Having completed A Place to Call Home, Craig Hall and Sara Wiseman took some time from their holiday in the States to chat with me about their hit Aussie series.
As every fan of A Place to Call Home knows, real-life husband and wife Craig Hall and Sara Wiseman played Jack Duncan and Carolyn Duncan, née Bligh — the dishy hospital doctor and his estranged young love and then lover and wife — in this global hit romance drama from Australia.
You probably also know that A Place to Call Home is ending after six seasons. (Sob! For real.)
So I was tickled pick to be able to chat with the actors by phone about the award-winning series and its final season — which debuted in Australia a week ago and premieres in the US this Friday (!) — while the couple are on holiday on the west coast.
(Note: If you haven’t watched A Place to Call Home from the beginning, spoilers follow. So instead of having comments here and there potentially ruin parts of the story for you, go binge-watch Seasons 1 through 5 over at Acorn TV or the Acorn TV channel on Amazon US, then continue reading here.)
Not many actors can say that fans were absolutely instrumental in keeping their show on the air, but Craig and Sara can. Seven Network broadcast A Place to Call Home for two seasons, then pulled the plug, which brought fans of the show out in droves to help save one of the best Aussie dramas on telly. It worked, and Foxtel picked up the series.
What was it like for Sara and Craig to be a part of this phenomenon?
SW: “It’s been extraordinary. The whole journey over the six seasons has been quite a roller coaster, as you say. Being canned in Season 2 and then being picked up again to run another four seasons has been astonishing, and I’m so glad that [A Place to Call Home’s] creator, Bevan Lee, has had the opportunity to really deeply explore very, very big issues that everyone around the world is facing in their cultures and in their nations. And it’s done in such a beautiful way with the look of the show and the very specific characters that he brings to life — they’re all very unique and specific — and interweaves in a really lovely tapestry. So it’s been an honor to be a part of that.”
CH: “The thing I’ve enjoyed about the show is exactly what Sara said, but also the opportunity as an actor to play a character for this length of time and the challenge of dealing with the issues that Jack has had to face. It’s been great as an actor in terms of growth and opportunity, for sure.”
Speaking of issues, Bevan Lee wove plenty of them into the series — from the personal to the societal, such as infertility and anti-Semitism. For the characters of Carolyn and Jack, sexual assault and addiction were but two. From where within themselves did Sara and Craig draw from to bring these issues to life for their characters?
SW: “… The sexual assault happens three seasons in, so by then it was very clear about who [Carolyn] was and where she sat in her fundamental beliefs and values. I did do my own research into women who have been through such tragedy, and I know several women that have and they very generously shared their personal stories with me.
“… Working with Mark Lee, who plays Sir Richard, who’s a wonderful man, he’s a very generous, wonderful actor, the antithesis of Sir Richard… It was handled so smartly and beautifully by the director and everyone involved, you just sort of — your job is to fall in and go to those places, and I just kept myself very private for that season as that story unfolded and the fallout of what she’d been through. So you take these things on, and at the end I had a good cry and sort of released it all.
“I think that one of the most wonderful things that came out of that was the amount of fans and women that reached out to me personally with their personal stories of what they’d been through, and how affected they were in a good way of how authentically it had been told and portrayed that has given them some healing and the opportunity to actually have some courage to share their trauma with their family or friends that they’d hidden away. So that was astounding to me. That’s the best, best kind of feedback I could possibly ever have for such a storyline.
“It’s incredibly professional on set, and not just for the sexual assault that Carolyn went through, but what Jack had to go through with the alcoholism and the stigma and the perpetual tension of a person sitting with that inside them. Or the post-traumatic stress of war and the racial issues and the gender issues and the sexual preference issues. I know that all the actors threw themselves into those, and obviously the feedback from around the world — it’s been warmly received in the truth of how it’s been portrayed.”
Understanding that neither Sara nor Craig would provide any spoiling details about what happens in the final season, I asked if they’d share what they could about Carolyn and Jack’s storyline and about some of the larger societal issues that are raised in Series 6.
CH: “Well, for Carolyn and Jack, things come to a head for them in terms of the problem that’s been within their relationship throughout. So that comes to the fore and that’s something they have to deal with. So it’s a rocky road for them in Season 6, and certainly for the rest of the characters.
“I know Bevan really wanted to explore what the title of the show means for each one of the characters — where their place to call home was, and not just geographically but within themselves, where they needed to get to in order to be authentically themselves or to be authentically happy or to progress or to change or to accept things. Thematically, it’s a really strong season, and I think you get to see each one of the characters really have to attack their independent issues throughout the season… I think it will be very satisfying for the audience.”
SW: “As with every other season, Bevan’s done a wonderful job of taking a closer look at what was happening at the time, so that all continues. But I think the arc returns back to the core characters that you’ve been believing and following and honoring and celebrating over the seasons. He really brings the journey back on a very personal note with all of them.
“I think it’s one of the strongest seasons that he’s ever created. We’re still addressing the era and the times and what everyone’s going through, but we’re really tuning back in to the family and the relationships and where that fits.
“I know with Carolyn, there’s a big surprise coming. A bit of history is revealed about her, which is a little unexpected, and you can see this will catapult her up into a very interesting and challenging arc, which obviously deeply affects her relationship with her husband, Jack. And each character has a very strong challenge that they all have to face, so the stakes have been upped to a whole other level.”
CH: “As Sara said, it really turns in on itself and focuses on those specific issues that have been at play for the individual characters. In the first three episodes you’re looking at adoption issues and single motherhood in that period  and different things, so universal issues but issues that are also very specific to those characters.”
It all sounds juicy and exciting and though-provoking, yes? I can’t wait!
As we were winding down our chat, I had a first (and maybe Craig and Sara did, too, from the interviewee side of things): I got emotional, quite choked up, actually, because I love this show so much. (As in there were tears.) So, many thanks to Sara for quickly stepping in and saving me from what could have been one of those seriously ugly cries.
SW: “Don’t you worry! We got emotional, too! We were all in tears on our final day. It was incredibly emotional, so I really appreciate that it touched you and your heart as much as it did for us. That’s just the best thing that you could share, so we really appreciate that.”
My pleasure, Sara and Craig. And my thanks to you and to Acorn TV for this interview.
A Place to Call Home: The Final Chapter (Series 6) premieres in the US this Friday, August 31, with the first two episodes, exclusively on Acorn TV. Episode 3 will debut on September 10, with the final seven episodes premiering weekly thereafter.
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