Reference > Erinsborough News > The Inside Interview: Madeleine West
From country bumpkin to suburban sex bomb, Jason Herbison hears why Ramsay Street’s Madeleine West is one young lady who has stars in her eyes but her stilettos on the ground…
It’s not easy to make your mark in a soap, especially if you’re just one of the many gorgeous actresses who call Ramsay Street home. When Madeleine West made her first Neighbours appearance two years ago, the challenge was even harder. At the time, the show had several high profile pin-ups including Holly Valance (Flick Scully), Krista Vendy (Tess Bell) and Carla Bonner (Steph Scully). The last thing producers wanted was another young female cast member, but they didn’t count on Madeleine turning nurse Dione ‘Dee’ Bliss into an audience favourite and Madeleine soon found herself with a regular contract.
This success might sound as though Madeleine swanned in confidently on her first day of filming, but the 22-year-old actress admits nothing could be further from the truth. “I was absolutely terrified,” recalls Madeleine. “I kept saying to myself ‘I can deal with this, I can deal with this’. But then people started arriving and I was feeling even more nervous. When some of the regular cast members turned up I had to hide because I was so scared!”
Two years on and Madeleine is a household name Down Under – but soap stardom is a far cry from her humble beginnings. While her character may be the model of suburban chic, Madeleine is a country girl at heart. Born and bred in Wood End – a sleepy hamlet located northwest of Melbourne – Madeleine’s childhood was spent in the great outdoors.
“I remember having so much freedom, never having to lock our doors and being friends with all the neighbours,” she says, smiling. “In summer, we’d play until the sky went totally black late in the evening. It was a lovely place to grow up.”
For many years, the West clan consisted of Madeleine’s parents and her brother, Jay, who is two years younger than his famous sibling. “I am older than Jay so I started out as the bully,” she recalls. “But then he grew up and started to bully me back!” By the time Madeleine was a teenager her parents had divorced and her mum Julie remarried. Soon, Madeleine had to make way for two new family members!
“First came Jane, who is now eight, and then my brother Jack, who is five, and they are both just adorable,” she says. “I’ve watched them grow up right from when they were in Mum’s tummy, which is astounding. We all look identical – we’re like peas in a pod.”
Not that her younger sibling’s arrival was without controversy. In what sounds suspiciously like a Neighbours storyline, many of the locals suspected Madeleine had secretly become a teenage mum! “When Jack was born, there was a rumour going around town that he was mine and Mum was bringing him up!” laughs Madeleine.
Although her busy schedule these days means she only sees her parents and siblings on occasional weekends, the family remain tightknit. “I’m very close to my mum – she’s the best mum in the world,” Madeleine says. “We actually look very similar and she hasn’t aged at all. People often mistake us for sisters!”
Madeleine says as a child she knew she would be an artist, a lawyer or an actress! “I’ve always loved drawing, so I thought I would end up an artist,” she says. “But I also dreamed of becoming an actress, but I didn’t know anyone in the television industry, so I wasn’t sure how to go about making that happen. So, after I finished high school, I did the sensible thing and enrolled in university.”
Having traded rural Wood End for the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, Madeleine spent her days studying law and her nights hanging out with a theatre crowd. Spurred on to try her hand at acting she found an agent – and won the role of Dee three days later!
“It happened pretty quickly,” she says. “I got the agent, then I went to the audition for Neighbours and luckily I got the part. I know it doesn’t always happen that quickly for people, so I consider myself fortunate.”
When the show’s producers decided to make Dee a regular cast member, Madeleine had to rely on her instincts when it came to developing her character. In the end, Dee emerged as a young lady not dissimilar to Madeleine herself! “We’re both playful but I think we both have a soft heart behind that mischievous exterior,” she says. “Dee can also be very zany, and I am like that too, but only to a degree.”
Looking back over Dee’s life and times, her history falls into three distinct chapters – with a different man featuring in each! “The first man in Dee’s life was Joel Samuels, and they tried several times to get it together over the years,” Madeleine recalls. “I think Joel was the love of her life, but fate forced them apart.”
Madeleine enjoyed working with Daniel MacPherson, who played Joel, but there is one scene she would rather forget – their first screen kiss! “I started hyperventilating and had to blow into a paper bag,” she recalls. “It was very embarrassing.”
Dee’s second suitor, the devilish Dr Darcy Tyler, double-crossed Dee and romanced her best friend, Tess Bell, behind her back. The explosive love triangle was the hottest storyline on the soap last year. While the resulting rift between Dee and Darcy may still be healing, Madeleine and Mark Rafferty, who plays the devious medic, have become firm friends. The pair are both dedicated vegans, and they found a common passion for art and method acting.
“We worked very well together on that storyline and we still get on now,” she says. “Mark is a really great actor to work alongside.”
More recently, Dee has been involved in a hot and heady romance with Stuart Parker, played by Neighbours newcomer Blair McDonough, a contestant on the Australian version of Big Brother. “Of all the relationships this is definitely the least serious,” considers Madeleine. “I think Stuart’s good for Dee as he helps her to unwind and not to take life so seriously.”
While some soap stars work the film premiere circuit, Madeleine prefers to exercise her funny bone. Every Sunday, she performs at Melbourne’s Comic Lounge, in front of a live studio audience. “It’s like Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” she says. “The audience gives us a prompt and we act it out.”
However Madeleine admits stand-up is a terrifying hobby. “Comedy is the hardest thing to do – you are completely vulnerable,” she says. “I love performing live and I also love television. I’m just enjoying adding a string to my bow.”
Along with her fellow comics, Madeleine recently performed at Melbourne’s International Comedy Festival which left her keen for more. But fans needn’t worry – she has no plans to leave Ramsay Street just yet.
“I have no intention of leaving,” she says. “I really enjoy the show and I’m still learning. And there are so many thing I’d like to happen to Dee – such as her having a nice, steady relationship for starters!”
This article originally appeared in Inside Soap magazine and was written by Jason Herbison