One of Australia’s best loved actresses, Lynne McGranger, has been playing Irene Roberts on Channel 7 soapie Home and Away for 22 years, with no sign of her popularity waning. Di Bartok visits Lynne in her Glenhaven home to discover how unlike Irene the popular actress is — and how in step she was on Dancing With the Stars.

The lines between reality and fantasy have become increasingly blurred for Lynne McGranger over the past 22 years — yet there are still marked differences between the actress and the feisty Irene Roberts she plays on popular Channel 7 soapie Home and Away.

For a start, Lynne McGranger lives in the leafy Hills, in a sprawling modern house in Glenhaven, far away from the fictional seaside suburb of Summer Bay, which is actually Palm Beach.

“I love the hills and trees, the fresh air. My husband (musician and her business manager, Paul McWaters) grew up in the country, so we were not interested in moving anywhere too hectic,” Lynne said.

Living away from the madding crowd is but one difference between the straightforward Irene and the affable Lynne. Irene is a bit of a hard case, a recovering alcoholic single mother with difficult relationships with her children, running the Summer Bay diner where she dishes up straightforward advice along with her food.

"I could be tempted to do a film if Woody Allen handed me a script"

Lynne had a happy, Christian upbringing in the southern suburbs, with parents who encouraged her performing, sending her along to dancing and singing lessons.

After a short time as a primary school teacher — “I didn’t have enough patience to be a teacher,” she says — Lynne followed her heart and launched into acting, appearing in various roles in Sydney and Melbourne.

As a committed and proud Christian — another reason the “Bible belt” Hills suits her so well — Lynne is able to turn the other cheek more than the “tell it like it is” Irene.

“Unlike Irene, I hate confrontation. It makes me sick to the stomach,” Lynne confessed. “Irene loves to ruffle feathers and calls a spade a front-end loader, whereas I tend to back off from confrontation more. I have learned that not everyone loves you, and it doesn’t matter.”

However, Lynne said “the lines have become blurry over the years” and she has toughened up a bit under Irene’s influence. “I do stick up for myself more and am able to confront bullies,” she pointed out."

As one of the most loved actresses around, on and off the screen, Lynne McGranger would not have to confront too many people who do not like her style. Known for her approachability, especially when she is recognised in the Hills, Lynne is also a keen supporter of charities, especially the Hills Relay for Life, which is a major fundraiser for cancer research.

“Being recognised goes with the territory, and mostly people are nice when they come up to me — although the packs of teenage girls can be a bit much sometimes,” Lynne said.

This bubbly woman, who is grateful for how her career has panned out, does not bunker down at the modern house she has called home for 22 years. Like any other resident, Lynne loves to visit local shops, grab a coffee with friends and power-walk around her neighbourhood — all without hiding behind dark glasses.

“We moved to the Hills when daughter Clancy was 20 months old, and have been in this house for three-and-a-half years,” she said.

The large modern single level house sits on a battleaxe 1,100m² block in Glenhaven Rd, complete with swimming pool, entertainment area and a self-contained apartment for dancer/choreographer Clancy. It is a suitable haven for Lynne, who can be filming the Channel 7 soap up to six days a week, in Eveleigh and at Palm Beach.

But it is work she has continued to love, especially as it allows her to work on other projects — most notably, the last season of Dancing with the Stars, in which she made it to the finals with her professional partner Carmello Pizzino.

Series winner was AFL legend David Roden with his professional dancing partner Melanie Hooper, but Lynne gave him a good run for his money, especially as she was the oldest contestant.

Lynne is happy with the result. “It was a good outcome. If I had won, people would have said it was because of my popularity on Home and Away — it would not have been because I was the better dancer,” she confessed.

Two of the greatest benefits of her Dancing with the Stars stint were that her fans were able to see her in a different light, away from hard-nosed Irene and — perhaps best of all — she lost four kilos.

“I have never really been overweight, but as you get older you put on weight around your top half and that can be hard to shift. On Dancing I dropped a dress size and I’m determined to keep it off,” Lynne beamed as she showed off her new svelte shape.

“I had always been reasonably fit, doing Pilates and walking, but now I’m up at 6:30 to walk around the streets, and recently I did the Bay walk with a friend.”

Despite the heavy workload of Home and Away, Lynne is still able to perform in English Christmas pantomimes, a popular stint for Australian soapie stars who enjoy fame in the United Kingdom, as well as plays and various media appearances.

“I am very grateful for the opportunities Home and Away has given me, and I just love my job — they are going to have to carry me out feet first,” Lynne said.

For an actress who has performed on stage and TV, as well as a short time as a stand-up comic, playing the same character for more than 20 years may seem unusual. Realising that there are not many meaty roles for older women, Lynne is grateful to be in a role that is interesting and as well received today as it was 22 years ago.

“I also love stage work, and the producers do allow you to go off and do other things if you give them enough notice,” Lynne said.

Lynne McGranger is one of the few Australian actors who does not particularly hanker for Hollywood stardom, although she would not necessarily knock back a late-life film career a la Jackie Weaver.
“I don’t know if I could handle all that standing around on film sets,” Lynne said with a slight “never say never” tone. “I could be tempted to do a film if Woody Allen handed me a script.”

With the legendary director’s penchant for quirky characters, Lynne McGranger could be just the ticket.

And in the unlikely event that acting jobs dried up? “I’d go into real estate, as I love looking at people’s houses,” was the surprise answer.

However, given her popularity in the UK, she has let it be known that she would not mind doing an English soapie. With her international reputation as a wonderful portrayer of older women, that is more than a pipe dream. It would, of course, be a complete change of scene, from the warmth of Summer Bay to the chill of England.

If Lynne and her husband did relocate to England to do a soap, there would be one great love they would not have to leave behind — the cricket. Both cricket tragics, with a signed Bradman bat framed in their hallway, Lynne and Paul had to stop watching the Test series for this interview.

Sweet-natured Lynne remained hospitable and patient during the interview and photo shoot, only rushing to the TV as the photographer and I took our leave.

Irene would have told us to bugger off.

Lynne McGranger