Saturday, November 22, 2014

Vanessa Downing

Today I'm going to be learning about the actress Vanessa Downing. She played Pippa on Home and Away, and this week I saw her on one of my episodes of All Saints.

On the All Saints episode, Downing's character was having neurological symptoms. I thought for sure she had Multiple Sclerosis. But it ended up she had a completely fatal disorder similar to mad cow disease. I'm assuming it was a prion thing, because that's what Mad Cow's disease is. The cause was a fertility drug she had taken. Actually, maybe I misunderstood and it WAS mad cow disease, but instead of being caused by a bad piece of steak, it was caused by the medication.

Well, this is scary. I googled fertility drug and mad cow disease, thinking I might find something about the 1980's. Because Downing's character took the drug in 1984. Instead I'm finding all these articles from 2011.  Here's one of the articles. It's about urine-based fertility treatments.  It's not urine from cows. It's urine from other humans. The article is about Canada and it says 1/10,000 people have the prion problem in their blood and could pass it on. But how many of those people are donating their urine? I would think the risk is pretty slim. But still. I'd probably be scared.

Enough about All Saints. I want to talk about Home and Away now. Like the Doctor on Doctor Who, Pippa went through the process of regeneration. It happens sometimes on soap operas. And it happened on Roseanne.  But on these shows it's different from Doctor Who, because the loved ones of the regenerated individual tend to pretend not to notice the change.

So yeah. There's Pippa 1 and Pippa 2.  Downing played the first one. Another actress played the second. And like the Doctor, each Pippa had her own companion. Pippa 1 had Tom. Pippa 2 had Michael. I've never seen Home and Away with Pippa 2. A part of me was glad to be forced to stop watching, because I worried I wouldn't be able to endure the change. But now I think maybe I'd be okay. I've survived the jump from Doctor 10 to Doctor 11, and I seriously had my doubts that was possible. I actually PREFER Doctor 11 to Doctor 10 now. So maybe I would have ended up liking Pippa 2 better than Pippa 1. You never know.

As for Vanessa Downing, I have a lot to learn, because I know close to nothing. I do vaguely remember reading that she was younger than she appeared on Home and Away. While a lot of actors often play characters younger than themselves, Downing played someone older.

Well, I shall start my research now by visiting Downing's biography on IMDb.

She was born in 1958. She's ten years younger than my mom. She would have been thirty when she started playing Pippa. And yeah, that's younger than she seemed.  I would have guessed her to be in her late thirties or early forties–close to my age.

Downing is married to a guy named Rodney Fisher. He's nineteen years older than Downing.  If I dated someone nineteen years older than me, they'd be 61. If I dated someone nineteen years younger they'd be 23.  Sorry. I just thought it would be fun to calculate that.

There's some more information her on IMDb.

At the time that Downing got the Pippa role, she sang in an accapella group called The Madrigals. That's very cool. I hope she had fun with that.  She did some singing on Home and Away. There was a band with Frankie and...holy crap. I forgot their name. Let me think....

Lance and Martin! Thank you!  I'd feel like such a failure if I had to Google that.

Downing has a Master's Degree in English Literature. That's impressive.

At one time, Downing was out of work and depressed so she joined the Sydney Philharmonic Choir. Well, if you're in a choir, that's not really being out of work.  Maybe it's not paid work. I'm not sure. I'm looking at their website now.  I imagined it was going to be very exclusive, but they're actually inclusive. Their website says, Whether you’re a trained singer, someone who can hold a melody or someone with basic music skills wanting to explore whether you have a voice - set your voice in motion and sing with us!

I like that. Maybe I should join a choir one day. I wonder if I'd like it. I did chorus in high school and I never sang. I was too shy. I think I just mouthed the words. But I've gotten better. I sing now...even by myself with people listening.

Here's the weird thing about me, though, that would make me doubt my ability to sing in a chorus. You know how many people say they sing okay as long as they're singing with the radio? Well, at least that's what people in my family say. I'm the opposite. I often sing horribly if I'm trying to sing along with music and another singer. I tend to sing better alone and without any instruments. I don't know why.

I was going to say I CAN sing okay with other people singing—no instruments. But I'm not sure, because when I sing with other people they usually want to sing along to a video.

Back to my question about paid work with the Sydney Philharmonic Choir. I'm not finding anything about that. I'm guessing it's a volunteer thing, but I'm not positive.

And I just found for this Christmas Carol program, the singers pay to participate.

Still...whether you're paid, not paid, or have to pay to participate, singing for an audience is work. I hope Downing enjoyed it, I hope it helped her with her depression.

Now I'm going to look at Vanessa Downing's filmography.  I won't go over everything, though. I'm going to skip one time guest appearances on TV shows, unless it's a show I've watched. And I'll skip movies if I can't find much information about it.

