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Aussie soaps a proving ground for thesps

Rigors help produce alums including Crowe, Pearce, Kwanten

Before Chris Hemsworth wielded his hammer as fallen Norse god Thor, he was the unassuming school principal’s son on Aussie sudser “Home and Away.” But he’s not the first resident of the skein’s sunny fictional town of Summer Bay — really on Sydney’s northern beaches — to head to Hollywood, where the soap is garnering a rep as a talent incubator.

Other thesps to spend time in this sleepy beachside locale include Ryan Kwanten (“True Blood”), Isabel Lucas (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,”) and Melissa George (“The Amityville Horror,” “Triangle”). On TV, there’s Alex O’Loughlin (Steve McGarrett in “Hawaii Five-0”), Nick Bishop in “Body of Proof” and Pippa Black in laffer “Outsourced.”

In fact, Oz soaps have proven to be fertile ground for young actors, with Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe having spent time on Ramsay Street as part of the cast of the venerable “Neighbours.”

“Home and Away” producer and one-time thesp Cameron Welsh says his skein regularly handles inquiries from Stateside agents about cast members, and attributes the show’s star-making nature to the simple fact that the skein has to film five episodes per week.

“A lot of actors come into a show like ‘Home and Away’ with little experience, and by the time they leave, they know their way around a set,” Welsh says.

“Home and Away” shoots 46 weeks a year, the work load is great, and the pace fast. Thesps can wind up working a six-day week, with two units operating at any given time — and when a character is front and center of a story arc, the actor is up before dawn and doing pickups at the studio until evening.

Neighbours” exec producer Susan Bower credits not only the grueling schedule of serial dramas but also the dedication they have to training and growing stars like Margot Robbie, soon to be seen on the Alphabet’s retro skein “Pan Am,” and Caitlin Stasey (“Tomorrow, When the War Began”), joining names like Pearce, Crowe and Alan Dale.

“We have drama coaches that help all our cast, first of all to break down scripts so they know emotionally and storywise where they are,” she says. “They have to do all the craft of where they should be and which camera is on them.”

Bowers says being known as star-makers also has helped Aussie soaps draw talent.

“Gone are the days when actors join serial drama as a career,” she says, but she benefits from the fact that bit part players, once known for their lack of skill, are arriving keen to use these shows as a launch pad.

And having survived the gruelling pace, Oz’s soap actors can tend to feel bulletproof.

“It’s a lot about the confidence,” Welsh says. “If you can do a show like ‘Home and Away’ successfully as an actor, you can do anything.”

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