Nikki Colbert from “Sky Trackers”, time traveller Jo in “Mirror, Mirror” and warm-hearted Layla from “MDA” – and these are just a few roles in her rich filmography. In our interview Petra Yared reveals some secrets from the making of the cult youth TV series, goes back to her significant roles and speaks about some of the acting challenges she had to deal with. You will get to know which costumes she kept after filming and which movies and series she watches with her children. All this and much more in my newest “remote talk”!
Łukasz Garbol: Some time ago a short clip appeared on Facebook where we could see your first ever TV appearance in a TV show for children called “Choices”, together with, among others, Zbych Trofimiuk. Do you remember how you got a chance to appear in it? What was your first impression when you entered the other side of the film world that we watch on the screen?
Petra Yared: Ha! I remember a lot about this considering how long ago it was!. I was doing drama classes and someone (I guess a casting person) came and watched a class and then invited me to audition. I remember my sister telling me I got the part. We were very excited.
And do you remember the first time ever you started performing in front of any bigger audience, maybe something that took place even before your first appearance on the screen?
Just doing school plays was a big buzz. I had to fill in for another student in the senior play at my school when I was younger than the other students and even that early I recall the camaraderie of a (student) cast and feeling part of something special as a cast member.
“Sky Trackers”, which brought your first really well-known role, is definitely one of the “cult” series, especially for viewers who were teenagers or around their teenage years back then. It was very popular in Poland and still has a lot of fans here, too. It’s also one of my personal favourites so at the beginning I’d like to ask you about at least some of the secrets I’ve always wanted to know 😉 Let me start from the setting. Great landscapes plus the huge dishes of the space tracking station created a really impressive surrounding. Could you say a few words about the places where you filmed the series?
We filmed all of the exterior scenes in Narrabri in New South Wales in the first couple of months of the shoot. The whole cast and crew were moved there from Melbourne and Sydney and filled all the motels and hotels in the town. It was my first time working away from home and it was really good fun. Then we filmed the studio scenes in Melbourne (home for me) and further exteriors all around the state of Victoria. The whole shoot was 9 months.
What did you think of Nikki Colbert when you read the script for the first time? What was your first impression?
I remember thinking Nikki was a bit of a grump sometimes! She was cranky with her little sister and Mike quite a lot but I liked her sass and intelligence.
Do you remember the very beginning of the shooting? Which scene was that? How did the first day of filming look like?
I do remember it! We had had a couple of weeks of rehearsals with one of the directors and the “family” cast so we were familiar with each other but it was still different to be on set for the first time. I wish I could remember what the scene was about! I don’t but it was definitely on the balcony of the Colbert house.
How did you like working with Zbych Trofimiuk (Mike in “Sky Trackers”)? There was certainly a “screen chemistry” between you two.
Zbych and I fought like brother and sister! But both felt a genuine warmth and affection for each other. Particularly in years to come when we would bump into each other I know we cared about each other very much.
The relationship between the characters played by you and by Zbych Trofimiuk (Nikki and Mike) had some quite dramatic and intense moments. For you as a young actress, were those more intensive scenes (for example Niki quarelling with Mike) more difficult to handle? Were they more emotionally demanding?
The quarrelling was the easy stuff!
What about Emily-Jane Romig, your sister in the series? The screen relation between your characters came in every possible shade of emotions: from sweet sisterly love to periods of bitter resentment. How did your relationship look in reality? What kind of duo did you make on set?
I remember Emily-Jane with the fondest love. Remember she was only 9 at the time so she needed a bit of extra support and patience. She felt like a real little sister to me. She was a darling.
Did anything funny happen during the filming? If so, what was your favourite moment / situation?
I can’t remember now, I’m afraid…it was a LONG time ago!
In “Sky Trackers” you rode a horse, rowed a rafting boat and dived. Did you have to learn any of these skills in order to prepare for the filming? Or had you already had some experience in them at that time and making the scenes involving them was something that came naturally?
