EXCLUSIVE: Sharon Johal shares the strange reality of returning to the Neighbours set amid the COVID-19 pandemic

''We’re really lucky.''
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It’s a brave new world we live in thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve completely overhauled the way we go about our everyday lives, from schooling our kids, to work and even how we grocery shop.

Soon enough life will resume, but already we’ve seen people and business adapting to change.

After essentially all local TV production shut down, iconic Aussie soap Neighbours, is leading the way as the first to return to filming – with special measures in place, of course.

We shouldn’t be surprised, Neighbours is constantly leading the way for Australian television, with the first on-screen same sex marriage and casting of Georgie Stone the first transgender character.

But what does filming looking in the wake of COVID-19?

We chat to the effervescent Sharon Johal, who plays Dipi Rebecchi, about returning to set and her new podcast, We Are The Real Ones (which has a very impressive guest list).

Sharon is back on set with some of her co-stars, like Bonnie Anderson.

(Image: Supplied)

How have you found being in lockdown at home with your husband?

We’ve not ever spent, this much time together. I go from two different extremes. I go from, “Oh, my God, I love you so much” to “Oh, my God, you’re so annoying’ [laughs]. But it’s good, really good.

I’ve been best friends with the fridge, which hasn’t been so great because I’ve come back to work and I didn’t notice because you’re in your trackies, then all of a sudden you’re putting costume on and things are a bit tight. I didn’t want to be hard on myself at all, it’s a pandemic, we can’t be like stop yourself and diet.

How are you able to return to filming with the restrictions in place?

We’re really lucky, it’s such a large building and got big location that is big enough for us to maintain social distance and we’ve broken up the cast into two groups essentially, which means that everyone’s that much less risk, it’s been quite seamless. Any precaution you can think of has been taken.

I love the fact that I am at work, I feel very honoured and privileged that we’re the first ones.

The Neighbours star with DJ Havana, Effie Kats, and MasterChef’s Khanh.

(Image: Supplied)

How do you fill the backgrounds and scenes with what usually would be extras?

Because we’re not bringing any external people, we’ve been using like our receptionist and admin staff. Even our AD who’s the guy who calls ‘action’ and ‘cut’, he’ll be the guy that works behind the counter at Harold’s café. It’s funny.

Why did you want to start a podcast, particularly during isolation?

I’m like this crazy overachiever and I find it very difficult not to do anything. I always wanted to do a podcast but obviously because of the rigorous scheduling on Neighbours, you just don’t have the time.

When I had the time off there was a really clear moment where I was like wanting to give back cause I’m really like to give back to the community and I was thinking, what can I actually do?

I thought about what motivated and inspired me to by my best self and in this regard I recalled the incredible conversations I have had with friends and people of influence, success and expertise within and around the industry with the key difference being that they were authentic, honest and real.

MasterChef judge Melissa, is the first of Sharon’s guests.

(Image: Supplied)

You released the first episode this morning with MasterChef judge Melissa, who else can we expect to hear on the podcast?

I have been a busy bee over the last few weeks and have already interviewed the likes of Bec Judd, Nazeem Hussain, Steph Claire Smith, Alan Fletcher, Georgie Stone, Ashleigh Gardiner, Lana Wilkinson, Rachel Watts, Khanh Ong, Dilruk Jayasinha, Effie Kats, Laura Henshaw, Tim Robards, Jane Scandizzo, Jodi Gordon, Bonnie Anderson, Michelle Battersby – all to be released over the coming months. I am also speaking with Rachel Griffiths this week and am lining up Magda and Poh to name an exciting few.

Is there any one else you’d love to try get on the show?

I mean Margot Robbie, cause we’ve got that connection on this show. I haven’t met her, but we’ve got mutual friends. I’ve just been too shy to be like “Hey, can you help us?”

It’s not because she’s an incredible super star but it’s because of conversations I’ve had with crew who I’m very close to on the show. They always say to me that I’m a really nice person, but they go, “She was like that too. She made effort all the time and she really cared about us.”

You can find the fabulous new podcast, We Are The Real Ones here.

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