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Interviews > Rebecca Ritters

One of Neighbours' longest-serving actresses, Rebecca Ritters grew up on screen as Hannah Martin who, during 7 years living in Erinsborough went through numerous family members, boyfriends and even escapades with a cursed rock. Having left Neighbours a decade ago and now living in Los Angeles, Rebecca took some time to look back at her time in Erinsborough...

When you think back on your time with Neighbours, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Fun! I was always having a lot of fun.

Had you done any acting before you landed the role of Hannah in 1992?
No, none. I think I had one audition before the audition for Neighbours, it was for a commercial for Apple Macintosh, I think. I don’t think I had even done a school play!

Do you remember much about the audition process and how you originally won the part?
On the day of my first audition I had to go to the airport to drop some family off who were going back to Europe. I fell off some play equipment and broke my arm. My mum rang Grundy’s and told them I wouldn’t be able to do the role, even if they wanted me, because my arm was in a cast!! They must have thought her a bit batty… By the time they called me back for the second audition, my arm was healed.

Ian Rawlings and Julie Mullins had already been cast and were in the audition, reading opposite me. We did the scene and I had learnt it so well and on my own, I think, that I had learnt all of their parts and was lip reading their lines as well as saying my lines out loud. The casting director, the lovely and wonderful Jan Russ, had to ask me to stop mouthing the other actors lines!! It was also the first time I had seen myself on camera (on the monitors); I was so fascinated I spent the whole time gazing off ‘set’ at my face on the monitor. Jan had to ask me to stop doing that too. All in all, it was a pretty terrible audition… Not sure how I got it! But I really think that we looked like a family.

Having starred alongside so many cast members over your seven years in Neighbours, was there anyone you particularly enjoyed working with?
Oh, so many favourites! There wasn’t really anyone that I didn’t enjoy working with. Ian Rawlings, Anne Haddy and Jackie Woodburne, Ian Smith, Marnie Reece-Wilmore... I could go on and on. I was very lucky.

Do any of Hannah’s storylines stick in your mind – either fondly or because you didn’t enjoy them?
Well, I’m really having to dust off the cobwebs... it’s been such a long time but I used to love anything action packed or dramatic like when Hannah and Phillip got lost in the bush (a cliff-hanger one year) or meaty storylines when someone died (Julie, Helen etc) and you got to do all the emotional stuff. I hated stuff involving boyfriends (torturous enough in real-life as a teenager!!).

During Hannah's years in Ramsay Street, there were multiple family members coming and going (with the exception of Philip). Which family set-up did you most enjoy?
I’m not sure, they’re all blurring into one. It was just Philip and Hannah for a while, that was fun... lots of joking around.

What was it like working alongside Anne Haddy, particularly in her final scenes?
I was so very lucky to have worked with Anne, she really took me under her wing and taught me an unbelievable amount. I really had no idea what I was doing when I started. No one in my family knew what it would be like; I didn’t come from a long line of thespians so when I started I was very naïve. Doing her final scenes were very sad… there wasn’t much acting required. There was a feeling that it was a pretty momentous occasion (doing her final scenes). I was really nervous. She kept threatening to open her eyes in every take so that we could never finish it; she was in good spirits.

Writer Ray Kolle told us that, originally, Helen was to die off screen and scenes were filmed, and never aired, in which you “gave a stunning performance… collapsing at the news of Helen’s death” – do you remember any details about those scenes?
Yes, I remember doing those scenes. I think it was because Anne was very unwell in real life. I don’t remember my “stunning performance” (thanks Ray Kolle!!) but I do remember being relieved that we would be able to re-shoot the scenes to have Anne in them.

We saw Hannah go through so much from her first kiss to getting braces. How did it feel to quite literally grow up, along with Hannah, on television?
Ha! Yes, I certainly had a very public showing of all those awkward adolescent happenings. The worst might have been Hannah getting her period at school and having to go home because it was all over her dress (thanks a lot story-liners!). I was sent a bra in the post after the ‘Hannah goes bra shopping’ episode aired!

