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Interviews > Bridget Neval

History was made (in Neighbours terms anyway) this week when Bridget Neval joined the cast as Lana Crawford. Lana is the soap's first lesbian character and here, she chats to us about the role that's already caused controversy in Australia...

Could you tell us about your career prior to your role in Neighbours?
I only started acting professionally about three years ago – before that it was minor roles in school productions (“Villager Number Two” in Pippin, for example) because I can’t sing. In 2001, I was in a couple of short films and got my first main-cast role on a kids’ show called Guinevere Jones. After that, I scored the female lead in another kids’ show called Wicked Science, which is currently airing in Australia on Channel 10. Then, of course, there’s Neighbours, and at the same time I had a day’s work filming a tiny tiny tiny bit part on the new series of Kath and Kim.

How did you score the role of Lana?
I kidnapped Jan Russ’ cat and held it for ransom. No, I got a call from my agent asking if I’d mind being put forward for what was then being called a bisexual guest character on Neighbours. I said I didn’t, and went to an audition the next week. A few days later I had a meeting with Ric and Peter (producers) and Jan Russ (casting and executive producer), where they told me about the role, what would be required, how it would be presented, and just generally made sure I was comfortable with/the right person for the role. When the meeting ended, they gave me a smile, a handshake, and a mild heart attack when they told me that I would be Lana Crawford.

What were you told about the character after winning the role? How would you describe her?
In that initial meeting I had with Ric, Peter and Jan, I was told that Lana was to be the show’s first openly gay character. It wouldn’t be a story of confusion on her part – she knows she’s gay and, in herself, is comfortable with that. I was reassured that the character would definitely NOT be presented in a tacky, sensationalist way; that Lana was there, as all guest characters are, to fuel a storyline for one of the main characters of the show. Being gay wouldn’t be her only character trait, and she would be involved in storylines that didn’t directly relate to her sexuality, just like any other character. I walked away from that meeting with a fantastic impression of the story the writers were creating. I’d describe Lana as a very quietly self-assured person. She strikes me as being very independent and confident in that she doesn’t allow the mainstream majority to influence her decisions or opinions in any way, from liking quirky, offbeat movies to being comfortable with her sexuality. Sometimes, though, she’s almost TOO introspectively independent. She’s not very open with people, and is content to quietly believe in herself and have her own style without sharing it with others, which can be a barrier when she wants to form deeper friendships or relationships with people. Lana’s biggest fear is being emotionally vulnerable.

Do you feel that there are any similarities between yourself and Lana?
Definitely. Aside from sharing a bizarre love of Bette Davis and cheesy b-grade movies, I can completely relate to Lana’s plight when she first arrives at Erinsborough High. I started a new high school in Year 8 (when I was thirteen), and it was so tempting to reinvent myself and present an image of everything I wanted to be, rather than what I was. I think most teenagers go through a period of learning how to be comfortable enough in their own skins to completely be themselves around other people.

Did you audition with your own accent, or did they hire you and then decide to make the character have a Canadian background?
Good question! Actually, my accent was the main reason I thought I had no chance of getting the role at all. Generally shows set in the Aussie suburbs want people who blend in with the current cast, and a part of that is having an Australian accent. I lived in Canada until I was nearly thirteen, and am clearly deficient in some crucial way because I never lost the accent. The character was written as an Australian, and I even though I auditioned with a “neutral” (standard English) accent, I figured that they wouldn’t risk making the character stand out even more by casting a person with a wonky voice to play the show’s first lesbian. Happily, they said that the accent wasn’t an issue, and scripted a couple of quick amendments where the accent was succinctly explained away. It was brilliant; I felt insanely lucky.

What are your thoughts on the storyline based around Lana's sexuality?
About time. I think it’s great that Neighbours is finally tackling a story like this, and taking the time to ensure that it’s done well. The scripts were amazing; I didn’t really watch the show when I first got the role (though I’m a bit hooked now – it’s addictive!), and I was reading through some of the major scenes thinking, “Is this show ALWAYS written this well?” Having a gay character in a TV show is hardly “shocking” anymore, despite what certain fundamentalists might argue, and I think this storyline is a case of Neighbours doing what it’s always done well, which is present interesting and entertaining storylines dealing with a realistic group of people.

Many viewers have often commented on the lack of a realistic gay character in the series. Do you feel any pressure because of this?
I figured out early on that if I thought of this role as a “milestone” for the show’s history or anything like that, I’d give myself a nervous breakdown. I didn’t think of Lana as a “representation of gay society” – to imply that an entire subsection of the population can be condensed into one person is unrealistic and insulting. When Lana does or says something, it’s not because anyone’s trying to say that “all gay people” think or act like that; we’re just saying that Lana happens to. The way it was written was just like any other character, but Lana happened to be gay while the rest were straight. The writers created a very believable, well-rounded character so it was easy for me to make her seem three-dimensional.

Have you made any good friends from the cast and crew during your Neighbours experience?
Absolutely. Everyone was fantastic – I didn’t really know what to expect, given how many guest characters Neighbours gets. I thought maybe the main cast would be a bit disillusioned with having to show a new person the ropes every couple of months, but I never got that impression; they were all incredibly welcoming and friendly. I actually went skiing for the first time ever with Kyal (Boyd Hoyland), Ben (Stingray Timmins), Stephen (Max Hoyland), Lalitha (a runner) and Ben’s sister a couple of months after I started which, despite all the bruises I got, was enormous fun.

Have you found yourself being recognised in public due to your Neighbours role yet?
Surprisingly, yes, even though Lana’s only be on-air in Australia for a few weeks. I keep thinking there’s something in my teeth, or a big bug in my hair, until the person staring asks if I’m the new girl on Neighbours.

Did you ever watch the show prior to appearing on it, or have any expectations of what it would be like?
I watched for about six or eight months back in ’99 or 2000 – around the Paul and Tad era. I was of the vintage that thinks of the Scullys as “the new family”, so when I started I didn’t really know any of the cast or characters except old standards like Harold, Lou, Susan and Karl. The main thing I realise now, with all the publicity about Lana’s storyline coming out in Australia, is that I drastically underestimated how conservative people expect Neighbours to be. I didn’t think this big a deal would be made of Lana’s lesbianism, to be honest; I thought that with shows like The L Word, Queer Eye and Tipping the Velvet, to name a few, people were now aware of gay people being represented in mainstream media. To have phrases like “for shock-value” used to describe Lana’s storyline, as though this is the first gay character to ever grace the screen, still baffles me. But now I certainly appreciate how large the more conservative portion of the show’s demographic is.

What have you been involved with since your Neighbours stint?
In November this year, I’m filming a new series of a kid’s show called Wicked Science. That films until about June, I think, so I’ll worry about what I’m doing afterwards when the time comes.

With the show currently fast approacing its 20th anniversary, any thoughts on why it's been so successful?
People love to be entertained, and Neighbours is a great combination of appealing characters and people we love to hate, and fluffy and serious storylines. It’s very good at walking the line between a light, fluffy soap with tongue-in-cheek humour that you can relax with at the end of a busy day, and more involving storylines that are compelling from an emotional perspective. And I’m sounding like an informercial, so I’ll stop now.

Interview by Steve. Added on 13th November 2004