Of course, an interview with the big star of the series belongs on this site. And Olivia Wenholz
(then: Olivia Harkin
) is the star, as she portrayed Elly Barton
This interview is very special to me. You see, Olivia is not "just" the star of the series, but also a BIG
part of what makes this site what it is. She provided most of the photo's and newspaper clippings in my collection and a lot of the trivia. She's also my personal proof reader with her eagle eyes that spots every typo or grammar mistake I make... And if that's not enough, she also gives me suggestions on how to improve the site.
In short, I'm so lucky to have her help on this site and I'm very proud and honoured to call her my friend!
Well, you all came here to read about her and her time as Elly
, so let's dive in!
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself? Where were you born, and when?
I’m from Melbourne, Australia and was born in August 1975.
2. How did you get the part?
The ABC decided to not cast the child characters in the series from the usual variety of child actors on agency books. Instead they sent a letter to schools in Melbourne calling for 11 year old / year 6 girls to audition. The response was pretty big, and they went through hundreds of hopeful actresses, but they had a very specific vision of what Elly looked and like, so a lot of very talented hopefuls were ruled out pretty quickly, purely based on appearance. I was just incredibly lucky that I happened to fit the physical description of Elly very well, ie dark hair, short in stature, …
As it turns out, I possessed a fair few other characteristics that were listed in Elly’s detailed character description, so I guess I was almost type-cast, but there was some acting involved in portraying her… I’d like to think I wasn’t entirely as bossy or stubborn as Elly is, but my parents may tell you otherwise.
3. Did you have prior acting experience or training? Or are you a natural acting talent?
I had done drama classes in school and as an extra-curricular activity, and a few amateur theatre productions in my local village/suburb. My mum was very active in the local theatre group and I spent many nights as a small child, sitting in my pyjamas in the rehearsal room while my mum rehearsed for the next production.
I had also done one short 15 minute tv episode along with a lot of class mates from my school. We were all cast together in a show that was written by our former drama teacher Jan Sardi. He started out writing drama productions with lots of small speaking parts so that all the kids in the class would get a go. He went on
to write some amazing screenplays for major feature films such as Mao’s Last Dancer
, The Notebook
4. Of all the parts you've played on screen and on stage, which was your favourite?
Hmm, tough one. I did enjoy playing Lizzie Borden in a highschool production. Lizzie was a very unhinged, unbalanced young woman who lived in Massachusetts in the late 1890s and was accused and acquitted of brutally murdering her father and her stepmother with a hatchet. She is the subject of the nursery rhyme "Lizzie Borden took an axe/She gave her mother forty whacks/When she saw what she had done/She gave her father forty-one. Lizzie Borden got away. For her crime she did not pay." It’s a heck of a lot of fun to play the stronger, wilder emotions of a character like that. You get to dig deep to let loose and vent some of the emotions that more sane, balanced individuals manage to keep surpressed.
5. More in general, which do you enjoy more? Screen or stage?
I enjoy screen acting more, because I feel it is a more subtle, nuanced medium. Of course in turn it demands that the actor produce a more restrained, nuanced performance, and have the skill to convey many more shades and tones of meaning, with much smaller inflections of voice, and more intricate facial expression. I wish I had more practice at it, as I certainly haven’t mastered the subtleties of screen acting yet.
6. How does it feel to know there's people around the world who remember The Bartons (and by extension: you) with such warm feelings for the show?
I’m quite gobsmacked to learn that the show has any kind of following at all, as it only showed for 3 weeks in Australia and no one remembers it at all – except my family and closest school friends maybe. So to hear that it is remembered fondly is really quite lovely. And to think that it was a positive part of some people’s childhoods is a very special reward.
7. If the various databases online are correct, you haven't been active for a number of years (last time on stage: 2004, last time on screen in 2005). Any chance we'll be seeing you again in the future?
The last show I did was an amateur musical theatre production of Buddy in 2007, when I was 5 months pregnant with my first son Harry. Since then I have been well and truly distracted by the joys and challenges of motherhood and work. These days if I have any spare time I try to spend it with friends or at the gym. Maybe when my boys are older and don’t want to hang out with me after school or on the weekends, I might put that time back into acting. Canberra has a very active pro-am theatre scene and there are some magnificent production companies here, so I’m sure I’ll find my way back to the limelight soon enough.
8. What are you up to nowadays?
I work 4 days a week at The Australian National University as a Communications & Engagement Manager, and on my 1 day off I run around like a mad woman trying to get all my errands done to keep myself and my family going.
9. What does your family think of The Bartons (and of course, your part in it)?
For a long time I didn’t have a decent copy of it that was watchable. I only have old VHS copies that were recorded off the tv and the tapes are a bit stretched so the sound has gone funny, and I don’t even own a VHS player anymore. So discovering that the whole series is on Youtube in a playlist was a very big surprise.
My sons haven’t watched it and aren’t remotely interested in seeing it. I think they think they are too old to enjoy watching it now, as they are 11 and 13, and it would probably seem quite dated to them, being made soooooo long ago in the late 80s. I told them that they’d probably get a good laugh out of it, just to see Mum as a stubborn, bossy little so-and-so, and to laugh at the terrible 80s fashion. I might convince them some day.
Some of my current friends have watched an episode or two, out of curiosity, when I shared the Youtube playlist link on Facebook. But it’s not really pitched at middle aged people, so I don’t imagine it was scintillating viewing for them.
10. The last two questions about The Bartons before we finish up: what's your favourite episode and your least favourite. And why?
I think my favourite episode is Suspected, because it goes into Paul and Elly's relationship a bit more, and because Elly has her confidence dented somewhat as she explores her identity. In most of the other episodes Elly is pretty confident and sure of herself, and doesn't really question how she sees the world. But she does in this episode.
[Choosing a least favourite] is a hard one. It would probably be Bartons on the Beach - not because of the script, but because of the weather. It wasn't actually that warm (certainly not beach weather) when we shot the outside broadcast, and we had to wade through creeks, and Frankie J had to go swimming in the ocean, and I was buried up to my neck in very cold sand for a few hours. I also felt quite awkward and embarrassed in the scenes where the boy who was keen on me sang to me. But I did like the way the script focussed on the Mum, and highlighted how the rest of the family took her for granted a bit, and didn't really consider her feelings or wants or desires.
11. This one was requested by an anonymous seven year old from Holland: what did Vivienne squeeze instead of a real frog in that one episode… it wasn't a real frog, was it? :)
We used a real frog on Vivienne's hand, then for the squeeze shot they replaced it with a plastic mold in the shape of frog, with a hollow space on the underside/inside. I think the Props Department just grabbed some leftover food from the catering table and mashed it up to look like the frog's innards. I think they used mashed zucchini which would have given it a nice green colour.