Lisa McCune is tucked away in a cosy corner booth, sipping a latte in a bustling coffee shop on the edge of Melbourne's picturesque Royal Botanic Gardens, savouring a rare moment of quiet in between juggling rehearsals for a new play and the demands of teenagers currently on school holidays.
Heads turn ever so subtly as patrons recognise the familiar face in their midst, but Lisa is oblivious to the fuss as she chats enthusiastically about the joys of spending much of the last year largely out of the limelight.
"I had a year of self-imposed retirement, my own gap year!" she grins. "I spent my time doing very 'Nana-ish' things like learning how to bake bread, reading books, I've cleaned out my cupboards, managed basketball teams and fallen in love with gardening," she says, beaming broadly as she describes a late summer bloom of hellebores and stephanotis that have brought her garden to life.
"I'm happily erring on the side of becoming a recluse! I'm even reading books about reclusive people," she jokes, "stuck in my garden conversing with the plants and birds and I loved it, I couldn't be happier, I've been doing all of the things that I've wanted to do for a long time and not had time. It was heaven."
After a year of taking life relatively slowly by her standards, the much-loved actor is about to return to the spotlight again, taking on two leading roles in the Melbourne Theatre Company's performance of the Broadway hit Gloria.
Gloria, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize after its debut in 2016,is a very dark comedy with scenes of graphic mass murder, set inside the toxic office of a high-paced Manhattan magazine; it has been described as "jaw-dropping".
"It will challenge the audience," Lisa says."It's violent and confronting and at the end of the first act, I'm not sure if anyone will move from their seats. I probably won't be taking the kids along to see this one."
It's hard to believe it's been 25 years since the fresh-faced actress, straight out of drama school, burst onto our screens as Constable Maggie Doyle in the iconic series Blue Heelers. Constable Maggie Doyle made the Perth-born actor a household name, and for seven seasons she topped the television ratings and quickly became the darling of the small screen.
Most of us, women of a certain age, grew up following both Lisa and Maggie's adventures, on and off our screens.
Even though Lisa has well and truly shed the long shadow of her much-loved character, today without a skerrick of make-up on and her blonde hair gently swept up in a loose ponytail, the mother of three teenagers could easily step into Maggie's youthful shoes all over again.
But at 47, Lisa has come of age. She is happily single and comfortably self-assured, she is relaxed, brutally honest and radiating a warmth that comes with being truly happy in your own skin.
"I'm braver now than I've ever been," she says. "I feel like I own my space now, I have three kids who are terrific and I'm comfortable in my choices and decisions. I'm in a great place."
Her playfully dubbed "gap" year has been chicken soup for the soul. She didn't stop work entirely, just took a few steps back away from the spotlight to breathe and enjoy precious moments with Archer, 17, Oliver, 15 and Remy, 12.
In between gardening, baking and figuring out the family tree, she filmed the ABC TV's The Warriors and episodes of the hilarious The Ex-PM, she also starred alongside her former partner Teddy Tahu Rhodes, soprano Greta Bradman and tenor David Hobson in a reprise of their hit show From Broadway to La Scala.
It was a time to take stock, challenge herself and refocus her energy, particularly after the media frenzy that surrounded her relationship with Teddy and the end of her long-time marriage to Tim Disney.
Sensing a need to protect her family, particularly during the delicate teenage years, the relatively open book approach Lisa has previously taken to her personal life is now very much closed.
"I've decided it's just better not to discuss these things anymore, for everybody's sake," she says, adding: "My life is very boring! I'm home cleaning or looking after teenagers but I'll live my life the way I want."
She recalls the words of an elderly woman who approached her on the street after photographs appeared of Lisa and Teddy passionately kissing in public. "She said to me, 'you just be happy, love…' and I thought, yep, you're right, I'll live my life how I like.
"The light has been shone on me for such a long time ... I don't need that. I don't court it or aspire to it, I just love working and I enjoy what I do. I want to shine a light on my kids now and the other actors I'm working with, I find youth incredibly exhilarating, there's some wonderfully talented actors out there and I want to shine the light on them."
It is clear that the proud mother would much rather talk about others, especially her children, than about herself. The vagaries of life in a household of teenagers are endless fodder.
Despite being the television darling of the nation, Lisa's kids aren't at all fussed about what she does, describing motherhood as "very grounding!" All three are at high school now.
In the early years, the odd Logie went to school for show and tell, but these days teenagers are much harder to impress.
