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Year of wonders

Author: Lucinda Schmidt
Date: 03/02/2008
Words: 1990
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Sunday Life
Page: 12
Underneath the sweet image, Brooke Satchwell is made of tough stuff.

A very public break-up, unemployment and her first nude scene have

only made her stronger. By Lucinda Schmidt.

She's gorgeous. Even after a bad night's sleep, a 4am wake-up call and a three-hour outdoor photoshoot on a blustery Melbourne day, Brooke Satchwell is radiant. Of course, most actresses are attractive but with Satchwell, there's something more. She is endearingly eager to please, at one stage asking if it's OK to go to the bathroom. The former Neighbours star is wry and self-deprecating and makes jokes at any opportunity - she says that, as a child, rising at 5am to clean out stables and "pick up poo from the paddocks" prepared her for working in the entertainment industry - this is despite our location: a musty meeting room in the bowels of Channel Nine.

Satchwell slouches for most of the two-hour interview with her arms folded loosely (she's possibly starving as 2pm ticks by with no lunch) but her manner remains warm and confident. She has come out of a tough year, with former boyfriend, actor Matthew Newton, pleading guilty to, then being convicted and later cleared of, pushing and punching her.

"Through my experiences over the past 12 to 18 months, I've jumped some pretty big hurdles and decided to face a lot of fears," says Satchwell, 27, who returned to live in Melbourne with her mother late in 2006 after seven years in Sydney. "I've come out the other side having a lot more trust in my own instincts. I have a much stronger sense of boundaries and control over my life - I'm definitely feeling solid in my own gut now."

While Satchwell's transformation has much to do with the publicity surrounding the break-up of her six-year relationship with Newton, she's also stretched herself professionally. Having sworn she would never sing or take off her clothes for work, she's now done both, warbling nursery rhymes as a Play School host and "baring my bits" for the Foxtel drama Dangerous. The clothes come off again in her role as forthright nurse Bridget Keenan in a new television drama, Canal Road - a marked change from the fresh-faced, girl-next-door parts Satchwell has played since she began full-time acting at 15.

Satchwell became an actress in one of those right-place, right-time encounters. She was off school sick, spending the day at mum Jane's clothing company, when a casting agent came in and suggested Satchwell (she had a huge scratch on her face from her cat, Rueben) try modelling. That led to TV ads, including one for Just Jeans, where a make-up artist advised she find an agent. After 12 months of zip, she got two auditions - one of which was for the part of Anne Wilkinson on Neighbours.

"Most of the opportunities in entertainment have happened in exactly those serendipitous, by-chance sort of ways," says Satchwell, who has had no formal acting training. The role of Donna in Dangerous was already cast when Satchwell received a call saying, "You know that job you didn't get? Well, you start tomorrow."

Until Neighbours, Satchwell had led an ordinary, happy life as the eldest of two daughters of real-estate agent Andrew and fashion manufacturer Jane on the bucolic Mornington Peninsula, about an hour southeast of Melbourne. She and her sister, Catherine, now 22, grew up riding horses and surfing. "Mum always said she'd prefer her girls to have either a surfboard or a horse between their legs, so we had both," laughs Satchwell, who still surfs whenever she has the chance.

Her parents divorced but "it was the most incredible upbringing, a simple, outdoor lifestyle. We climbed trees, we built fortresses, we had big treks down to the beach. We never played Nintendo and we weren't even allowed to watch The Simpsons. I remember being very happy."

Just after she started Neighbours in 1996, she came down with glandular fever. She had to shoot a fortnight's missed scenes and her usual 10-hour day stretched to 16 hours. Even after making up the lost time, Satchwell's typical work day started at 4am, when a taxi collected her from home, ferried her to the Channel 10 studios in Nunawading, to school in Mt Eliza, then often back to Nunawading in the afternoon for more filming. For years, the driver made $1500 a week from Satchwell's fares alone.

Satchwell says she never decided, "This is what I want to be." She'd studied ballet for eight years. "And I think underneath the clever front I've put up, I was rather shy. Ballet appealed to me because it has that precision and you train a million hours a day and you have that fine motor control to do exactly what you want your body to do."

It's a control she feels she lacks in her acting. Several times, she mentions it's probably a good time - after 11 years - to take some lessons. "I've arsed my way through long enough," she says.

Satchwell's self-assurance wilted in 2004 when she found herself with almost no acting work for 18 months. She'd exited Neighbours in 1999, just before her 19th birthday, then moved to Sydney for a role in the musical The Caribbean Tempest in the Royal Botanic Gardens (she felt "guilty, but not" about switching off her microphone when it was her turn to sing). She went straight into a six-month stint on Water Rats, then a long run as Constable Sophie Marinkovitch in White Collar Blue until 2003.

Then ... nothing. For the first time in eight years, at the ripe old age of 24, Satchwell was unemployed. She survived on voiceover work and lugging around a friend's Vietnamese silk in a "coffin of a suitcase", cold-calling stores. "Suddenly, your income stops, the momentum stops, everything comes to a grinding halt, kind of overnight. I was preoccupied with keeping my bills paid, keeping my head above water, but it doesn't mean there weren't days of dressing gowns and coffee."

