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Interviews > Cliff Ellen

Following the revelations about Lyn’s parentage last year, she met her real father, Charlie Cassidy. Charlie then returned in 2004 to win back and marry his old flame, and Lyn’s mother, Valda Sheergold. Here, the actor behind Charlie, Cliff Ellen, shares his thoughts on his Neighbours role and his acting career as well as revealing a glimpse into the future for his character.

Can you tell us a little about your career prior to your appearances in Neighbours?
I joined the Commonwealth Public Service at 16, eventually qualifying as an Accountant, working as a Commonwealth Audit Inspector for 5 years, and a Bankruptcy Administrator for 6 years. I resigned to take up professional acting at the age of 34. An economically unsound decision in favour of a far more satisfactory lifestyle. As an actor I’ve worked on about 25 films, made some 150 television appearances and well over 50 stage productions. The stage, particularly comedy, is my first love. I’ve written four plays and directed two. During “rest breaks” I worked as a Tax Agent, mainly for poor actors.

Having acted in other Australian serials, what were your first impressions of the way Neighbours did things? Did you find yourself seeing any familiar faces?
There’s never a great deal of difference in the way things are done with long running television dramas/soaps, although I must say I was impressed with the support I received from the cast, the crew, the writers and even “the suits” in their castles. Goodness knows why - I’m a grumpy old devil at the best of times. Familiar faces? Other than Annie Phelan, Joan Sydney and director Nick Bufalo I'd never worked with any of the regular cast, but most of the crew were there before I was born almost- thus are in line for massive superannuation payouts.

Did you enjoy playing Charlie? How would you describe him?
I did, but then I really enjoy acting, the interaction, the problem solving, the cups of coffee, smokos, and the obvious feeling of being “in work”. Sometimes directors can be a pain, but not so here. I would describe Charlie as being very much in the mould of Cliff Ellen, but with the odd difference thrown in by the writers for good measure, depth?

How did you feel about acting alongside such an established cast?
In earlier years it was always difficult to work alongside an established cast, big names, self conciousness, fear of failure and the like. I did a regular spot in a comedy (?) series myself years ago, and in the light of my previous experiences made it a point to try to relax them. I’m older now and have no such worries. Neighbours was good fun. More difficult possibly than the normal run of the mill dramas because there’s less to hang on to. This is not a criticism of the scripts, more a comment on the style of this type of show. A need to be totally relaxed, in fact to enjoy. Everybody was so nice, even Peter Dodds (Producer) and Linda Walker (Production Manager) and I mean that. Mind you the camera operator (exterior scenes) told some dreadful jokes, almost causing me to lose concentration in the tender scenes with lovely Joan Sydney (Valda Sheergold). Some of the young starlets (and even the older ones) have this habit of kissing me, which I find most pleasant. I worked with five different directors and only found one of them a pain, which is a fantastic average for directors. All the actors I worked with were very friendly and indeed worked WITH me rather than in opposition. In television one quite often gets the feeling that one is working alongside a “brick wall”. Not in Neighbours. The crew to a man, and a few females, could not have been more co-operative.

Charlie is due back in Ramsay Street later this year as part of a controversial storyline. What are your feelings on this?
I would use “controversial” more for the recent storylines in The Bill rather than Neighbours, a very successful soap where such things are expected. I had no problems at all with the upcoming episodes relating to Charlie. Sadly my wife died during filming (July 2004) making the whole process so very emotional. Again, however, the support I received was fantastic.

Which cast members did you particularly enjoy working with and why?
Obviously my daughter in the show, the gorgeous Janet Andrewartha (Lyn Scully), and Joan, Carla (Stephanie Hoyland), even Annie Phelan (who appears as my sister Doreen), though, nice as she is, she gets a tad bossy at times. Jay Bunyan (Jack Scully) was also easy to work with. The good thing about being in a scene with Janet and Joan (and Carla and Annie) is that all you need to do is remember your lines. Even if it’s a crying scene-no need to cry. Why waste the effort when working with these experts. Females, generally, are better than male actors. I also enjoyed working with directors Nick Bufalo and Jovita O’Shaughnessy, but mainly because they refrained from directing me.

Did you ever watch the show before joining? Do you watch it now?
With the soaps I’m more of an Eastenders watcher due to my wife’s previous enthusiasm; also The Bill. Other than that I’m a Sopranos man. I did watch Neighbours twice before joining to get a line on the rhythms, who was who etc, but of course I knew of Janet & Joan’s excellent work before I joined. Sometimes I tape it, to see where they are up to - it’s on at the same time as Eastenders.

What do you think accounts for the huge success that Neighbours has achieved since it launched almost 20 years ago?
I haven’t the faintest idea, anymore than I can fathom why some shows I enjoy get axed. But then, I live in a country where conservatives have ruled for years. And then I ponder Bush in America, or Thatcher’s long run in England and so on. Who indeed can fathom why? Suffice to say that it is succssful.

Could you tell us a little about your work since/outside your time on Neighbours?
My last stage appearance (2004) was with Guy Masterson’s 12 Angry Men (UK cast) at the Perth, Wellington and Adelaide Festivals. I also did a guest appearance on Blue Heelers last August, 2004. In the light of my wife’s recent death I’ve decided to relax as much as possible through this terrible grieving process and so come to terms with a "different" life. I do the garden, drink coffee, smoke, a few beers, admire women, and yet again try to write a funny play.

Interview by Steve. Added on 16th October 2004