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TV

EXCLUSIVE: Rebecca Gibney and Erik Thomson open up about becoming “mum and dad” again in Back To The Rafters

“Let’s just have fun.”

By Tiffany Dunk
In early March 2020 a group of actors were being miked up as they took their seats at a grand U-shaped table inside Amazon's Australian headquarters.
Scripts clutched in their hands, they swallowed nervously as they looked at the giant screen that was live-streaming them to the US; where the company's top execs had gathered to take stock.
It was time to do the first read through of a script that had the weight of the nation's expectations on its shoulders.
Looking around her, Rebecca Gibney sensed the tension of the younger cast members and gave them a reassuring smile.
"It will be okay," she assured them all. "Let's just have fun."
"And we did," she recounts now of the first time the Back to the Rafters cast assembled, eight years after the original Rafter family bid farewell following six hugely successful seasons on the Seven Network.
Mum and dad are back in action! (Supplied)
"It was terrifying, but I loved it. It's lucky I have been around as long as I have.
"Because I could see the execs were all smiling in the right places and responding and enjoying it. It was great."
For those who missed it, in 2008 Packed to the Rafters broke ratings records when the feel-good family drama hit screens.
It kicked off the careers of fresh out of NIDA actors Jessica Marais, Hugh Sheridan, Ryan Corr and more.
And it also started a beautiful friendship between Rebecca, 56, and her fellow Kiwi-raised co-star Erik Thomson, 54; whose chemistry was apparent from the minute cameras began rolling.
"It's rare," Erik says with a smile of the bond which formed between the two and lasts to this day.
"From the very outset it was easy.
"We were both in happy, solid relationships [Rebecca with husband Richard Bell, Erik with wife Caitlin McDougall] which kind of gives you the freedom to be in a pretend one and not feel like there was any weirdness.
"We looked after each other and knew what we needed to do to get through it. Because some of those days were long.
"Some of the emotions of it and the on set dynamic were hard to navigate.
"And then we had all our crazy children experiencing what they were experiencing, which was being on the biggest show on TV without having ever been on TV before."
Both parents, the pair found themselves naturally gravitating towards the role of 'mum' and 'dad' on set.
It was important, they each felt, to nurture their 'kids' the way they would their own children.
"Rebecca's parenting style was very much a forward one, she was in there," says Erik.
"I sat back a bit more and would be there if anyone needed me. I'd only give advice if it was asked for.
"On a few occasions I'd put the old safety net out, but we complemented each other quite nicely and we were always there for anything the kids needed."
Each episode, the pair recall, would have a scene where their characters Dave and Julie recapped events as they sat together in their marital bed.
Taking advantage of the permanent set-up, Rebecca and Erik had commandeered the 'bedroom' on set as their makeshift office, hoping to read over their scripts, have a cup of tea and relax on their respective sides of the bed.
Rebecca Gibney and Erik Thomson are back in the Packed to the Rafters reboot. (Supplied)
"Of course, it didn't last long at all," Erik chuckles.
"The kids were straight in there – everyone would lie all over the bed and you could never get a seat.
"If you wanted to relax there would be six people lying on the bed, sitting in all the chairs. We just gravitated together."
That gravitational pull continues to this day.
"I remember the very first time I met Hugh Sheridan," Rebecca reminisces with a smile.
"He got into the back of the car [I was in] and I turned around to say hello and shake hands.

"He was reading a book that was a really in-depth book for a 22-year-old to have. I went, 'Oh wow, that's pretty intense.'
"And he goes [using a deep and mysterious tone] 'I'm intense'.
"But then he laughed and made some sort of joke, and I went, 'I am going to love this boy'. And he did become like my son.
"He and I have lots of dinners, we catch up all the time and we were in quarantine together [before shooting Back to the Rafters].
"We made lots of quarantine videos."
Erik equally bonded with his 'son' Angus McLaren.
The on-screen "mum and dad" developed close bonds with their co-stars. (Supplied)
"Gus and I talk quite often, we have quite a close relationship," he says.
"[But] we've all kept in touch so we don't miss anything about each other's lives, it's just the physical presence."
The ability to have that once more was what led both to gratefully jump at the chance to reprise their characters for the series.
"Because Erik lives in Adelaide and I live in Dunedin [in New Zealand] we barely saw each other and so when we did we were hugging," says Rebecca.
"The older we get, we probably get on even better. There is just genuine excitement."
"I love the ease of just sitting around and having cups of tea and just talking about life themes," adds Erik.
"There was a little bit of fear that we were going to try too hard to capture that magic again [with Back to the Rafters] but that fear just dissipated once we got together and we had the scripts, we had the relationship, and we went about it.
"It was sitting there in me, it was sitting there in Bec and it was sitting there in all of the other actors. We lived it together."
*Hugh Sheridan has since come out as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.
Read more in the October Issue of The Australian Women's Weekly on sale now.

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