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Interviews > Donna Lee

Having first appeared in 1995, Coral Reeves returned to Erinsborough in 1999 looking rather different, with a new actress taking over the role from Denise Scott. Here, Donna Lee talks to us about her time as Coral...

Can you tell us a little about your stage and screen career prior to your Neighbours appearance in 1999?
As far as my career goes, you could look up my web page www.donnalee.com.au to give you an idea as to what I have done.

Do you recall how your Neighbours role as Coral Reeves came about? Was it just a typical audition for you?
My audition was a very relaxed one for the role of Coral Reeves. I was in town (Melbourne) appearing in the Anniversary Production of Les Miserables at the Princess Theatre. The casting lady, Jan Russ, got in touch with me and I went along and was asked to play the part for a couple of episodes.

Were you aware that the role had been played by a different actress a few years earlier? Did this affect your performance at all?
I found out after I had recorded my episodes that Auntie Coral had already been in the series a year or so prior to my episodes, so therefore it hadn't affected my portrayal of the role. I did wonder why whoever had played it didn't do it again. (I found out later who it was, and that this lady didn't want to repeat the role).

How would you describe Coral? Did you enjoy playing her?
To me Auntie Coral is a real Aussie Character, almost Battler, doing her best at whatever life throws up at her...I think she is a person that would always be there for her friends....maybe sometimes she can be there a little too much, but her heart is in the right place. I loved playing Coral Reeves.

What was your experience like working on the Neighbours set and joining a close-knit cast?
The cast were absolutely fabulous. Yes, it is like a close- knit family, and they welcomed me into the family with open arms. I particularly remember how lovely the experience was with the cast and crew.

Coral's son, Tad, stuck around for a few more years after her appearance. Were you ever invited to reprise the role during that time?
I often wondered why Coral and Tad didn't come into contact again. But the story line never went that way.

With Coral's nephew, Toadie, still a Ramsay Street resident to this day, would you ever consider returning to the role now?
I would love to return to the show now, especially that there is still a connection with Coral's nephew Toadie still being there... (By the way, I thought he was a lovely boy when I worked with him, who now is probably a lovely man).

What have you been up to in recent years?
Since I appeared in Neighbours back in 1998 I have done lots of Theatre, lots of Cabaret, lots of musical appearances on T.V. Theatre has taken up the majority of my work....I spent almost 5 years touring around Australia in a show called Menopause the Musical which was fun, and went into the ill fated Multi Million Production of High School Musical that opened in Sydney for an 18 month run throughout Australia and lasted only 4 weeks......That's SHOW BIZ.....although, the cast of Neighbours wouldn't understand that expression... ha ha ha ha ... it has defied all odds... 26 years on air.. It's wonderful.

Finally, after 26 years on air, what do you think is the reason behind Neighbours' enduring success?
I think that Neighbours is uniquely Australian....and to me, there in lies the reason for its success. You see, we are so inundated with USA and English Productions here in Australia that I think it is so refreshing for us as Australians to see and hear "Aussie" Shows up there on the screen. As far as it's International success goes, I think many other countries look at the "Aussie" lifestyle as a very laid back and easy going, happy, colourful, great weather, lucky way to live. I myself AGREE!!!!

Interview by Steve. Added on 2nd May 2011