As an actress, Emily Weir has learnt to tap into her emotions to convey a believable performance. But in an unscripted moment on the new season of Dancing With The Stars, the Home And Away talent doesn't just dance: she bares her soul on national television.
Emily, who has been open about her long struggle with anxiety and alcohol, says the "guttural" performance was a personal journey of hope that transcended the screen. The routine, performed with partner Lyu Masuda, became a benchmark of how far they've both come in life. Emotions ran high.
"It was incredibly special, because essentially the dance was a story about losing hope and a reflection of our personal journeys," Emily tells TV WEEK. "It was a moment I'll never forget."
Six months before she was cast as Mackenzie Booth in Home And Away in 2019, the actress decided to quit drinking. Throughout her twenties, Emily used alcohol as a coping mechanism to hide her crippling anxiety, which began after her parents divorced.
But over time, the endless parties became less fun and the impact of her depression more pronounced. The Brisbane native faced a frightening crossroads: confront her demons or spiral out of control."In my 20s, I was lost and confused," Emily says.
"Things were on the line and I nearly lost hope. It was difficult to ask for help, because I had too much pride. So when I was at what felt like the point of no return, something inside me said, 'I have to change. I need help.' The turning point for me was hitting rock bottom.
"I was fortunate I had people around me when I needed them. I tried everything I could [to get better]. The struggle out isn't easy, but I clawed my way out."
Soon after, Emily arrived in Summer Bay as newcomer Mackenzie. Fans warmed to her character and the road to fame was in sight. She was finally on the way up – or so it seemed.
"I was sober before I got on the show, but my struggles didn't stop there," Emily recalls. "I didn't work on myself enough, and those demons appeared in different, controlled ways when I was in the thrust of the show. About four years in, it hit me all over again. I was sober, but not emotionally sober. I had to deep-dive into why I started drinking in the first place."
Twelve months have passed since and, while change is "painful and uncomfortable", Emily is grateful for those who helped her out of the darkness. She's now a member of AA and wants to use her platform to help others struggling with mental health. She'll be supporting the Sydney Retreat, a rehabilitation and recovery centre, throughout Dancing With The Stars.
"In the past five years, I've learnt to set boundaries and be kinder to myself," she says. "As humans, we know when something doesn't feel right, but we have so much fear. Now, my relationship with it is one of compassion rather than regression.
"It would be special for people to know that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and that, if you work on yourself and stay surrounded by good people, you can come out the other side."
While DWTS has been a journey of enlightenment, it's come with a few injuries too. From near-catastrophic slips on the dance floor to the toll of pushing her body to its limits, Emily says, "There have been days where I haven't been able to walk!"
"There's no fitter human being than a dancer," she says with a laugh. "I've injured myself a few times, and I'm in ice baths a lot, because you're just not used to using those muscles."
Emily doesn't intend to waste her chance to shine. She has the competition in sight, but more importantly, a grasp on who she is and where she's going. The satisfaction is greater than any trophy.
"The past five years have been some of the most important of my life," she says, "I'm grateful to be in Home And Away. I love my job – and DWTS is one of the best things I've ever done.
"My dream right now is simply one of continuing to grow as a human being and having peace of mind. I'm open to what may come, but I'm really happy with where I'm at right now."
As for Mackenzie's future in Summer Bay, there's something Emily hopes to see on the horizon...
"It would be nice for her to have a wedding one day, wouldn't it?"