She enjoyed almost a decade on Aussie TV show Prisoner, carving a name for herself in the TV industry in the process, but actress Val Lehman has revealed life behind the scenes was far from luxurious.
The 75-year-old star played ‘Top Dog’ and ‘Queen’ Bea Smith on the long-running TV show in the 1970s and ’80s, putting in gruelling hours at the expense of time at home to make the show a success.
Now, speaking exclusively to Starts at 60, Val insisted there needs to be more respect for Aussie actors and actresses and admitted life off camera on her own show was dingy and “disgusting” at times.
“I remember on Prisoner, what we had to use for a green room was disgusting,” she explained. Actors and actresses use green rooms between takes to relax, with many often joined up to individual dressing rooms. However, this one joined on to a single communal dressing room instead.
“We were put in a tunnel, no money was spent on looking after us personally, or our comfort. We had to ask to make cups of tea and stuff. Mind you, working in the theatre in England if you were touring was similar,” she said.
“The green room and dressing room would flood when they did shower scenes and when they eventually gave us a green room upstairs, even that was extremely basic. Stars in Australia are treated like any other worker. Why should you expect more? But believe me, they were making a lot of money out of us.”
All that aside, Val said overseas producers are often thrilled that Aussie actors don’t act like stars, adding: “It works in our favour overseas. We don’t expect it because we’re not used to it”.
Despite the dismal conditions off camera, Val enjoyed every moment of her time on the show. However, she said it’s time for a major change to the way actors and actresses on any TV show are treated.
“We treat our actors in this country like cattle, in comparison to the UK for example. It’s shocking,” she admitted. “Your previous accomplishments are not considered much, they don’t take them into consideration when they’re casting. We don’t act like stars because we don’t get treated like stars. [Mind you] that can be a good thing.”
She recalled working in England for some time doing personal appearances, and said the people she worked with would be shocked when she offered to work extra time “because we’re not used to doing personal appearances here”.
Val’s thoughts were recently echoed by Sunrise star David ‘Kochie’ Koch, who told Starts at 60 TV has become “a bit of a bulls*** job” in Australia. Meanwhile, Blue Heelers star John Wood added that there’s more respect for older actors in England than there is in Australia.
“You look at the number of movies that have come out of the UK in the last 10 years like ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ with Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, they are treated by their peers with a high level of respect and regard,” he said. “But in Australia you get over 60 and you disappear, you vanish.”
For 692 episodes, Prisoner kept Australians glued to their TV sets. The series that first aired in 1979 garnered a huge audience of over a million viewers on average for every episode. The show was even a powerhouse overseas ranking as the number two highest rated show when it premiered in the US.