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Val Lehman Interview

TV Week - March 20, 1999

Val Lehman is revelling in a whole new direction in life. For the past 18 months, the 3 times Logie winner who's still adored for her standout role as Bea Smith in prisoner has been following one of her other passions - antiques. Although still loves acting (She taped cameos in Blue Heelers and Good Guys, Bad Guys last year), lately she's been dealing in antiques in and around Melbourne. We caught up with her in her very un-prisoner like antiques shop.

TVWEEK: When did your interest in antiques begin?
VAL: When I was 8, I saw a Chinese ivory fan in a shop and I wanted it desperately. So I whinged and whinged, and that Christmas my father gave me a plastic fan which he thought would pacify me. I was outraged! I started buying fans in 1967-68 - the oldest one being from 1730.
TVWEEK: You started out as a fine arts student. How did you get into theatre and acting?
VAL: That started when I was 5 years old and my mother took me to see an Italian Opera company.Madame butterfly was the first opera I saw and when Cio-Cio-San made her entrance with all those cherry blossoms and that music, all I could think was I wanted to get on that stage. If I could have been an opera singer, I'd have been a very happy girl.
TVWEEK: Do you sing?
VAL: No, but I yell in tune!
TVWEEK: Tell us how you met your present husband, the playwright, Charles Collins?
VAL: We met in 1988 and married in 89. I met him when I brought in a copy of a play he'd written. I said "Yeah, this is great except for the first act". So when I met Charles, I turned up with 32 pages of notes and proceeded to dissect his baby. He incorporated my ideas, we did the play, saw a lot of each other and when the Prisoner fan club took me to England, he followed me.
TVWEEK: Were you in the UK long?
VAL: About 7 years. There was a theatrical agent at the time who got me the stage role of Annie Wilks in Misery (Based on the Stephen King novel)
TVWEEK: Talking of "misery" it must have been hard when the British tabloids went mad over your marriage, with headlines like "Lock-up lesbian marries toy boy!" So how old is he?
VAL: He's younger than me! Charles is actually 16 years younger. But You've seen him, does he look like a toyboy!
TVWEEK: Do you wish you could lay to rest your prisoner role?
VAL: Yes I do. I really didn't think I'd be forever not cast because I had created one very strong character.
TVWEEK: Do you regret doing it?
VAL: Sometimes I regret leaving the show when I did, but then I think I only missed the money. The reason I left was that there was no surprises left in the character - I'd learnt everything I could about her. When I first started doing Prisoner, I was very excited about it because it was doing wonderful things for actresses. You know, you rack your brains as to why it was so successful. I mean, it broke all the rules. It was not formulaic, it was predominantly women and it wasn't glamorous.
TVWEEK: But it had a huge following...did you ever have problems with crazy fans?
VAL: Not problems, but I was a little alarmed once when a man showed me a photo of his bedroom wall covered in pictures of me. Then there was a lady who got a council grant to build a solitary cell. Get a life!
TVWEEK: The cast list included two of your children is that right?
VAL: Both my daughters Joanne and Catherine were in Prisoner. Joanne played Bea's tragic daughter who dies from a drug overdose and Catherine was a girl Bea met when she escaped who dobbed her in!
TVWEEK: What did your son Jason make of it all?
VAL: My son used to make me autograph lots of pieces of paper, but really he was quite blase. He finally thought I'd made it when they did a send up of Prisoner in Mad Magazine!
TVWEEK: There are always rumours of a new production of pcbh in Australia, whats the story?
VAL: All I know is that various groupes were interested but that there were conflicts. One faction wanted to do the same scripts with different actors another wanted the same characters with new scripts and another wanted completely new scripts and characters, with me as governor! I mean where do you go from being Bea Smith, but up!

Thanks to Karris Abrams for sending this article.


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Last updated 1999-04-26.
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