> Caroline Gillmer
A favourite of many fans, Caroline Gillmer played the larger than life
Cheryl Stark on Neighbours from 1993 to 1996. In this exclusive interview,
Caroline shares her thoughts on the role of Cheryl, her time on Neighbours
and where her career has taken her since, as well as offering her very own
suggestion on a possible return to Ramsay Street for Cheryl...
In a recent feature on our site to mark Neighbours' 18th birthday, Cheryl
was ranked number 11 in the best characters of all time. How does that make
How simply thrilling - I think Cheryl is one of the great soap characters to
come out of Neighbours' script department and I couldn't agree more with
your selection of her in the 18 best characters. Let's bring her back! I
don't think she died in that incident - I think it was a carefully conceived
plan. Her son Darren was trying to leave the crime gang group he had
associated with in prison and they were blackmailing him into staying. As
Cheryl's safety was their threat she staged her own accidental death and
with the assistance of Karl removed herself from her life, business and all
she loved in Erinsborough in order to save her son from a certain fateful
life of crime and to protect her innocent baby from being in the wrong place
at the wrong time. She is such a champion human being!
How long have you been acting?
Since I was born - but studying the craft since I was 21. Only a short time!
How did the role on Neighbours come about?
Grundy's were to introduce the character and one of the head writers had
written for another character I had played in another TV series and
requested for me to play her.
How would you describe the character of Cheryl Stark?
Uninhibited, unpredictable, unleashed, undeniable, unusual.
What are your memories from your time on Neighbours?
All top shelf memories - the work load and pace of 49 production weeks a
year I find stimulating and, of course, challenging, and brings out the best
of your skills or the worst of your failings as an actor. Staying buoyant
and fresh as an actor is a pre-requisite in our business - keeping so busy
and having to think fast in the show is of great assistance to achieving
Who in the cast were you closest to, and why?
Bloody Karl Kennedy!!! [Alan Fletcher] We had worked together in theatre
prior to Neighbours and liked each other a lot, we are very close and see
each other frequently. Recently we have each been renovating our homes so we
exchange that extraordinary experience daily almost. I was close with Jesse
Spencer [Billy Kennedy] and my screen sons Brett [Brett Blewitt] and Darren
[Todd MacDonald] whilst making Neighbours. I guess like Cheryl, I like boys.
On the female side of things I simply adored my daughter Lolly [Jiordan Anna
Tolli] on and off screen and that leads me to Lolly's father, everybody's
favourite Lou, alias Tom Oliver. Then of course there's Kym [Valentine, who
plays Libby Kennedy] and Jackie [Woodburne, who plays Susan Kennedy] and I
loved the wardrobe department, and my hair. How could I ever leave out the
hair and make-up department? I thoroughly enjoyed working with Peter [Dodds,
Producer] and Linda [Walker, Production Manager] and Jan [Russ, Assistant
Producer] in the production office and the props and camera crew - they all
always tried to make Cheryl the best she could be. Get the picture? It was
top shelf as I said.
You worked closely with Tom Oliver during your time on the show, and had an
excellent on screen chemistry with him - did you enjoy working with him?
Thanks for that - on screen chemistry is such an elusive cherry. Who knows
where it comes from and what the recipe for its success is? Tom is such a
pro with so much experience that he knew the moment the chemistry happened.
Being such a screen veteran he also knew how rare a thing it is and just let
the relationship soar wherever it wanted to fly. Words on the paper, are
words on the paper - actors lift them off the page and form them into the
characters that they are, and the worth of the situations they find
themselves in as characters is meaningful to an audience only if the actors
can deliver a level of commitment that has resonance for the viewer. Tom is
flexible and easy to work with and was always open to doing things
differently, which I loved.
How do you feel watching him now?
Secretly, happy he (Lou) has never found another partner to replace cheeky,
How did you find working with Neighbours legend, Anne Haddy?
Another top shelf memory - classy, slick, reliable and fiercely loyal to the
pursuit of excellence in the show. She set the standard and didn't suffer
unprofessionals gladly. The show needs that kind of staunch high standard
amongst its cast. She always wanted the very best actors to be in the show
and she was the mascot. I loved her and I know she loved me.
At one time, there was speculation that you were going to star in a spin-off
series, featuring Cheryl running a bar. Was there any truth to this?
