Being the mother of an eight-year-old daughter means actress Jacqueline McKenzie (Romper Stomper, Pine Gap) has, by her own estimate, seen every episode of children’s series H²O: Just Add Water “about three times”.
So when Jacqueline, 51, learned that she and H²O star, Australian actress Phoebe Tonkin, would both be in SBS drama Safe Harbour, “I had a bit of a fan-girl moment when I met her,” she confesses to TV WEEK.
“Her work ethic is almost second to none. She’s doing amazingly now too.”
For Phoebe, 2018 has been a breakthrough year. After five seasons in The Vampire Diaries spin-off The Originals playing werewolf-hybrid Hayley Marshall, the Los Angeles-based actress returned home to good notices for Safe Harbour.
She plays Olivia Gallagher, a woman haunted by an unexpected encounter while on a boat.
Then, in the winter, she transformed into the magically revitalised version of Jacki Weaver’s ageing actress Gwen Reed in Bloom, which will premiere on streaming service Stan on January 1.
“I think people in Australia will get to see me in a different light,” Phoebe, 29, tells TV WEEK on the set of the new series in Clunes in country Victoria.
“I think everyone pigeonholed me as a sort of kid actor. But I’ve finally been able to do things, sign onto things I believe in, that challenge me and that have brought me to places I want to go.”
Although she says starring in The Originals has been a blessing, she concedes that the gruelling schedule had inhibited her from expanding the career she began in 2006 as teenage mermaid Cleo Sertori in H²O: Just Add Water.
“I’d been on the show for about five years, and I was really feeling an urge to do some more work,” Phoebe explains.
Plus, she was feeling the pull of her homeland.
“I would always read scripts in Australia and think some of the work was more interesting than most things I’d read,” she says.
But she wasn’t going to leave The Originals without a plan.
“I was strong in my convictions about what I would do next,” she says.
“I wasn’t going to sign onto something just because it felt nice to get a job immediately.”
So she’s looked for complex parts in limited series or films, which led her to play Cole’s (Joshua Jackson) fleeting lover Delphine in an episode of The Affair.
“I’ve been hesitant to sign another long-term TV contract,” Phoebe reveals. “Just because I’m at an age now, without sounding like I’m jaded, where I want to choose my life a little over things as well.”
Next up was Safe Harbour.
“I’d always wanted to work with [director] Glendyn Ivin,” the actress says.
“I’ve seen everything he’s done, whether it was a short film or The Beautiful Lie or Seven Types Of Ambiguity. So that was a really incredible experience for me.”
She then found its equal in Bloom.
“I think Australians take a lot of risks,” Phoebe says with refreshing candour.
“After Safe Harbour, I wanted to find something that matched that. It’s not a surprise that Bloom was also in Australia.”
It has the bonus of being something her supportive parents can watch.
“I think they get extra-proud when it’s something in Australia, because they can see a billboard or a bus or something and say, ‘Look, that’s me!'” she says with a laugh.
But Phoebe has brought her local efforts back to Los Angeles – and beyond.
“Safe Harbour was just bought by [US streaming service] Hulu and has just been airing overseas,” Phoebe explains.
“I have a lot of international fans who have supported me from H²O, and then The Originals and Vampire Diaries.”
“For them to be able to see something such as Safe Harbour – such different, important subject matter – I felt it was a nice responsibility that I had.”
“What I try to do on social media is to guide younger fans in different directions and not just to superficial stuff. It’s nice.”