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Interviews > Janet Watson Kruse

Having played two minor roles in recent years, Janet Watson Kruse is currently playing the recurring role of Erinsborough social worker Roz Challis. Having been involved in keeping the Ramsay kids and Callum Jones on Ramsay Street, Roz will be back for further appearances later in 2009, and Janet kindly took some time out to chat to us about her acting career and her time with Neighbours...

Could you please give us a little background on yourself and how you first got into acting?
I am a working Melbourne actor who came into 'the biz' after doing other things. I was teaching at a prestigious school, but all my life I had wanted to be an actor. I had done heaps of theatre when I was at University, but the newspapers kept on telling me that there were no roles for women my age. Finally one day I thought to myself "I don't want to be a grandmother and say 'I wish I'd had a go' - that's not how I live my life!" So I gave up my day job and went to night school at the VCA (Melbourne's prestigious Victorian College of the Arts) Since then I have been working in Melbourne and all over Australia, and I continue to work on my craft. I had a lucky break early on, being cast as a lead in Finding Joy, an independent Australian feature. I have done theatre work, short films, television, musicals and I often work in medical roleplay, as a cancer patient. That's very intense and demanding improvisation but I love it.

You made two brief appearances on Neighbours in recent years, as Molly Wright in 2006 and as Ruth Cato in 2008. What do you remember about filming those two roles?
It was very exciting to be cast as Molly Wright. I had done one or two auditions for the legendary Jan Russ already, and it was one of my ambitions to get a role on Neighbours. It was a fun role, as Molly was very arty and exuberant. It was also fun to do a scene with the character Ned, who was played by Daniel O'Connor, who had quite a profile from Australian Idol. The character of Ruth Cato originally was to have a conversation with Susan in a Multiple Sclerosis support group, but it disappeared in one of the many script refinements they do. It's amazing the amount of care goes into the preparation of Neighbours scripts.

Your latest role is as Roz Challis from the Department of Human Services. How would you describe her? Did you have to audition again, or were you remembered from your earlier appearances?
It was really nice to be asked back to do Roz - I didn't audition for her. In her initial two episodes with Toadie and Callum she had only two or three lines, and they set her up to appear really strict, with severe hair, clothes and makeup. (They are such professionals at Neighbours, and even for these modest parts they really take the time to get the right look, with calls for wardrobe and makeup as well as rehearsals.) Then she showed that although she's a bit earnest she had a sense of humour. The next time she was invited back to check in on the Ramsay children, and she had a much more substantial scene. I felt really good that they liked my work enough to ask me back, and that the role got more significant.

Roz is extremely caring, but she has seen one too many children in trouble. She is also careful, and does things by the book -the writers have made her language quite bureaucratic at times.

Were you surprised to be invited back to make further appearances as Roz?
I had confidence that Roz had more to reveal - I'm grateful that the scriptwriters and producers thought so too!

Can we expect to see Roz in Ramsay Street again?
This week I have been in the studio shooting another two Episodes, and I have another few eps booked over the next couple of months. I can't tell you who they're with, but it's a very interesting and emotionally engaging storyline. I'm hooked!

Do you have a favourite scene from the three roles you've played?
I loved the pirate party scene with Toadie and Callum, because it involved a lot of the cast, and I got to say "Arrgh!"

Is there anyone you have particularly enjoyed working with during your various appearances on the show?
I have enjoyed meeting everyone on Neighbours, but I have to say the younger actors are just amazing. They're focused, intelligent and fun. The Ramsay kids are awesome, and Morgan who plays Callum is quite extraordinary - watch out for him! A particular delight has also been getting to know Tom Oliver, who plays Lou. He is a raconteur and enthusiast, and after all these years he is welcoming towards actors like me who just walk into the 'Green Room' for just a few days or weeks. Ryan Moloney who plays Toadie is also as fun in real life as his on-screen persona.

What is it like to work alongside such an established cast?
It is a great learning experience to watch such great professionals in action. I watch and learn and hope it all rubs off! They have all been unfailingly warm and welcoming to me. They're really great people. I think if you have to work ten to twelve hour days with others for weeks and years it takes a special sort of person to really create and sustain a good community. In my experience the Neighbours cast and crew are like that. Special mention goes to the ADs - they keep the whole ship moving briskly while making everyone feel great.

Have you ever been a Neighbours viewer yourself?
I never watched as a kid - I think we were one of the last households in Australia without a television - but one of my sons often watches, and so I have got into it more recently. I often catch up online.

What’s next for you?
Well, I hope it's a few more feature films! I have couple of auditions coming up... I was also in a webisode called Ozgirl, which you can find at ozgirl.tv - it was a fantastic setup, where we were given the scenario and then improvised. My character is a long-lost mother who appears in Episodes 21 and 22 - one of them is a really intense crying scene, and the young director, Nick Carlton, is working really hard on getting up Series Two. He's another talent to watch: Because I wasn't working professionally until my 30s, I have spent a lot of time making short films with young filmmakers. The fantastic thing is that I have ended up working in the industry with almost all of them.

I also keep busy with theatre work: Last year I had the privilege of working with an amazing director called Catherine Simmonds and a group called Project Respect. She had spent six months working with a group of ex sex workers from Melbourne, and ten traffiked Thai women from Sydney. They then brought in ten professional actors to help them devise a script based on their lives, and we did a searingly intense show. It was quite a life-changing experience, and the women I met were extraordinary human beings. We are all hoping that that project will get full funding to reach the audience it deserves.

And finally, after almost 25 years on Australian television, what do you think accounts for Neighbours’ enduring success?
Great question. If you could bottle the answer you would make a mint. But just in my opinion, a whole lot of serendipitous factors come together. I think the time and professionalism of everyone behind the scenes is important. It's three months from shooting until release, and they spend time and care on the scripts for months beforehand. Everyone who works on Neighbours is really dedicated - both cast & crew. For years Jan Russ was Executive Producer and head of casting, and I think she obviously has an extraordinary eye for talent - Russell Crowe, Kylie Minogue, the list goes on and on. The actors who work on Neighbours are really good, and get better - you can see it in the younger cast members. And the crew are second to none:)

What Neighbours does is quite extraordinary. Hollywood films sometimes shoot a minute a day. Low budget features manage six minutes a day. Neighbours makes 26 minutes of television a day, week after week and year after year. I am really proud to be associated with it!

Interview by Steve. Added on 5th September 2009