It happened. It was called In Cheryl's Arms, the name of the bar/pub. It
was shot on parts of the Neighbours set slightly re-jigged and re-configured and it was brilliantly produced by the then Executive Producer
of Neighbours Ian Bradley. Everyone from the production team of Neighbours
worked on it, from casting to direction to set, to costume, hair, wardrobe
In 1995, Colette Mann stepped into the role of Cheryl while you were ill.
How did Colette come to be selected for the role and what did you think of
her portrayal of Cheryl?
I was so ill, and so absorbed in determining what was the matter with me and
how to recover from it, that I had absolutely no input into who was selected
or how. Cheryl was in the midst of a major storyline and season end
cliffhanger and there was no way the scriptwriters and schedulers could deal
with the illness in any other way than to have another actor portray her.
Collette and I are good friends and sharing the character was character
After the kidnapping ordeal, Cheryl underwent a massive change. Do you think
this change was good for the character?
I think a show like Neighbours is at its most relevant and pertinent when
inhabited by a neighbourhood of people - different strokes for different
folks is the premise. I think there should be locals who don't change from
one decade to the next and on the flip side I think Cheryl, like many, was
up to evolution and turning the scrutiny spotlight on herself regularly and
re-discovering how her life was going. I think when a show understands that
its audience develops and changes then it maintains its viewers. Gosh I
guess change impacts on us changing houses, cars, hobbies, schools, jobs,
diet, sport, partners, clothes. So my research into traumatised victims of
terror certainly supported the supposition of internal questioning of your
core beliefs and the foundations you built your life upon. I am knocked out
by the storyliners as this was long before terms like "War on Terror",
"9/11", "Bali Bombings" and the concept of terrorists in our backyard was
part of our psyche.
What led to your decision to leave the series?
I had made a film that had been extremely well noticed in the States and in
that film also was the female lead of another very very big oz flick that
had taken the cinema world by storm. It was her great regret that she had
not done the LA thing at the time of its success and I learned from her that
opportunity only knocks once.
Were you pleased with the decision to kill Cheryl off, and which, therefore, ruled out any chance of returning?
Let me ask you and your readers. Were you happy with the decision? Now, if
you are a student of soap you already know that killings in this genre or
any serial format only have impact if you kill someone the public cares what
happens to or seriously has feelings for. If script wise you do not adhere
to this rule, you dull your audience's perceptions of the suspension of
belief in the situation and lose a sensational ratings tool - which your
opposition soap will happily exploit. In short, if your character isn't hot
why waste the publicity and ratings opportunity? Now flattering as that is,
I was confused by the choice as I had just been so long hospitalised and
they need not have brought me back in as Cheryl (i.e. they could have
continued with the new actress). Add to that we had recently shot the pilot
for the spin off series and though the Network was toying with changing the
title of the show and the heroine to In Carol's Arms (in the vein of other
self titled shows like Ellen, I Love Lucy, Grace Under Fire, Roseanne
etc.), I was not convinced this was in the new sitcom's best interests and
felt we should keep our naming options open and though Cheryl would need to
leave Erinsborough in order for the spin-off to work for the audience, a
death, albeit so noble, was not the best departure.
Where has your career taken you since leaving Neighbours?
This is like presenting my CV. Okay well, there has been 5 movies, a US Green
card, some time in the USA, numerous stage plays and shows and several long-run musicals including Mamma Morton in Chicago, and a new ABC series
In 2001, a major storyline on Neighbours (to facilitate young Jiordan
Anna Tolli's departure from the show) featured Lou discovering that Louise
was not his daughter and was actually the product of a brief affair Cheryl
had. Were you aware of that storyline and if so, what did you think of it?
No I was not aware of it until people constantly passed by me calling out
"slut" from passing cars in the street. Then some of my drama students asked
precisely the question you have just posed and I was able to put the wolf
whistles and cat calls into context. What do I think of it? I think its
great fun and even more brilliant that 6 years later Cheryl is still
responsible for providing the writers with ideas for major story lines.
As Neighbours celebrates its 18th year on Australian television, what do
you think accounts for the huge success the series has achieved?
They do it so well. Its rare that you get a go at something long enough to
do it right, regularly. One year is a long time in television - 18 years is a
chance for perfection.
read a full character profile of Cheryl Stark, click
Interview by Moe. Added on 7th June 2003