This week, UK viewers witnessed the untimely death of Erinsborough High's bitchiest student Jessica Wallace. Here, actress Heidi Valkenburg chats about her role, filming those dramatic death scenes and her plans for the future...
Had you done much acting before joining Neighbours in 2007?
Yes Iíve been acting pretty much my whole life. My older sister began the trend and I sort of fell into it and stuck with it whereas she eventually grew out of it. Iíve always loved being in the spot light and was without a doubt one of Ďthoseí crazy attention seeking children! Iíve done quite a few kids' series over the years and canít get enough of live theatre.
How did the role of Jessica come about? Was it just a typical audition for you?
I was doing a three-month season of Hannie Raysonís Inheritance at the time I auditioned for the role. It was literally in my 2 hour break between shows that I had to race from one end of the city to the other to audition for the part. It was actually a really relaxed audition; I think because I was so drained from the long weeks with the show I didnít really have the energy to be nervous! It was only a short piece I had to learn - I was in and out very quick! I actually auditioned for the role of Taylah but when i got the call from my agent they said they wanted me for the role of Jess which was great 'cos she seemed to have a little more bite. I didnít think I had a chance to be honest... You should have seen the girls in the waiting room! I thought Iíd walked into a model agency!
How would you describe Jessica?
Jessica was a complex little being. I think people like Jess who have a tendency to manipulate those around them and act out are always a little lost within themselves. She was awesome though; a devious little minx! I wish she got to stick around longer, she would have been so much fun to explore further.
Was there anyone you particularly enjoyed working with during your time on the show?
Dani who played my besty Taylah was a lovely little button to have around. Matty [Zeke], Sweeney [Riley], Liam [Josh], James [Declan], Caitlin [Rachel], Jesse [Marco] and Brett [Daniel] were all great. Plenty of lovelys to play with! But Sam Clark [Ringo] was amazing to work with above all.
What is it like to work alongside such an established cast?
Itís intimidating to begin with; most of these guys are like a little family; especially all the young ones which were who I was mostly working with! But everyone I had scenes with was great; whenever you work on any show friendships are always formed, it canít really be helped, you're forced to hang out!
What was it like to film the scenes in which Jess is killed in the warehouse collapse? Was it a difficult shoot?
To be totally honest my death scenes were the only scenes I filmed that I was 110 % happy with! When I first began filming I was so nervous and golly..., lets not deny, I did some terrible, terrible scenes initially.
Sam and I had worked on all the death scenes and were mentally prepared when the day came. Iím so glad I got to do something like that with someone as professional as Sambo. It was sad and frustrating in the end though, I was really proud of the work Iíd done and then my inevitable end and the scenes leading up to it in which Iím trapped under the rubble got majorly edited. The producers explained my death was Ďtoo convincingí and the show slid into ĎPGí rating as opposed to ĎG.í I guess itís somewhat flattering, AND they felt bad and sent me expensive perfume!... but I would loved to have seen it aired unedited... all those tears for nothing!
Are you still in touch with any of your former Neighbours castmates?
Yes yes. Iíll randomly chat to some like Dani and Sweeney who also share the same agent as me. But i speak to Sambo heaps; at least once a week if not more! Heís become a really good buddy.
Have you ever been a Neighbours viewer yourself?
Itís always been on whilst my crazy family and I have dinner. Hense why I was so nervous joining the cast! The oh so familiar faces freaked me out!
What have you been up to since you completed filming with Neighbours?
The craziness that is life! Iím always keeping busy. I just filmed a Philadelphia cheese commercial which I canít wait to get teased for (a little fitting seeing as Jess died and now Iíll be on screen chilling out in heaven!) and a few auditions are happening at the moment. Iím really hoping to score another theatre gig! But anything would be nice. I have plans to go overseas later in the year also.
Finally, after more than 23 years, what do you think is the secret to Neighboursí enduring success?
Golly. Thats a tough one. We all love a little drama, and the good thing about the show is it isnít overly exaggerated or over the top! I think we can all relate a little... and we need to keep our Aussie shows alive and thriving! I hope itís still here and doing well in ten years!
Interview by Steve. Added on 5th April 2008