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EXCLUSIVE: Kerry Armstrong reveals why she quit acting after SeaChange, and what brought her back

She once almost gave away the thespian game for good. But acting her age has proved a refreshing change of pace for 'Frayed' star, Kerry Armstrong.
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When Kerry Armstrong walked onto the set of her latest TV series, Frayed, she was feeling great about her latest role.

Cast as recovering alcoholic Jean, a mum and grandmother of two, the 61-year-old actress believed she was exactly the right fit for the straight-talking straight woman in ABC’s bittersweet new comedic drama.

“But then I was terrified because on the first day Diane (Morgan), one of the actresses looked at me and asked, ‘Who are you playing?’ I said, ‘I’m playing Jean,'” Kerry recounts to The Weekly.

“And she said, ‘No you’re not, you’re much too young.’ But I said, ‘No I’m not, I’m perfect.'”

Perfect in the role she most certainly is. Playing a grandmother – and a woman of her own age – was a refreshing change of pace for Kerry, who has loved plunging into new depths for the six-part series written by and starring award winning Australian comedian Sarah Kendall.

A co-commission by UK’s Sky and the ABC, Sarah plays a wealthy housewife living in London who is forced to return to her hometown in NSW’s Newcastle after her husband dies unexpectedly.

READ NEXT: This is exactly where the SeaChange reboot is filmed

In Frayed, Kerry stars as Jean, mother to Sarah Kendall’s character Morgan, who is forced to move in with her.

(Credit: Photo courtesy of the ABC.)

With two teenage children in tow she is forced to move back in with her mum Jean and is soon brought firmly down to earth as her lavish lifestyle unravels.

Set in 1989, it’s also a glorious nod to the fashions of that decade to often hilarious effect.

Sarah sports a Dynasty-esque hairstyle that looks suspiciously like one Kerry herself had back in that same time period.

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“Of course, I was on Dynasty and Sarah thought that was just brilliant,” Kerry grins. “We laughed about it all the time and she asked me all about Linda Evans. I loved it.”

She looks like 42-year-old Sarah’s mum, Kerry adds. In fact, she’s even older than her.

And while she may not be a grandmother herself yet, as a mum of three grown boys – Sam, 29, and twins Jai and Callum, 23 (pictured with Kerry below) – she most certainly is itching to be one.

“But apparently being a grandma is not on the horizon any time soon,” she laughs. “I was asking Sam that when he turned 21.

I was like, ‘Come on matey! I reckon it might be another five or 10 years or so.”

Until that time though, there’s certainly plenty keeping Kerry busy on the work front. In addition to Frayed she has recently been back on screens in the SeaChange reboot on Nine, reprising the role of Heather Jelly. She’s had a stint on Neighbours for Ten and has two films currently in post-production.

Not bad considering she almost walked away from the acting game after the first iteration of SeaChange wrapped in 2000.

“I stopped acting, I lost all my confidence,” she reveals of that time in her life.

But then, fate intervened in 2001. Acclaimed Australian film producer Jan Chapman was working on a new movie, Lantana. And she was so sure Kerry was the right fit for the lead role of Sonja Zat that she had the script hand delivered to the actress’ front door.

Kerry with SeaChange co-star John Howard at the TV Week Logie Awards in 2000 – the year she gave up on acting.

(Credit: Getty Images)

“I sat down and read the script and I didn’t get off the floor,” Kerry recalls of the film that would win her an AFI for Best Actress along with a clutch of international awards.

“I wept as I read it. I knew that Sonja was somebody I was dying to do.”

The last to audition, Kerry was so nervous that she had to have a friend drive her to the studio as her legs couldn’t carry her. But she knew that she was the best person for the job.

Kerry’s character Jean is a recovering alcoholic living in Newcastle, on NSW’s north coast.

(Credit: Photo courtesy of the ABC.)

“When you know you can do a role, sometimes the testing is the killer,” she explains of her overwhelming fear.

“The thing about actors is if we know we can do it, we won’t let you down. But if you test us for too long it’s a little like a frog in boiling water – we won’t know what is happening and in the end we will slowly die of disillusionment.”

“I knew I could do this role, I just didn’t know how to tell them that I knew and I hoped that they could see it.”

Acting is a tough game with roles often far and few between. But Kerry refuses to put herself forward for characters if she can’t feel them in her bones in the same way she did with Sonja in Lantana and now Jean in Frayed.

Kerry and co-star Ben Mingay, who plays Jim, in a scene from the series.

(Credit: Photo courtesy of the ABC.)

“There’s no mystery to acting, just tell the story,” she reasons. “If you’re playing Hamlet and you don’t think you’re Hamlet, then chances are we won’t think you’re Hamlet either! I’m often saying no, that story is just not in my bones.”

A classic case of that was for another ABC production, 1997’s crime drama Wildside, starring Alex Dimitriades, Tony Martin and Rachael Blake. Up for the role of Inspector Virginia King, she clocked actress Victoria Longley sitting in the waiting room to audition and swiftly turned face.

“I picked up the phone to my agent and said, ‘I don’t even need to go in because there’s no way I can do it justice the way that Victoria will,'” she reveals, adding she’s been the bane of her agent’s life on many similar occasion. “She used to want to strangle me!”

Frayed debuts Wednesday October 16 at 9:10pm on ABC and ABC iView

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