When Lynne answers the phone to meet with TV WEEK, there’s a divine symmetry between her and her famous alter-ego.
“Hello, Love. “How are you doing?” She says it again, echoing an emotional statement we’ve seen on film before. The charming word evokes strong feelings of nostalgia. Lynne seems like someone we’ve known for a long time, and in some ways, we have. For 29 years, audiences have seen the actress play Irene Roberts on Home and Away.
However, the more Lynne talks, the more she drifts from the brassy redhead who calls Summer Bay home. She has a tranquil existence with her 37-year-old partner Paul McWaters and her 31-year-old daughter Clancy, who recently got engaged.
Lynne, like her character, has experienced the sting of heartbreak, the warm glow of love, and the sucker punch of sadness on multiple occasions — we simply don’t see it. When it came time to put it all down on paper for her debut book, Acting Up: Me, Myself, and Irene, Lynne admits she was “terrified” to do so.
“A few years back, Ben Cousins [a former AFL player] wrote to me out of the blue, expressing his struggle with addiction and rediscovering his footing. The story was subsequently broadcast on television, and I was approached by a publishing business about creating a book,” Lynne, 68, tells TV WEEK. “‘What on Earth would I write about?’ I wondered. I didn’t believe I’d remember much either — I had far too much fun in the 1970s and 1980s!” [laughing]
She had a lot to say, as it turned out. Lynne says she “didn’t want to sugar-coat anything” about her background, which includes an eating disorder, an ill-fated marriage, job failures, sorrow, death, and drugs – and a search for herself and a family to call her own.
Looking back on it all, Lynne refuses to carry any burdens of the past.
“We all go through ups and downs in life,” she explains. “These are my autobiographies.” I’m sad for certain things that happened, but I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if they hadn’t happened — I don’t want to live a life of regret.”
Suddenly she stops because there is one moment she would change.
Lynne had a miscarriage during her second pregnancy in 1996 when she had five-year-old Clancy. Irene announced her pregnancy in her H&A tale, which corresponded with her heartbreak. The actors and crew were incredibly supportive, according to Lynne, but putting the plot together was a “painful and difficult” affair.
“I recall the scene fairly vividly. “Irene was showing off the images of the baby in the womb, and I just had a nervous breakdown,” she recounts. “I was given the option of not doing the plot, but I declined. And I was people-pleasing deep down. ‘What’s easier for them?’ I reasoned. I’d say no if I had the chance.”
After a very easy pregnancy with Clancy, the loss impacted her harder than she had anticipated.
“I was older the second time around, and perhaps because I didn’t realize I was pregnant for the first few weeks, I didn’t take care of myself as well as I would have if I’d known,” she reflects. “Who knows why these things happen?” says the narrator. But it worked, and I was able to get through it.”
This wasn’t the first time she had made a sacrifice in order to impress others. Lynne spent much of her childhood attempting to make people laugh in order to distract them from her “chunky monkey” appearance. Lynne developed an eating disorder as a result of her mother’s obsession with her daughter’s weight.
“It was the mid-sixties, and [fashion model] Twiggy was the look of the day,” she adds. “If I couldn’t be loved for the way I looked, I figured they’d love me for the way I make people laugh.”
Her drive to entertain pushed her to pursue a profession as a stage actor. She had a lot of guts, and it paid off. In 1993, however, she met a brick wall when she entered the fictional world of Summer Bay. She had to stand up to be heard and avoid being walked over, rather than delighting people around her. Lynne has developed a new technique she refers to as “the red mist.”
“I felt pressured to establish myself as an actor on Home and Away – I had no idea what was going on [at the time] because I had no experience with television, but my colleagues assumed I did,” she adds.
“The “red mist” allowed me to avoid being intimidated and to put an end to the pushing and shoving that was going on at the time. It didn’t happen very often, and it eventually ceased. However, it’s possible that I stepped on someone’s toes. I’m the type of person who either makes you like me or makes you hate me!” [laughs].
The red mist has dissipated, and a legacy has emerged. Lynne is the longest-serving female cast member in an Australian television series and one of the most well-known faces on our televisions. It’s a position she takes pride in, especially because Irene has a purpose in her life whether or not she has a guy in her life — a path that isn’t typically pursued in drama series.
“Irene is a community sounding board,” she says. “A husband or partner would obstruct the process.” If they pair me with someone, I’m sure he’ll try to murder her or rob her of all she owns. I adore the fact that Irene is such a powerful single woman.”
So we shouldn’t expect to hear wedding bells in 2022?
“Irene is a sounding board to the community,” she says. “A husband or partner would just get in the way. If they pair me up with someone, I just know he’ll end up trying to murder her or fleece her of all her money. I love that Irene is a great example of a strong single woman.”
With such a long history, Lynne is frequently asked whether she plans to depart the show. Her response, as it turns out, is the most people-pleasing of them all.
“I believe you are exactly where you are supposed to be in life,” she explains. “People must either love Irene or can’t stand her because we all want someone to hate on a TV show because I’ve been on the show for 29 years.” “Oh you play Irene?” a man at the airport once asked. You’re such a pain in the neck [laughs]! That means I’m doing my job, right? I’m pleased as long as I’m one of those and people keep turning the TV back on.”