The friendship between Elly and Anita as well as their quick-fire dialogue are major staples of The Bartons. So, of course this site wouldn't be complete without an interview with the fabulous person who portrays Anita, as she's a big part of those staples!
She was surpisingly hard to find, and I'm not (just) talking about when the crew was looking for a spot-on girl to play the Anita they had in mind. I bothered a great number of people named Rosemary Smith in Australia until I ended up contacting the right one.
But as you can see, it worked out: Rosemary Smith
's interview is here! And I checked, it's the right one!
I'm so happy with this interview. And with Rosemary's help, I've been able to add even more background information and trivia to the site. So please do dive in!
1. First of all: thank you so much for saying yes to this! There's still people out there enjoying the show and who'd like to know what became of the people involved. Were you aware of this?
Not at all Erwin! I had assumed that The Bartons was lost in the ether of time. It screened in Australia way back in 1988. Given that the writing is of such high quality, it’s great that the show is still appreciated. I was aware that the show screened in various countries in the 90s, as I received a few royalty cheques from repeat screenings in distant countries like Germany and Samoa, but you never know how much impact a show is having.
2. Could you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from for instance?
I grew up in Hawthorn, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, which is not far from Copnal Court in Glen Waverley where they filmed scenes outside the Barton family home. I’m one of three sisters, and my younger sister Pippa played Yvonne McPherson on the show. The producers didn’t mind that Pippa looks nothing like me. The fact that we are real sisters (and that she could act) was enough for them to cast her. I still live in Melbourne, although I’ve lived in London and New York during my life.
3. Did you have acting experience prior to your role on The Bartons?
Almost none! Certainly nothing professional.
4. There's not a lot on how you were cast in the information I've collected so far (well, the information Olivia had in her scrap book :)). Could you tell us a little on how that went in your own words?
Apparently the ABC first worked through the casting agencies to try to find actors for the roles of Elly and Anita, but all of the professional child actors were too blonde and too fashionable. They wanted ‘real’ kids. The ABC contacted schools in the Melbourne area, asking them to put forward their best two actors in 5th and 6th grade. My school asked if I was interested in auditioning, and I thought, ‘why not?’. There were two or three rounds of auditions and screen tests. I thought I was auditioning for the role of Elly, then I was cast as Anita which was just as much fun.
Most of the other actors were found through agencies. I think the guy who played Skinner Davies, Frank Webb, was found by Matt Day. From memory he was a neighbour of Matt’s in Collingwood.
5. How much "Rose" is there in "Anita"?
Only a little bit. We are both team players, serious at times, and confident enough to take the lead occasionally. I loved the idea of the Bird Lovers Club, the girl guides camp, and the mysteries we invented about the Bartons’ neighbours. My wardrobe was awful though – those Peter Pan lace collars and chunky woollen cardigans! I hated the clothes and that cowlick haircut. I didn’t know much about fashion in 1987, but I knew they were hideous. Also, Anita deferred to Elly a lot more than I ever would have done in real life.
6. How many hours did you spend wading though the water with Matt for Bartons on the Beach? I know it was rather chilly that day, and I think I speak for everyone that reads this in that we feel sorry for you!
It certainly was chilly. We filmed this episode at Somers Beach in April, with the crew all in chest-high waders and the camera floating in a glass box. I don’t think we were in the water for long. The whole crew was incredibly caring for the kids on set.
7. Did you know Anita was based on Jocelyn Moorhouse's childhood best friend Anita?
I had heard this. I’ve loved following the careers of Jocelyn Moorhouse and P. J. Hogan over the years. To think that The Bartons was their first show! Jocelyn’s films Proof and Muriel’s Wedding are just brilliant. Australian classics.
8. What are some of your strongest memories of the filming the show?
The ABC used to be based at a huge brick building in Elsternwick called Ripponlea Studios. Every day, the ABC paid for a taxi to pick me up in the morning from home and drive to work in Elsternwick, then I would be driven home again at the end of the day. This was just one part of being made to feel cared for – not pampered, but really looked after. The ABC was aware we were unexperienced and needed serious guidance.
I remember vividly the first day, waiting in the reception area of the studio and then being shown to my dressing room which I shared with Olivia. I met Matt and Ben. The size of the place, the posters of CountDown and newsreaders in the hallway, were all so impressive and I felt part of something big.
The rehearsals were great fun. Everyone sat around tables in a big circle, reading through the scripts and discussing with the directors. The child actors took as much guidance from the adult actors as the directors sometimes. They really took us under their wing. I remember that in one reading I didn’t understand the comedy in Elly’s line “To fly, to be free, to EAT!” and the others had to explain it.
In rehearsals Matt Day would scribble and draw all over my scripts. He was obsessed with Black Flag and Dead Kennedys – an 80s punk at heart, which is quite the testament to his acting ability, to play Paul as an earnest older brother whose greatest rebellion was Petal Moochmoore.
Other moments that stand out for me… Being made to eat beetroot out of a can for Beautiful Beetroot, set in the Girl Guide camp. I wasn’t partial to beetroot at the start of filming. After a full day of eating beetroot and ‘pretending’ to dislike it, I’ve never been able to eat it since!
Barracking for Paul playing footy at Cheltenham Oval, cheering “go Paul, get the ball” repeatedly. I had no idea about Australia Football (AFL), as my dad is a New Zealander and we were brought up on Rugby Union. Being an AFL cheerleader was about as far from my real life as I could imagine, and I thought “I guess this is what acting is”.
The adult actors and the crew were the most lovely, protective, caring bunch of people. They guided us, helped us through tough days, and made us laugh so hard! I remember Jenny Jarman-Walker telling me that acting as a profession is really tough, and you never know where the next cheque is coming from. This was not discouraging at the time, just a sound reality check. Our tutor Rachel was wonderful too. Under state law we had to be ‘in school’ for a minimum of 4 hours I day, I think, so the shoots were organised as much around schooling hours as around the weather. We had a caravan where Rachel would teach us between takes.
9. What's your favourite episode?
I love the Barton League of Bird Lovers because it was one that I shared with my sister Pippa. Our parents coached her for ages the night before filming, helping her to pretend that she couldn’t read. She had to stumble over reading aloud “About the Author” from The Eagle Has Landed, when in fact she could read quite fluently at age 7.
10. Is there any chance we'll see you back on the screen in the future?
Absolutely not. Acting was an incredible experience for me as a child, but I have neither the talent nor the inclination to keep acting!
11. Was this a formative experience for you?
It really was. It was an incredible opportunity for an untrained kid to take 7 months off school in 6th grade and work with a crew of dedicated, caring, smart and funny creatives. I learned a lot about personal responsibility, showing up and doing what you agreed you would do, and the work ‘behind the scenes’ to coordinate a project. I’m hugely grateful for this experience – and to you Erwin for the trip back to Banksiawood.