Madeleine West has a simple outlook on a dizzyingly hectic life: “Opportunities dry up when you’re dead.”
Really dead, that is, not soap-opera dead – which can mean still kicking, should audacious scriptwriters decide. Such is the case with Madeleine’s Neighbours alter ego Dee Bliss, back on Ramsay Street 13 years after a cliff plummet that smacked of a TAC-ad send up (“if you share lingering kisses while driving, you’re a bloody idiot”). At least that’s what they’d have us believe.
“People are really going to love Dee’s wonderfully convoluted back story,” says Madeleine when we meet at her husband Shannon Bennett’s Parisian chic eatery, Cafe Vue. Dressed down in white shirt and jeans, she’s wide eyed and smiley, partly due to two lattes, but mostly from the thrill of revisiting Ramsay Street, where she’ll act until March, write soon after and then direct in August.
“They film an astronomical six episodes a week,” Madeleine says. “I need to add technical skills to my directing bow; Neighbours is learning on speed.”
She is extraordinarily eloquent, with a warmth that’s more Dee Bliss than Satisfaction escort, Mel, or Underbelly paramour, Danielle McGuire – two of the “more challenging” roles she left Neighbours to pursue. But like both characters, Madeleine has known dark times: stalkers, hate mail and a terrible accident in which her celebrated face collided with a Sydney bus in 2002.
“When I first saw myself bruised and slashed,” she says, “I asked myself why I’d chosen acting – to be airbrushed in magazines or tell stories? Very much the latter.”
After a pause to study the menu, she tells me about meeting Fleetwood Mac backstage last year, with her teary mum. She swoons at the memory. “Jimmy Iovine, Stevie Nicks’ former lover and producer, said that when Stevie went to hotel rooms, she’d diffuse lights with the shawls she carries everywhere. I was wearing one at the time and gave it to her, saying: ‘Stevie, sometimes the lights are too bright.’ She shot me a magical, knowing look.”
While enjoying her return to television as a “somewhat darker Dee”, Madeleine loves that her proudest role, motherhood, has no set script, a truth highlighted in Six Under Eight, her book released last year about life with five young daughters and a son, a busy husband, a turtle, a sheep, two ducks and insomnia.
It’s ultimately in their joy (and Cafe Vue pastries) that Madeleine finds her true bliss.
WHAT I’M DOING NEXT
See Madeleine on Neighbours on ELEVEN, weeknights at 6.30.
BREW HA HA
- 430 Little Collins Street, Melbourne
THE VIBE A pleasantly affordable and relaxed trip back to 1920s Paris (minus the can-can dancing).
THE BREW Colombian Primavera blend from Five Senses. Madeleine has two lattes, while I top up an early-morning plunger coffee with a stiff long black.
THE FOOD Madeleine polishes off scrambled eggs with bacon, avocado and bois boudrin sauce on a brioche bun.