Downing's first screen thing was in 1977. She was on the TV show The Restless Years. Have I written about this show before? I'm not sure.

IMDb doesn't tell me whether Downing was in many episodes, a few, or just one.  Also, the name of her character's not given. I'm going to guess that maybe she was something like an extra. But I could be wrong.

In 1982, Downing appeared in two episodes of Sons and Daughters. But IMDb says back then she was credited as Vanessa Ryan. And her character had the same last name. I wonder if she changed her name because of a marriage. Or maybe she just changed her name as actors sometimes do.

There's a Sons and Daughters website. They briefly mention Downing's character (Cheryl Ryan) on their death page. Cheryl didn't die. Sadly, her son did. He had a brain tumor.

In 1983, Downing was in a TV movie about the Chamberlain case: Who Killed Baby Azaria. She played a character named Mrs. Lowe.

This article talks about what happened and how the Lowes were involved. They were one of the families camping near the Chamberlain's in the Uluru area.

It's a very sad story. Lindy Chamberlain nursed the baby Azaria while talking to the Lowes. Then she brought the baby and an older son back to their tent. She went to retrieve some beans from their car and heard her baby. She went to check on the baby, and Mrs. Lowe heard her cry out that a dingo had her baby.

Someone has uploaded some of the movie to YouTube.  I'm wondering what stance the movie took about Lindy Chamberlain's guilt or innocence. Now it's been determined by the courts that she's innocent. I don't think that was the case back in the 1980's. She might have even been in jail back then. Let me go see....

Yep. She was in jail at the time; not released until 1986.

I'm watching the video now.  Vanessa Downing can be seen at 1:39. I kind of forgot, for a moment, that this post was supposed to be about her. I'm kind of obsessing over Lindy Chamberlain now.

Oh! How funny. Mr Lowe is played by Ray Meagher, who plays Alf on Home and Away. Alf is the best friend of Pippa 1's husband.

So far, the movie isn't making Lindy look like a murderer. She seems quite loving towards her children.  I don't know how the rest of the movie presents things. Maybe it's on her side. Maybe it presents her as a probable murderer. Or maybe it gives alternate sides of the story.

I should move on.

In 1985, Downing was in a 1960's college drama called The Boy Who Had Everything.  She played a singer. The character doesn't have a name, so I'm guessing it was a small role.

I'm going to skip ahead to 1988. This is the year, Downing started working on Home and Away.  She also appeared as a judge in a movie called The Everlasting Secret Family. Lord Wiki says it's about a secret society of gay men. It sounds interesting.

As for Home and Away, IMDb says Downing was on the show for 363 episodes between 1988 and 1990. She was on it a lot— probably appeared on most episodes.  Her last episode was on July 20, 1990. What episode did I stop at?  I used to have it saved in my bookmarks, but I deleted it.  It was somewhere in 1990, a few episodes before Julian McMahon and his body builder friends were supposed to appear.

I'm trying to figure it out, but I can't. So never mind.

Now I'm going to look at Downing's career after Home and Away.

In the early 1990's, she did three one-time guest appearances on TV shows.

In 1994, she appeared in a movie about Mary MacKillop. She was Flora MacKillop. Maybe that's a sister? A cousin?

Nope. According to this website, she was Mary's mother. Why didn't I consider that?

There are more one time guest appearances on the Vanessa Downing filmography. Then in 1997, we get something more substantial.  She was in 26 episodes of a TV comedy called Bullpitt. It looks like she was one of the main stars.

Lord Wiki says Bullpitt was a reprising of another show called Kingswood Country.  Is a reprising of a show different than spin-off?

Someone has uploaded the first episode of the show to YouTube. I'll watch a little bit.

There's a cockatoo in the credits.

It has racial comedy. I like racial comedy sometimes. There's that fine line between being funny and being offensive. And it's easy to cross that line. I guess the difference is funny makes fun of racism, while offensive is actually racist.

Despite her being in the open credits, I didn't see Downing in the episode.

Here. She's in this episode.  She appears at :42, and it looks like she's playing a resident at a retirement home. Downing would have been only about 39 at the time. I think she's wearing make-up to make her look old. Either that, or she's on a fast ageing track.

In 1998, Downing appeared in the All Saints episode I saw this week. In 2002, she appeared in a different episode as a different character.  According to the Australian television website, in this episode, Downing played a character with Lupus.  Oh! And the website says that Downing wasn't the only Home and Away star on the episode.  Adam Willitts who played Pippa's foster son was also a guest star on the episode.

I'm going to watch a little of the episode, but not too much. I don't want to get a lot of spoilers. I really love All Saints. So far, it's my favorite Australian show I've watched on Hulu.