I think I have blocked a lot of it out, to be honest. I suppose it was a bit traumatic but then, I have nothing to compare it to. It does feel like a very long time ago now; I think I have recovered!

Hannah was known affectionately by dad Philip as “Button” throughout the show's run - how did that nickname come about?
From memory, I think I have Ian Rawlings to thank/blame for that one! I am pretty sure it was something he came up with and it stuck. I hated it because I would have people call me ‘Button’ in the street…

Why did you decide to leave the role for a six-month break in 1998? What did you do with your time away?
I had actually wanted to leave the show for good but was asked if I would come back if they gave me some time off. After some consideration, I took them up on the offer and took 6 months off. I went away on a program that my school offered in which girls got to live on the country campus and learn about farming and agriculture, solar energy and the environment. It was an amazing experience, I am glad that I was able to do it.

Six months after you returned, we sadly had to say a permanent goodbye to Hannah when Philip packed the family up and moved them to Darwin. How did the departure come about? How did it feel to be leaving the show that you grew up with?
A couple of us wanted to leave so they decided to write the whole family out, make room for new characters.

It was a lot harder to leave that I had thought it would be. It was such a major part of my life and had been for as long as I could remember so when it was gone it left a huge hole. I think it probably took me years to get over, I think I went through a grieving process. I think it was probably a lot harder for me because of the age I was when I was on the show, I literally grew up with it and it had shaped so much of who I was that it felt pretty scary not to have it. I missed it for a long time. I’d had enough of doing it but I had nothing to replace it with for a while.

How did working on a British soap like Coronation Street compare with her Neighbours stint? Were any of the Corrie cast starstruck given the popularity of Neighbours over here?
The sets were so much smaller! But really it just felt like putting on old boots. It felt as natural as ever (only with accents!). I should probably have been star-struck by them but I had never seen the show and didn’t know who any of them were (!). They were all lovely and very generous; I don’t think they were starstruck…

You returned in 2005 as part of the 20th anniversary video – can you tell us a little about how your return came about and the filming of your scenes?
Wow, even that feels like a million years ago… I was thrilled to be a part of it. It felt extremely odd to try to resume the character after such a long break. So much had changed for me, so many years past. To be on London Bridge talking about Helen’s ring, it was quite surreal. The shoot was very quick. I would probably have made some different choices if I’d had my time again but it was a bit of fun.

Given the backdrop, are we to assume Hannah is now living in London or backpacking around Europe?
Who knows!? Perhaps she’s living in Los Angeles!

Now that Hannah’s uncle Paul and cousin Elle are back living in Ramsay Street, what are the chances that you might make another return appearance? Is that something you’d be up for?
I doubt very much that they would ask me to go back on the show but who knows!? It’s a pretty tenuous link however they did bring Harold back from the dead so anything is possible in Erinsborough. I am not sure how I would approach such an offer, if it were to happen. I don’t have any wish to be back on the show long-term but a short stint could be quite fun! Hannah comes back to dig up old treasure under the Robinson house or something, ha ha ha… what a giggle.

Are you still in touch with anyone you worked with on Neighbours?
Yes, I am still friendly with everyone and occasionally spend time with some of them. I am currently living in LA so I get to hang out with Jesse Spencer, who is also living here and filming House. Jackie Woodburne visited America recently and we caught up. When I am in Melbourne I see various cast and crew from my era on the show. I am very good friends with Jonothan Dutton, Andrew Bibby, Stephen Hunt, amongst others, and see them when time and location permit.

Do you still get recognised as Hannah?
As I am living in America, I am generally blissfully anonymous! But from time to time I still get recognised. It is much less these days and more of a case of “I think I went to school with you”. I haven’t been to the UK for a couple of years now so I wonder what the reaction would be like there.

What are you up to these days?
I'm living in LA now, I have been here for nearly 5 months. A few projects on the horizon. A new place, a new life – it’s been an interesting experience.

And finally, after 25 years on Australian television, what do you think accounts for Neighbours’ enduring success?
Nostalgia, escapism, tradition!

Interview by Steve. Added on 29th August 2009