I was already able to ride a horse and row and dive enough to get away with it. As I recall the most difficult thing for me was looking competent on a bicycle! For some reason I’d rarely ridden as a kid and always wobbled along terribly in the show. The props guy would have to push me into shot so I’d have a bit of speed up and if you watch those scenes you’ll notice me wobbling along hopelessly!
The series dealt with some important issues. A few times it presented ecological problems and in one of the episodes the main characters and their friend discovered an ancient aboriginal site. Did you feel that you added your little share to changing people’s awareness?
I think as children we were pretty oblivious to the messages of the show beyond knowing it was educational. We were more interested in what we got to do in each episode!
In the last episode the viewers could see the grand finale when Nikki attended Space Camp and made her dreams come true accomplishing her training mission with the help of Mike. Did you have to prepare for this episode in any special way? Did you train any of the camp drills and exercises in advance?
I don’t remember having to be able to do anything too well for space camp except sing! I was a bit nervous about recording the song.
Which episode gave you most fun? And which one was the most difficult (as far as acting challenges go or maybe for some other reasons) for you?
I’m afraid I barely remember them now. I should try and track them down and have a watch!
Your character wanted to marry Keanu Reeves. Do you remember who your idol back then really was? Whose poster did Petra Yared put on the wall of her bedroom?
Johnny Depp, I think, would have been the one for me that early! A couple of years later I “loved” Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, too. I remember having their posters on my walls. And Take That! Robbie Williams…There were a few!
Soon after “Sky Trackers” you created another unforgettable role in “Mirror, Mirror” – the story of two girls from different ages whose paths cross beginning the story full of adventures and unexpected twists. Probably you’ve already been asked this question a thousand times, but maybe some people don’t know the „hair story”, so forgive me that I ask it 1001th time 😉 Is it true that you were supposed to play Michala Banas’ character from 1919 (Louisa), but because you had short hair when the filming was starting, you got the role of Jo from the 1990’s?
Yes, that kind of was what happened! I had auditioned for “Louisa” and then some time passed and I forgot all about it and chopped all my hair off (much to my agent’s dismay!) so they asked me to come back and audition for Jo.
How did you like working with Michala Banas?
Michala was lovely. Very sweet. We became close friends during the shoot.
You played the 20th century character but please think for a moment about the world and the times your character moved to (1919). If you could take something (something material or inmaterial, like manners) from those times and bring it to our times, what would that be?
Perhaps a better relationship with nature and greater simplicity in our day to day life. Less social media and more face to face interaction!
In “Mirror, Mirror” you travelled back in time, but you also moved in time, so to speak, while studying for your degree, as you graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Could you say which subject, which epoch you were interested back then?
I mainly studied contemporary history, so the last 200 years or so. I ended up with a bit of a focus on the Middle East. Terrorism in modern conflicts and the Arab-Israeli conflict were two subjects I was interested in amongst others.
And if you could move back in time and start a new life in another historical period, where and to which times would you travel? And why?
I think the 1960s look pretty fun! Quite liberal and progressive and but somewhat innocently so.
Going back to the series mentioned before, do you keep in touch with any of the actors from “Mirror, Mirror” or “Sky Trackers”?
Michala and I cross paths a little. We are both living in Melbourne again now so we see each other at industry things, auditions etc occasionally. I think that’s about it from those very early days though. A lot of the cast of “Mirror, Mirror” were New Zealanders too so we lost touch a long time ago.
One of the things that “Mirror, Mirror” and “Sky Trackers” had in common were fantastic adventures. In “Mirror, Mirror” you travelled back in time and in “Sky Trackers” your character experienced an encounter with UFO. However, those weren’t your only encounters with fantasy and science fiction genres. Later you played in the TV version of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and in 2002 you appeared in one of the episodes of “BeastMaster” series (picture below). I’d like to talk a little about that last title. In your episode you had to move quite a lot, fight and work with animals. As for the physical / stamina side of your acting performance, you looked really well prepared for this challenge. Did you train, prepare in any special way for this role?
