The chance to play an exciting new character is any actor's dream. But when you're taking on an established role - like the iconic Rachel Rafter from Packed To The Rafters - there may be a few extra hurdles to jump over.
For Australian actress Georgina Haig, it was all about honouring the role.
"It is a nerve-wracking thing to take on a beloved character," Georgina admits to TV WEEK. "To be playing catch up while trying to fit into an existing family that know each other so well. I wanted to do it justice."
As the Rafter family return to our screens in the new Amazon Prime reboot Back To The Rafters, loyal fans and new viewers will have the chance to catch up with the beloved cast. This time, including Georgina.
The Once Upon A Time and Secret Bridesmaid's Business actress was revealed to be stepping into the role last year, with Rachel previously being played by Jessica Marais.
So, where do we pick back up? Set six years after the final episode, Julie and Dave Rafter (Rebecca Gibney and Erik Thomson) are living in a small country town with their almost-teenage daughter Ruby (Willow Speers).
Their three grown-up children, Rachel, Ben (Hugh Sheridan) and Nathan (Angus McLaren) are now in their 30s, facing their own unique relationship and financial woes.
While her brothers are close to one another in Sydney, Rachel is still living in New York City – where she moved in the final season of the original series. Living a somewhat secretive life, Rachel has some pretty big news to share with her family in the first few episodes of the reboot.
We caught up with Georgina ahead of the premiere, to chat all things Rafters and see how she approached the iconic role.
Welcome to the Rafters family! Were you a fan of the original series?
I hadn't actually seen much of it previously, because I was at drama school when it came out and we weren't watching much TV! We were so busy eating rice and tuna and doing Shakespeare [laughs]. But I went back and watched the first season and I just loved it, especially the pilot. It was beautiful. And I'm definitely a fan now.
I've heard you reached out to cast members for a little insight into Rachel before shooting began…
I did! These things can happen really fast and before I knew it, I was on set. I knew I didn't have time to sit and watch all the season's past, but I knew I wanted to have some sense of history with all the characters because it informs so much of what happens in this season. So, I reached out to everyone and sent them an email to see if they could share their happiest memory with Rachel and maybe the biggest difficulty with her. And that was incredibly helpful, I received some amazing answers. And having those iconic memories made it easier when I went in to do scenes with those cast members. I was grateful to the cast for opening up that way.
Absolutely – especially because, I imagine, it can be difficult to step into a role that's so established?
Yes! And just for example, Michael Caton [Grandpa Ted] shared with me that his character and Rachel had gone through some difficulties when she decided to have an abortion – and that was a useful note for when Michael and I had scenes together in this new season. So, I'm really glad that he shared that. I think also, I got sent the script for episode three, which Rachel features in a lot, and it was such a great script that I really related to what she was going through so much. I can't give away what happens, but I felt confident that I could tell her story and tell it truthfully because it related to me personally.
Erik and Rebecca were gushing about you, so it's safe to say you fit right in with the original cast…
Oh, that's so sweet! I knew Hugh from INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, so that was really nice, and I knew Angus through mutual friends. We all really get on and there's definitely that [family] vibe. But I had never worked with Erik or Rebecca before. I think they knew I would be nervous [laughs] because it is a nerve-wracking thing to take on a beloved character, to be playing catch up while trying to fit into an existing family that know each other so well, and I wanted to do it justice. Honestly, they really, really went out of their way to make me feel welcome.
They're just amazing people to work with anyway, they're very generous performers – kind of amazing leaders of a cast and crew. They really care deeply about every single person and so I think all of that made everything a lot calmer for me in my nervousness. With their honesty and generosity, I just felt that I was in good hands. But also, the producer and director, they'd all worked on the previous series, so they had a lot of information that was useful to me as well and they were super supportive.
Well, you've done an amazing job of stepping into the role! In fact, the casting is pretty spot on. Rebecca said when you stand between her and Erik it's almost too realistic…
It's good casting, you know! We do look alike [laughs] like a real family. So hopefully we can suspend people's disbelief.
And there's a lot to work with now that the kids are in their 30s. There are fresh storylines to play out, like Rachel coming back from New York or Ben being married…
I think so too, I think people will relate so much to it. Families – I mean, COVID has changed everything – but I think families are often separated and they're working and living in different cities around the world. Having lived overseas for so many years myself, we all do miss our families. But, then when you finally do see them it's incredibly intense. You're moving back in, or they're staying with you, and you're in each other's pockets every day. So, I think a lot of people will relate to that thing of missing your family and wanting closeness… but then wanting space to figure out stuff for yourself. It's the way modern families are!
Rafters was such a big show, with a pretty hardcore fanbase, have you had people reaching out to you on social media to share the love?
I'm sort of nervous to… the internet can produce very extreme responses in both the good and bad. So, I think as a performer you do have to protect yourself a bit and just engage when you want to engage. But also take things with a grain of salt. Generally, people seem pretty excited, but some people have had some… interesting perspectives, which I was expecting. I was prepared for there to be some push back because Rachel is such a beloved character, but I guess all I hope is that I've done a good job and that I tell the story truthfully. That's all I could do.
And you've got the experience of dealing with huge fanbases in the past – especially with the likes of Once Upon A Time.
Yes, absolutely. Once Upon A Time has very passionate fans from all over the world and I loved engaging with the fans for Once. I've done a few conventions and things like that. I always really enjoy interacting with fans and seeing how they felt, talking to them, and finding out their experiences. I think the most moving thing is when people come up to you and say 'oh my god, I went through something similar to that and it meant a lot to me' – that happens occasionally and it's wonderful.
And Rafters was always so good at that. People could see themselves in the storylines, like moving back into mum and dad's place – guilty! – or having relationship troubles, family troubles. Is it your hope that viewers can find that connection again?
Yeah, I'm so curious to see how the rest of the world responds to it and I'm curious if people will go back to watch the original series as well. The themes are universal and I think the way they've shot this new series is so beautiful. They've really tried to shoot as more of a cable show, and so I'm hoping it does reach a wide new audience. It's great, too, because it's a uniquely Australian show – it's very charming and fun and I think, especially right now with everything going on in the world, people will respond to a show like that.
We'll have to wait and see how the story plays out for Rachel and all the Rafters - but if the opportunity comes up would you like to do another season?
Oh, I would definitely be very open to that because I love the character and the family. I love getting to play good comedy and drama together, so it was great. It's a beautiful world to get to be a part of. So I'm hopeful, but we'll have to wait and see.
Back To The Rafters premieres on September 17 on Amazon Prime Video.