House Husbands’ Denise Scott on her later-in-life career change, new role and Julia Morris

I was 56 when I got the job – 56!
Denise Scott

She may have been working since the crack of dawn, but early on a Monday morning Denise Scott is already in great form. Filming scenes for her latest role in the popular drama series House Husbands, the much-loved comedian is full of life, fun and, of course, her trademark self-deprecating humour.

Chatting between scenes on the show’s Melbourne set, in which she plays unflappable nursing unit manager Toni Kesha, Denise reveals she’s loving the opportunity to act again. Having spent the best part of the last four decades making people laugh, Denise has since captured a legion of fans for her dramatic work in Winners & Losers, and now in House Husbands, too.

“Acting has come to me later in life,” she says. “It was Maryanne Carroll, originally the producer of Winners & Losers – who had a lot to do with the comedy scene – who fought to get me on that show.

“I was 56 when I got the job – 56! I had to audition four times for it because people weren’t convinced that I could act, and I wasn’t either. So I learned a lot.”

And Denise is clearly relishing her role as the ever-direct Toni.

“Toni’s very non-nonsense,” she says of her character, before deadpanning: “Having big breasts comes in handy. I think, when you’re younger, big breasts make you sexy; when you’re older, they make you no-nonsense!

“The role’s a lot of fun. She’s a very concerned nurse, and I’m forever looking at someone with a concerned look on my face. So I’ve mastered the art of concerned looks!”

With her Winners & Losers co-stars.

Denise reveals she’s been warmly welcomed by the House Husbands cast, including Gary Sweet, Rhys Muldoon, Natalie Saleeba and Julia Morris.

“It sounds clichéd, but this is such a good cast – really great fun – and Julia is superb,” Denise says. “She is just so caring, as well as being outrageously funny. She’s always entertaining.”

Having started her career as an English and drama teacher, Denise decided to quit the profession in her early twenties to instead follow her dreams of performing.

“The actual point of change came when I had a head-on car accident. I had not been enjoying teaching, but I didn’t know how you became an actress – I just knew I wanted to be one. But I wouldn’t have had the courage to have left teaching.

“When I had this accident, at the point of impact when the two cars hit, I thought, I’m going to die a teacher! I actually felt this real disappointment, although it obviously happened in a split second.

“The accident was my fault, and when I got out of the car and realised everyone had – most importantly – survived, I thought, Wow, I am so lucky that I haven’t hurt anyone! I didn’t have any insurance, but I spent all my savings to buy this person another car. Then I quit teaching and went on to have a fabulous career for some time as a waitress,” she quips.

“Eventually, I got a job with a clown ensemble, even though I had no clowning skills whatsoever. That’s also when I met John, my partner of 35 years [and father of Denise’s two adult children].”

Playing no-nonsense head nurse, Toni.

Over the years, Denise – who, incidentally, hasn’t driven since inexplicably losing concentration behind the wheel that fateful day – has amassed a large volume of work as a stand-up comedian.

“It’s actually a relatively new career choice here. Although there were vaudeville Australian performers, the comedy rooms and stand-up comedy routines didn’t really happen here until the early 1980s. So I was there and I was a pioneer,” she says.

As for Denise and John, the couple have never married. And they’re just as content as they’ve ever been.

“It’s very Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell,” Denise says with a laugh. “Occasionally, John gets excited because he loves big events, and so occasionally he’ll propose and I’ll go, ‘Oh… no…’ ”

What’s holding Denise back from heading down the aisle?

“It sounds a bit corny, but I do not like contracts,” she says. “I feel hemmed in. When I was teaching, you had to teach for three years, but I didn’t last the three years and I always felt burdened by promising people I’d be there for a certain length of time. And we’re both a bit hippy, too – anti-establishment, man!”

Denise met her long-time partner John working for a clown ensemble.

Denise also reveals that when she’s not to be found on the set of House Husbands, there’s one unlikely pastime she’s become rather addicted to – crocheting!

“I’ve done bedspreads and I’ve done some awful, awful things, like an awful poncho,” she admits, laughing.

“Oh, it was so terrible, I felt like I couldn’t even give it to the op shop! It really was that bad. I thought, No-one would want this! But I had another go at a poncho and I made a nice one, so

I have improved.”

As for getting older, one thing’s certain for Denise.

“The best thing is being more comfortable in your own skin,” the actress reflects. “Not that my skin is doing well. There are disgusting things going on with it! But I’m more comfortable and

so that’s very good. I really do appreciate being alive.”

Watch Denise in House Husbands, Mondays at 9pm; and hear her narrating Travel Guides, an all-new program starring six groups of ordinary Aussies taking on the job of travel critics, Tuesdays at 9pm, both on Channel Nine.

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