Downing appears at 7:02.  Her doctor is played by the guy who played the dad on Packed to the Rafters.

Downing's character has been taking hormone replacement therapy even though that's shown to be bad for Lupus. Yikes.

Now I'm going to try to find Adam Willitts.

Found him. He's appears at 23:28. He shot his wife with an arrow. Accidentally? Or on purpose?

Well, and he's been shot too. Maybe the wife shot him back.

In 2006, Downing was in three episodes of a TV show called Headland.  If I'm understanding Lord Wiki right, originally Headland was supposed to be a spin-off of Home and Away. The show was going to be called Away From Home. It was about students at Yabbie Creek University. I remember Yabbie Creek! But then they changed the concept of the show. So maybe they broke the connection to Home and Away?

From what I'm reading on the Australian television website, the spin-off aspect of it was axed.

In 2008, Downing appeared as a music teacher in the movie Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger. It's a teen film featuring Toni Collette.

I'm going to watch the trailer, though Downing might not be in it.

The movie looks cute. I'm not sure exactly what it's about...something like this young girl pretends to be someone else—a student at another school?

I just consulted Lord Wiki. Esther goes to a private school, but then she meets a girl from a public school. They become friends and Esther starts going to the public school...without permission. She sneaks in, pretending to be an exchange student.

I was looking at the actress in the movie; Keisha Castle-Hughes. Lord Wiki's filmography on her says she's going to appear in this season of The Walking Dead. I think she's the first Aussie on the show. Maybe? Well, as far as I know. I wonder if she's already appeared.

Yes, she has. Lord Wiki's cousin says she was the one at Grady Memorial Hospital. She was bitten. The hospital people amputated her arm to save her from infection. I remember her.

I should get back to Vanessa Downing.

She appeared in the first season of Packed to the Rafters; the 12th episode.

I would have seen that; but I wouldn't have recognized Downing, because I hadn't watched Home and Away yet.

I'll watch some of the episode online. Downing appears at 3:50.  It looks like it's another example of her playing an elderly woman. Downing would have been about 50 when she was in the episode. I guess that's kind of elderly. It's all about perspective. I follow this Doctor Who account on Instagram, and one day the owner of the account asked the ages of her followers. She gave choices and the oldest age listed was 18. I responded that I'm an elderly woman. I sort of meant it as a joke. But also...since everyone else, who answered, was younger than 18, I FELT elderly.  The owner of the account responded by saying she had meant to say 18+ and not just 18. That made me feel a little less ancient...and more included.

Whatever age Downing is supposed to be in the episode, she does look lovely. She's quite elegant.

I hope I'm attractive when I'm 50 and beyond. I don't feel very attractive as a person in the 40 age range. But later ages have different expectations and maybe I will be better at fulfilling those. Or at least I will FEEL I'm fulfilling them.

I think I feel this pressure to look young—like someone in their 20's or 30's. I have this idea, that when I'm 50, I can look 50. And when I'm 60, I can look 60. But that's probably not true. Probably at that age, I'll wish I looked 40.


The most recent thing on Downing's filmography is The Moody's. Downing appeared on the first episode.  She played Cora's mother. So I should have seen her on the trailer for the show...which I've watched twice already. I didn't recognize Downing. I shall have to watch it again.

Downing appears at :26, and then again at :39.

The ABC website has a brief profile on Downing. They say she's a solicitor. She helps refugees with their Visa applications. She still performs, though, and she's still with the Sydney Philharmonic Choir. She's a soprano.

I just realized the profile is for an audio program. Maybe an interview? I'll listen to some of it...or all of it, if it's not too long.

Downing has a very sweet voice. It's kind of soothing to me.

She's telling a story.

The chorus was singing. A man in the front row brought his dying loved one at the concert. He lifted her up during one of the songs. She died at the concert, and then he took her out.

It's a sad story, but also lovely. I wonder if the dying girl asked to be taken to the concert.

Here's Downing's Solicitor profile. She works for a firm called Craddock Murray Neumann. She started that work in 2006.

I've been sitting here struggling to find more stuff. I was failing and was about to quit. But then I remembered this where-are-they-now video I watched awhile back. It has interviews with the original Home and Away cast. I'm going to re-watch it.

Downing says she was offered work on Home and Away the evening before she needed to start working on the set. So it was very much a last minute thing.

Downing got to the set not knowing what the show was about. She quickly looked at the script and memorized her three lines. She says it was lucky she didn't have many lines that first day. Yeah!

Here's the second part of the program.

Downing doesn't say much after her initial talk about being cast last minute. While listening to the other actors, though; she looks concerned. Worried. I don't know why....

Anyway, I'm going to end this here.

See you later.