major department stores in Melbourne City. When another audtion comes my way I will hopefully get another opportunity to act. I do love it. But for now I am very happy with Clinique and the terrific people that I serve.

With Neighbours about to begin its twenty-fifth anniversary year, why do you think the show has lasted so long?
I think the series has lasted so long because there's a great chemistry there. Besides on screen, behind the scenes the cast and crew really do get along, for real, and have great respect for each other, and I believe it shows in the actors' performances and what we see in the final cut. The characters are real and believable, some are I should say lol. The writers write good story lines and then of course the real reason is that Neighbours has such loyal viewers, espcially here in Oz, and in the UK. I have met some wonderful people who have recognised me from the show and are so wrapped up in the story and love the character, or hate her as well, but really do get into Neighbours and embrace it. That is why it has lasted the distance. Happy 25th Birthday to come Neighbours.

Interview by Steve. Added on 28th November 2009