Gosh, no! I wasn’t particularly fit at the time and remember being mortified when I saw my tiny little costume and hadn’t been to the gym in a while! I absolutely loved working with the animals. Especially that monkey (although she did wee on me in a take once!)
Talking about working with animals, I can’t forget about the dog from “Neighbours”. Was it a good acting companion?
Those animals are terrific! So well trained and obedient. I love dogs so I’m always happy to work with them.
The landscapes we can admire in “BeastMaster” look really amazing. Where did you film that episode?
It was very beautiful. In tropical Queensland.
And what about other locations where you had a chance to work throughout your career. Was there any place you liked really a lot? Any place you’d like to return to if you had such a chance?
New Zealand is a very special place. I’d return there in a heartbeat. And as mentioned, beautiful parts of Queensland. But all throughout Australia I’ve found myself in lovely spots. And even unlikely shoots like I did a car ad once where I had to do absolutely no acting. I literally sat in the passenger seat as “the driver’s girlfriend” and we filmed it all over South Austrlia in the most beautiful locations in the state. It was such a pleasant (easy!) job.
Going back to “BeastMaster”, did anything dangerous or funny happen on the set of the episode you played in?
Not that I can remember. Sorry! Again, it was a long time ago. What I do remember is that September 11 happened during filming that. I had a terribly early call time (like 5am) and my boyfriend at the time rang and woke me up to tell me to turn on the TV.
As we’ve said, you had quite a lot to do with such genres as science fiction and fantasy. And do you like reading fantasy or science fiction books or watching films of these genres?
Not so much. I’ve watched a bit of “Game of Thrones”. Who hasn’t?! And am enjoying revisiting all of Harry Potter’s adventures with my children now but I wouldn’t say it’s a particular favourite for me.
1996 brought a series in which you appeared in one episode, but with a really impressive performance. In “Ocean Girl”, another fantasy / science fiction production, you played a blind girl with overprotective parents. How did you prepare to that role? And did that experience change your perception of blind people?
Yes, that was an interesting little role to play. I met with a blind woman and observed her and chatted with her which was helpful in preparation.
The nineties was also the time when you played in “Neighbours” for the first time. “Neighbours” is a series in which several great internationally known stars used to play, like Margot Robbie or Kylie Minogue. It’s also a hugely popular series with a large group of loyal fans. Why do you think it’s been so popular? What makes it appeal to so many people?
I don’t know what it is about “Neighbours” but I’ve had a ball both times I’ve been a cast member on that show. I suppose it’s relatable, dramatic in a non-threatening way and easy-on-the-eye!
Another title on your rich list of TV series roles is “The Secret Life of Us”. It has become an important series for the people of the generation it was portraying back then (young people – 20 something). What would you say let it steal the hearts of these viewers?
It was uniquely real and quite edgy for its time. The characters were all doing the sort of stuff we were all doing as twenty somethings in Melbourne then. The scripts were good and the cast were great. What’s not to like?!
Talking about your significant roles, I think one of them was also your character in “MDA”. You played Layla – a warm-hearted and funny character who had her own, special style – also as far as the way of dressing goes. She wore diverse classy clothes. Did you have any influence on the look of the character, the kind of outfits she was dressed in?
Our wonderful costume designer on the first series of “MDA” had a lot of fun with Layla! She was the only character who didn’t have to be in conservative, corporate clothes so the designer enjoyed dressing her! I remember she had friends at fashion school and she would occasionally use their designs. I loved Layla’s earring collection too! I remember one occasion when a different designer dressed Layla for an episode that I felt I needed to remind the department that even though she was colourful, she was also religious! Things were heading in a wacky, very sexy direction for a minute!!
And, looking back at your movies and TV series so far, which character’s costumes were your favourite ones? Which costume would you like to keep and take home if you had such a chance?
I kept quite a lot of Nikki and Layla’s clothes. You’re often allowed to if you’ve been a regular on a show. It’s a great perk! The most fun to wear are the period ones though. My “Mirror Mirror” dress and the costumes from a stage production of “Pride and Prejudice” I did were gorgeous.
