In her 30-year career as one of Australia's most sought-after actresses, Lisa McCune has played a variety of roles, including a tough police officer, a navy lieutenant and a brazen lawyer. But her latest work sees her as one of the most complex and misunderstood characters of all: a working mother with two children.
"I see it as the closest reflection to my own life I've ever done, which is good and bad," Lisa, 49, tells TV WEEK with a laugh.
Back again for season two, Lisa is busy mum Em Butler in the Network 10's How To Stay Married – the comedy series written by and starring funnyman Peter Helliar.
"I love it," Lisa enthuses. "I like the fact that it's charming and warm – and it makes me laugh. I loved going to work every day," she says.
In a candid interview, Lisa opens up about her own life and the juggle she faces when it comes to being a mother of three kids – Archer, 19, Oliver, 17, and Remy 14 – and maintaining a presence in the acting world.
"I remember, when I had my youngest child Remy, when shows [that she starred in] were launching, I'd give them a snack, then lock myself in the pantry so I could do an interview," she recalls. "I'd be doing these live radio chats staring at my Tupperware!"
Lisa says there's no such thing as maternity leave in the world of acting – you just have to press pause on acting jobs.
"You work as hard as you can for a short time and then step away," she says.
But on the flip side, Lisa says her career has meant the children have come along on a fun ride when she's gone back to work.
"When my kids were young and I was doing Sea Patrol, I spent five years going up to Far North Queensland, and the kids would come and live at Mission Beach for eight weeks," she says.
The four-time TV WEEK Gold Logie winner beams when she tells of her early days of motherhood – from feeding her babies on set, to the time when she was driving along with Archer and Oliver in the car and realised she wanted to become a mother again.
"I remember saying, 'I feel like someone's missing,'" Lisa explains. "And then the next week, I learnt I was pregnant with Remy."
As the conversation moves on from the days of sleepless nights with three kids under the age of four, Lisa becomes reflective and quiet.
She gives a sad sigh as she acknowledges the phase of motherhood she's moved into.
"I'm going into the next stage, where my kids don't need me as much anymore," she explains. "They're going through this thing where they're like, 'Don't do anything for me, Mum.' And I tell them, 'But if I had someone else staying in my house, I'd probably still make them breakfast, or offer them a coffee. I naturally want to share, so give me a break!'" [Laughs]
While many mothers of young children fantasise about all the free time they'll have when their kids get to their late teens or finally move out of home, Lisa worries she might become bored.
"I've started enrolling in courses to learn languages, I'm doing ancestry.com, and I've downloaded a masterclass on becoming a gardener," she explains. "I've even thought about going back to university – I'm in an absolute muddle now."
WATCH BELOW: Lisa McCune on Blue Heelers as Maggie. Post continues after video...
Just like her on-screen character Em, Lisa is constantly treading a fine line between trying to be a cool parent and laying down the rules.
"My kids find me extremely annoying, which I think is actually my role now – to play the annoying mother," she says. "I figure I'm just going to live with it and play that person – I'm not going to try to lessen it.
"And if I want their rooms tidy or their washing done, I'm going to tell them to do it. I'm not here to be your friend, but to be your mother."
Fellow entertainers such as Amanda Keller have spoken of the heartbreak of seeing your eldest child finish school and become an adult. Lisa says she echoes the sentiment, but has her own way of looking at it.
"It's so terrifying, because they still live under your roof," she says of her growing children. "So I say to my eldest son Archer all the time, 'I'm an investor in your life. Think of me as an investor in a company. So I put in, and I want to see something in return. If you're in my home, under my roof, and I'm putting in, I want a little respect back.'"
Lisa admits she craves parenting advice from a variety of sources, and believes her on-screen hubby Peter Helliar's wife of 17 years, Bridget, would have plenty of wise words to share.
"I'd like to be locked in a room with her for 10 minutes, because I reckon I'd be able to get some good mum tips," Lisa declares. "She sounds pretty cool, their kids sound very cool, and their life sounds very cool."
The irony of the show being called How To Stay Married at a time where many relationships are under stress because of stay-at-home restrictions in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus isn't lost on the actress.
"I'm separated, so I don't have to worry about pleasing a partner," she says with a laugh.
Lisa was married to Tim Disney, the father of her three children. After they broke up in 2012, she was with New Zealand opera singer Teddy Tahu Rhodes, but is now happily single.
"The only husband I have in my life is Peter Helliar [on screen in How To Stay Married] – which is great!" she says.
With the coronavirus restrictions also shutting down live theatre performances and the filming of television shows, Lisa admits she's now "a gun for hire" with a clear diary.
"I'm going to wait for something to cross my path that I just think, 'I really want to do that,'" she says, adding that she's made it a priority is to ensure the Australian entertainment industry is thriving when restrictions are finally wound back.
"I really want to be part of a push to get people back to work," she explains. "Whatever shape or form that comes in, I'm going to be coming out blazing and do whatever we need to do."
As the conversation winds up and Lisa ponders what her next TV job might be, she mentions she's watching her three kids while on the phone.
"They all get on so brilliantly and are as thick as thieves," she says. "God willing, nothing happens to me, but I know they've got each other now. I think my kids are awesome. I love them. They're the best thing I've ever made."