Steph McIntosh to make history in Neighbours return
It was an almost out-of-body experience for Stephanie McIntosh when she stepped back on to the sprawling Neighbours set - her home for many years as she rebel-who-meant-well, Sky Mangel.
"It was just so surreal. It was like there's been no time gone at all but at the same time, it was the exact opposite ... it felt like so much time has gone by, which it has," McIntosh tells TV Guide/Watch.
"I can't quite get my head around it. I'm older and I've got children now. It's same, same but
different. It's so familiar and sentimental to me, so ingrained - even the drive here. There's
something about entering the gate and there's something about entering the doors into the green room. It's just never changed and it's so nostalgic having those feelings triggered again."
It has, in fact, been 12 years since McIntosh's TV alter ego farewelled Ramsay St, heading to Port Douglas with Boyd (Kyal Marsh).
This week, she's back as Sky (now a mum-of-three and a senior detective), as the iconic soap celebrates 35 years of weddings, deaths, scandalous affairs, teen pregnancies and bedhopping. The network is going all out to celebrate the milestone, and while much of the details have been a closely guarded secret, we do know there are five weddings and three deaths.
One of the weddings will see McIntosh and Bridget Neval's characters reunite 15 years after they shared a rare gay kiss on Australian television.
While there's been many a controversial plot line played out in the tranquil, suburban setting, conservative groups were outraged after the kiss was shown in the G-rated timeslot - with radio callers accusing producers of "making homosexuality look cool".
"Back then I was probably just a little more challenged by it," McIntosh recalls.
"I was more shocked at where they were taking the character. This time I felt it was coming. Universally, it's a lot more socially accepted now and it should be. I think that Neighbours was so brave and just thought 'it's something that should be so normalised.' It's great they are bringing it back full circle, at a time when I think it should be supported."
Neighbours continues its trailblazing, introducing Georgie Stone's transgender character Mackenzie just last year.
McIntosh was proud of how the show sensitively handled her own character arc.
"I felt I had to be very delicate and tread carefully and make sure that it was looked after in a really special and authentic way and I think Neighbours pulled that off," she says.
"I got a lot of mail back in the day from teen girls and guys who were gay who were just so thrilled that we took the show there and there was some dialogue about it and it was out in the open."
The 34-year-old was also thrilled to reunite with Neighbours stalwarts Ryan Moloney, Alan Fletcher, Jackie Woodburne and Stefan Dennis for the anniversary episodes.
But it was the chance to share the experience with her real-life niece, half-brother Jason Donovan's daughter Jemma, that made McIntosh's return even more special.
While their storylines don't cross over as much as the pair had hoped, just seeing each other on set and hanging out in the green room was a treat.
The proud aunt tells TV Guide/Watch she was overjoyed when Jemma won the part of long-lost Robinson family member, Harlow.
"I just told her it will be some of the best years of your life, both personally and professionally," McIntosh says.
"It's just the greatest acting school, there's just no other school or program like it. It's been running as a tight machine for so long, that you have to jump in quick and learn fast. She's had a lot of beautiful things said about her and she's already got a great reputation out here. I think she's going to do so well."
Despite being, as McIntosh terms it, in mummyland for the past five years - raising her daughters Milla, 5, and Goldie, 14 months, with partner Piete Hieatt - she says it's been so easy to step back into the world of Sky.
"She's never disappeared," she says. "It's been a really, really lovely sentimental feeling of stepping back into this person I know so well. She's always been there and probably is always going to be there, which sounds really cheesy. She's a huge part of me professionally and personally and just feels right stepping back into her shoes."
Being back in set has reignited McIntosh's creativity and she has a few new projects in the pipeline.
"I feel like it's the right time after having my girls," she says. "I've been so supported by my husband to be able to be a mum. It feels so good to be able to come back up for air professionally and stepping back into what feels so right for me and true to what I want to do.
"It's just working out the balance - I love doing both, I love being a working mum - to show them and teach them, when they're old enough to understand, this is what I did. I appreciate it so much more this second time around having all that growth in between. But yeah, I've got the bug back tenfold."
* Neighbours 35th anniversary, 6.30pm, weeknights, 10Peach