Throughout your career you’ve already played several tough, resolute girls / women, starting from Nikki who consequently realized her plans and followed her dreams in “Sky Trackers” through Zoe from “Rescue Special Ops”, a tough woman who is not only good at guns handling but who’s also bringing up a 9-year old son on her own, to the lady – car driver Beryl Routledge in “The Doctor Blake Mysteries” (on the left). These are certainly the characters than can be role models for your female viewers. Have you ever had any messages from the teenage girls or women saying that your performance, the roles you created, inspired them or helped them in any way?
I have had a number of really lovely letters, emails etc from people who have been grateful, inspired or helped in some way or another by characters I’ve played. Often for totally unexpected reasons like they were very lonely and took solace in something one of my characters went through or they were young and religious and felt reassured by Layla being on a similar path or gay and loved seeing me play a lesbian in “All Saints”. It brings me great joy to hear those things although I have never thought of those things when I’ve been playing a character, only trying to make them appear truthful.
And did you yourself have any role model when you were a teenager?
I can’t remember who I felt inspired by in the media as a teenager. I’m far more aware of female role models on TV now that I’m raising a daughter and sometimes despair at the type of women celebrated in the media! But then we also have some terrific intelligent women on TV, too.
Playing positive heroines is one thing, but, on the other hand, you also had a chance to play nasty characters like Marcia Huntly in “The Genie from Down Under 2” (photo below). Some actors say that playing evil or nasty characters may be even more interesting than portraying positive heroes or heroines. From your experience, is it true? What do you think about it?
Yes, I’ve always enjoyed playing nasty. It’s fun!
We’ve been talking mostly about your screen roles, but I’d like to ask you also about your radio and voiceover experiences. From your perspective, how much does it differ from the film acting? What did it give you? How did it enrich you as an actress?
I love voice acting. It is quite liberating to free yourself from any consideration of how you look. In recent years with young children at home I’ve been mainly working in voiceover and it’s a different skill. Complementary to acting but a little different and I do love it, too.
When you have some time to sit with your children and watch a film or TV, what do you watch with them? What’s your family favourite now?
I’ve just done a long haul flight with my children and loved my 5 year-old daughter watching the original “Annie”, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Mary Poppins”! She loved them and they were some of my favourites when I was little. And my little boy is loving the Harry Potter films which I’m only seeing for the first time because I was all about the books when I was young.
Thank you very much for this ‘remote talk’. I’m really happy I had a chance to talk to you 🙂 And I hope we’ll see you in more great roles soon.
by Łukasz Garbol, August-October 2018
As usual, some useful links:
I’d like to thank Daria, who runs Petra Yared’s official site, for all the help and support in making this interview and for the permission to use the photos from her web page. Huge thanks, Daria! For the detailed information about the photos see the info below.
Most of the photos from Petra Yared official page
(once again big tahnks to Daria for the permission to use them):
Photo 1 Lisa Mann Creative Management website (courtesy of Petra Yared)
Photos 2 & 3 “Sky Trackers” Courtesy of the ACTF
Photos 4, 7, 12 “Sky Trackers” – footage supplied by ScreenSound Australia, the National Screen and Sound Archive
Photos 13 & 14 “Mirror, Mirror” – Courtesy of the Gibson Group
Photo 16 capture from “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Starman*
Photos 19 “MDA” (ABC), capture by Starman*
Photos 20 “The Doctor Blake Mysteries”, episode “The Open Road” (December Media)
Photos 21 from “The Genie from Down Under 2” set by Greg Noakes
Photo 22 & 23 thanks to Petra Yared
The rest of the photos:
Photos 5 & 6 – captures from “Skytrackers” (ACTF)
Photos 8-11 – captures from “Sky Trackers” (ACTF)
Photo 15 – capture from “BeastMaster”, episode “Dispossessed” (Alliance Atlantis Communications,Coote Hayes Productions,Tribune Entertainment)
Photos 17 & 18 – captures from “Ocean Girl”, episode “Gamma Level: Radioactive”
(Jonathan M. Shiff Productions, Network Ten, Westbridge Productions)