"I was singing with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra recently. It was a really big deal to me and I'd been working really hard on it. As I said goodbye to the kids they were like, 'where are you going?' When I explained, the response was just "okay, see ya". Didn't raise an eyebrow! If I'd landed a role in Game of Thrones they'd be impressed though!" she laughs.
"I was doing auditions for the stage production of Harry Potter recently and all of a sudden they took notice, but I didn't get the role so I was quickly back down the pecking order!"
As she picks up her coffee, I marvel at the fact that with her Midas touch for ratings and the box office, she still has to front up for auditions.
"Yes, I do and I'm not very good at it! I did a terrible audition recently. I do one or two a year and they're usually appalling because you don't do them enough and it's such an important process as an actor.
"If you've been around long enough, people think they know what you do but sometimes you want to surprise them, and it's such a pleasure to do that."
"I like to audition for roles that are quite outside the box for me and I think sometimes people are a bit scared to ask me to audition because they think I might be offended. But I love it and I should be doing it a couple of times a week, not a year."
It's fair to say Lisa McCune doesn't do things by halves. While rehearsing and performing Gloria, she will also begin filming a new comedy series How To Stay Married for Network Ten, alongside her good friend Peter Helliar. The show explores the challenges of sparking up a marriage that has become lacklustre.
"I'm driving him nuts phoning all the time asking how he's going with the script," she laughs. "I can't wait to start filming, Peter is so much fun and this role is light and funny, it's a fun look at relationships and marriage and touches on the issues that I've been dealing with in my family."
As Lisa has raised it, I delicately broach the question of whether or not she'd consider marrying again? "Hopefully I will on television again. But other than that, no, I don't think so."
In between their own busy schedules, Lisa's children will often come and see her perform or hang out on set, but she's still deliberating about whether they'll be in the audience on the opening night of Gloria.
The play, which critics have described as "an adrenaline rush" revolves around the egos and ambitions of a team of writers for a Manhattan magazine who become the subject of a mass shooting. The script explores topical issues of gun control and how the world is grappling with new media. The chameleonic actress will play two lead roles across two acts.
"It's a really fascinating play," Lisa says. "It is challenging and confronting and the themes are very current. It's dark but it is funny and satirical. I said to my kids, 'I'm not sure this is something you guys want to come and see'."
But this is exactly the sort of role that Lisa now cherishes, roles that take her well out of the comfort zone and well out of her audience's comfort zone, too. During her "gap" year she voraciously read books and has a head full of ideas, characters and stories she hopes may one day transfer to stage and screen.
"Before I took a break I was very busy in the brain. Now I've got space for knowledge and I'm soaking things up. I'd love to do a television series about news. I've been reading about female war journalists and to me that's fascinating material. I look at the roles that are around at the moment and I think there's some good work for women now."
"I'd also love to do another meatier drama – I really enjoy series television and I think the time will come back when series TV is produced again."
Even though the kids are unfussed by what Mum does, Lisa can see that each of the children has their own creative streak and may follow in her showbiz footsteps. She says Remy, "has flashes of it, she's naturally gifted as performing goes." Oliver is very funny and Archer has taken a deep interest in photography, so much so they are taking a family road trip for him to gather a portfolio.
"Archer takes a camera with him everywhere he goes. I'm taking him to the Snowy Mountains – I said to him, 'let's just get out and go shoot'."
Down the track she too may find herself behind the camera, perhaps even directing. Along with her passions for performing, Lisa would love one day to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, who have received critical acclaim for their work behind the camera, too.
"I'd love to produce and direct, I'd love to find a mentor who can take me through that process. There are really wonderful women behind the scenes and I have aspirations to do other things that bring stories to life."
For the time being though, she is happily ensconced in the very domestic day-to-day struggles of lunchboxes, homework, nurturing kids through the traps of social media and managing the basketball teams, all while learning complex scripts and building an abundant kitchen garden.
Time is precious – she's using it wisely.
"I think I have the kids for a small window now – they're growing and changing and becoming their own people. I can see that the window of time with them is shrinking so I need to grasp hold of it and make the most of it. Travel is on the agenda for us all. I want to create experiences for us and I aspire to minimalism now. The richness of life is about experiences, not material things."
"There's a great line in this play – youth is a weapon – and it really is, our kids have the world in their hands. This play is also about knowing when to step out of the way and let the younger generation come through, which is something that really resonates with me and I think it's an issue every parent grapples with, when to step in, and when to let go."
Whenever that time comes, it will no doubt add another chapter to the life of this stage and screen sweetheart.