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The Age

Big brother enjoys good neighbours

Author: Dan Silkstone
Date: 24/10/2002
Words: 696
          Publication: The Age
Section: Green Guide
Page: 7
Blair McDonough has had to prove himself to his castmates, reports Dan Silkstone.

THE needle slides by and doesn't bite, but Blair McDonough winces and rubs his arm as he has a mock vaccination in the Erinsborough surgery of Dr Karl Kennedy (Alan Fletcher).

It's late afternoon, the cast and crew of Neighbours are behind schedule and things aren't quite firing. First, McDonough forgets his line and calls for assistance. Moments later, when Fletcher fluffs his response, the exchange breaks down and the take is officially dead.

As the crew reorganises, Fletcher looks rueful: ``That was a complete nonsequitur," he tells McDonough.

``Nonwhat?" is the perplexed reply.

But as the experienced Fletcher explains the term - ``something that doesn't follow" - McDonough nods silently and commits it to memory. He'll never need to ask again.

Twentyyearold McDonough is on a steep learning curve, but he's paying attention and taking it all in.

It's almost a year since he started appearing on Neighbours, as goodnatured country boy Stuart ``Chooka" Parker.

``It's been awesome, unreal," he says of his 12 months in Ramsay Street. ``I don't get the opportunity to look back on it that often - you're more worried about what's coming up next."

McDonough was a highprofile recruit for a show that is known for growing its own stars. So perhaps it's understandable that his introduction - at the height of Big Brother mania - met with scepticism. McDonough admits he worked hard to make friends with his Neighbours castmates.

``You've gotta come in and prove your worth and do your stuff . . . you've got to show that you're working before people will take a shine to you," he says.

Neighbours' producer Peter Dodds says McDonough quickly dispelled any concerns that he was a professional celebrity.

``He came on as a personality but when we interviewed him, first and foremost he was genuine about wanting to act . . . he auditioned for us and he was really good."

The transition from suburban hopeful to TV soapstar has been swift, although McDonough admits he has struggled at times to cope with his high profile. ``I've had points where it's a bit of a downer and you just want to crawl into a hole," he says. ``You're not allowed to be down . . . and I'm not the type of person to be up all the time."

Now McDonough has taken charge of his life, and Dodds, who has introduced dozens of young actors during more than a decade at Neighbours, says the show's production team has been impressed by his progress.

``We had to make sure that he was comfortable with his progression as an actor so we eased him into the workload," Dodds says.

``When we saw what we were getting, we were encouraged to write more and more. Now we can throw absolutely anything at him."

Coming episodes will see McDonough test his range as the romance between Stuart and Felicity (played by Holly Valance) heats up. It's all part of his development as a performer, and, though still inexperienced, he has ambitions for his acting.

``Everyone wants to play a psychopath or something that gives you a challenge, but the challenge for now is to get the work out consistently," he says.

If the scrutiny of this very public apprenticeship was not enough, McDonough has recently ensured it will intensify, starting a relationship with his 17yearold costar Delta Goodrem, who plays Nina.

``We just have fun," he says. ``The celebrity couple thing is a bit naff - we're just a couple. Just a boy and a girl having a great time."

Meanwhile, the wild ride continues. In a few weeks he boards a plane for London, retracing the flight of countless Ramsay Street regulars as he dons the tights for a season of pantomime. It's a punishing twoshowsaday schedule, but one the young actor is eagerly awaiting.

``You are working your arse off but you're having fun and you're in another country!"

Neighbours screens weeknights at 6.30pm on Channel Ten.

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