However, the enforced break gave her some head space. "It gave me a moment to stop," Satchwell says. "That was the beginning of thinking about what I wanted. I wasn't just being handed things by chance; I had to remember what it was to want something. Suddenly, I had to put my hopes up and risk disappointment. I did and it paid off."

The first step was to conquer her singing phobia and audition for Play School. Satchwell says that during her rendition of Three Little Candles, the cameraman laughed so hard he cried. But she ?persevered, took lessons and was offered a probationary role at the end of 2005. She's still there.

Then came a six-part drama, Tripping Over, followed by the role of Donna in Dangerous. Satchwell is candid - and funny - describing how she handled her first nude scene: having sex on the bonnet of a red Ford Festiva.

"I was trying to be professional and suddenly I was like, 'I just don't know what to do.' It's the practicalities of it; nobody talks about it. The up and down movement and the breathing and the noises - what do you do?"

Director Shawn Seet, who worked with Satchwell on Dangerous and Canal Road, admits the former soapie star was not his first choice for the role of Donna. "I was initially worried she'd be too lightweight," he says. "But she drew from something deep down in her that I don't think even she knew was there." He liked that she had no sense of "the star" about her. "She doesn't hide behind a lot of method or technique; she relies on gut instinct. I don't think she's good at faking it, so if she doesn't feel the truth of something, she can't do it."

In the eight months between shooting Dangerous and Canal Road, Seet saw changes in Satchwell: "She was stronger, more wary," he says. "Less vulnerable, I guess, although that was partly her character." He would like to see her stretch herself further, to lose the girl next door. "The industry tends to pigeonhole you quickly," he says. "I was impressed to find she wasn't a lightweight. The world needs to find that out, too."

The 13-episode Canal Road was shot during May and June last year, just as details of her tempestuous relationship with Newton, the son of Bert and Patti, were aired in court. Their relationship - which started when Newton was casting for a trailer in 2000 for his feature Right Here Right Now and ended when she moved out of the home they shared in Sydney's Rozelle in 2006 - was described as "love-hate", and his conviction for assault and 12-month good behaviour bond were both quashed on appeal, despite him pleading guilty, after the court heard Newton had suffered a kind of nervous breakdown and his aspirations to work overseas would be ruined by a criminal conviction.

Satchwell began the shoot tense, emotionally overwhelmed and chain-smoking but quickly found the discipline of the film schedule, and the family atmosphere of the television crew, gave a big fillip to her confidence. "It came at a time when I didn't have the qualities that my very take-life-by-the-horns character had," Satchwell says. "They talk about 'Fake it till you make it', that it's a healthy thing to do sometimes. I'm not very good at faking it but if I have a responsibility, I'll step up to it and that's what Canal Road gave me. And I'm surprised, looking back at the person who entered that job and the person who came out the other end."

Satchwell's friend, Rachael Deller-Pincott, watched her mate go through the process. "She was raw and quite reflective," says Deller-Pincott, 32, who has known Satchwell since her early Neighbours days. Deller-Pincott describes a talkative, quirky friend who is tough on herself but loyal. "If she knows something is going on in my life, she's always been there," she says. "She's as kind as she always was - and she's the first to take the piss out of herself."

Satchwell herself talks about being "a people pleaser" since she was little: "It worked well ... you go into the entertainment industry not knowing your head from your backside and people asking you all these questions and you say, 'Yes, I can do that, no worries.' Then you get to the point where you go, 'Hang on - I have a bit of choice in this, haven't I?' That's been a big realisation for me. There's a lot to be said for pleasing yourself."

For now, Satchwell is content, juggling several work possibilities and not in a relationship. "When you've come out of challenging experiences and you're still

a decent person, you've got to be proud of yourself,

I think," she says. "I'm sure I'm going to make more mistakes in my life and become lost on tangents. I think that's the risk you take when you're open to life."

Canal Road will screen later this year on the Nine Network.


1 She's obsessed with the weather. Her favourite website is the Bureau of Meteorology's (www.bom.gov.au). "It's raw and beautiful. Nature puts things in perspective."

2 When she got the Neighbours role, she had two part-time jobs mopping floors at local milk bars.

3 She loves to dance around the lounge room using a hairbrush as a microphone. Preferred artist: Meat Loaf - I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That). "Love my bogan rock."

4 She's accident-prone. On a recent trip to Bali, her first holiday in seven years, she was hospitalised with a parasite infection, suffered severe sunburn and had a car accident.

5 Her favourite actors are Sean Penn, Alan Alda and Dustin Hoffman for their "warmth, openness and intelligence, with a dash of whimsy".

6 She's been known to demolish a large box of Cadbury Favourites chocolates in three minutes.

7 The Hume Highway is her favourite road trip.

8 She appears as an extra in Canal Road, wearing a wig, glasses and a cold sore. It was her idea. "I rediscovered my inner moron."

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