Neighbours star Candice Leask on scrapped Rodwell stories and show ending

They may have only been regular characters for a few weeks, but Neighbours’ Rodwell clan earned a place in the show’s history books by becoming the last ever family to move onto Ramsay Street.

Wendy, Andrew and their daughter Sadie moved to Number 26 in May and went on to play a big role in Hendrix Greyson’s emotional exit storyline.

Sadly, with the decision made to bring Neighbours to an end, many of the planned storylines for the Rodwell family didn’t come to fruition. recently caught up with Candice Leask, who played Wendy, for her reflections on her stint at Neighbours.

Were you a fan of Neighbours before you joined the show?

“I started watching Neighbours when I was about 4. I watched it all the time at my grandma’s house, all the way up to when I went to university. I then started studying hard and did some theatre shows, so I didn’t watch much television during that period of my life.

“When I’d flick through the channels, I remember catching up and seeing what characters like Paul were up to. I’d always drop in and my auntie’s a huge fan, so it gave us something to talk about and she’d tell me all about it. It was really interesting because it was like we were talking about people that I knew!

“This was the fifth audition I did for Neighbours, so I really kept up to date, because I really wanted to get on the show. Once I got the role, I continued to watch it to figure out how I was a part of the storyline, even when I wasn’t taking part.”

How did the role come about?

“When I got the audition and I read it, I didn’t know if I could be Wendy Rodwell. I put it down but when I read it two days later, I noticed a lot more things that I could relate to.

“After the audition, two weeks passed and I thought someone else got the part. But I then got an email saying that I was being offered the role of Wendy. I was frozen, because I didn’t think it would ever happen. Then I started jumping up and down and I was ready to enter Ramsay Street. I had three weeks to prepare, so I didn’t sleep much!”

Wendy was originally supposed to be in just one episode last year, but did you have any sneaky suspicion that she could appear again?

“I knew that Andrew Rodwell had already been an on-off character for a year and a half, so I thought there was a chance that they were trying to create another family.

“When I met Lloyd [Will, who played Andrew] for the first time, we looked at each other and we were like, ‘We really want to be on the show! Let’s show how much chemistry we can have’. We were very passionate about wanting to be a part of the Neighbours family.

“Andrew Thompson, one of the producers at Neighbours, told us that there was a chance we’d see more of Wendy. When I finished on my second day of shooting, he took me around to meet everyone in production, including the writers. I found out later that they were writing Wendy in more.”

How does it feel to know that you were part of the last ever Neighbours family?

“I feel really grateful and I know that Lloyd and Emerald [Chan, who played Sadie] feel the same way. We wish it could have gone on for longer. We didn’t know that we were going to be the last Neighbours family when we signed up. Once we found out that the show had lost its funding, it dawned on us.

“What was so cool about it was that we were multicultural. We’re all Australian, but we all have backgrounds that add to how Neighbours has evolved over 37 years.

“It was really interesting when I sat back and said, ‘Wow, I’m a half Chinese actress and I’m going to be part of the last family on Neighbours’. That’s pretty cool and it shows how television has evolved.”

Some viewers found Wendy annoying at first, but they quickly warmed to her. What did you make of the changing reaction?

“I was worried initially. At the beginning when I started looking at responses online, there was a lot of animosity towards Wendy that I didn’t think would happen.

“Then people started seeing that Wendy was nice and had good intentions. That made me feel a lot better and more secure. Because I don’t want to be that person who people mute when they turn on the television!

“When it got somewhere positive, I actually felt that I also started to understand Wendy a lot more.”

There were some memorable Wendy scenes, including when she accidentally destroyed the Ramsay Street history book. Can you clear up whether she knew that and rushed off, or whether she was oblivious?

“She was totally oblivious! When I read the script for that, I was mortified. I was like, ‘Oh great, everyone likes her now, they’re getting used to her, and now it’s going to go back to people not liking her again!’ I was like, ‘Why?’. But it obviously set the tone for the new book to be created.”

Wendy also had a foot-in-mouth moment when she asked Lucy Robinson whether her grandmother would be joining them…

“I loved Anne Haddy’s character. I thought she was just iconic. Her and Jim Robinson mean Neighbours to me when I think about the heart of the show. When I did that scene, and said that I would love to meet her, I really meant it.

“Someone online commented, ‘Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seemed like you really meant that’. 100%, I really meant it.”

Has it been surreal that most of the reaction is from fans on the other side of the world?

“I had no idea that there were so many fans in the UK. All of the correspondence I’ve had from UK fans has been the biggest perk of the job that I didn’t even know about.

“This sounds odd, but I owe a lot to the Neighbours fans on Twitter. When Wendy first started out, there were a lot of personal comments being said. Not about Wendy, but about me.

“It really got to me. I thought, ‘I don’t know if I belong in this iconic show’. I remember I went on Twitter and I said, ‘I’m really grateful that there are a few people who are really positive. I love that you’re talking to me like a human’.

“Then I had this swarm of people saying, ‘No, I love Wendy’. I was getting a lot more followers and it really kept me afloat. It made me realise that I was hired for a reason. I still talk to people on Twitter and I wouldn’t have gotten through it if they didn’t show me so much support.”

Is that why you started providing sneak peeks from the set and behind-the-scenes pictures?

“Yeah, that connection with the fans felt immensely important. I felt like being on the set of Neighbours was magical, as I’d been watching the show for so many years.

“I know a lot of people in the UK can’t travel over here, so to give them a little glimpse of behind the scenes meant a lot to me because that’s what I would want someone to do.”

How was it to film the Hendrix storyline?

“I watched a lot of Emerald’s scenes with the fire, Aubrey and Zara to understand what was going on there. It was interesting to explore, because in high school you’re still developing.

“It was a case of bullying gone wrong, but Sadie really started to redeem herself. You could see the story played out as you hope it would in real life. We were teaching the audience that this level of bullying still goes on in high school.”

You joined Neighbours shortly before the show was axed, but were you aware that clouds of uncertainty were forming?

“Honestly, I was really unaware. My contract ended on June 10 but I thought, ‘Okay, maybe they just do a rollover and write a new contract’. I honestly didn’t think anything of it, because I knew that in a previous year, there were murmurs about what was happening with funding and what would happen with the show.

“I thought it would just carry on as it had been and we all had our fingers crossed. It was day by day, and then when we heard, obviously the news got broken and everyone got text messages on a Sunday morning about it.”

There was only so much the Rodwells could do towards the end, as the returning characters and nostalgia took over the show. Did you feel short-changed at all? Or were you just grateful for the time you had?

“100% grateful. There are so many people I know who have been trying to get on the show for years. This was my fifth audition and I’d decided that I wasn’t going to stress about whether I got the role or not.

“I definitely went into it like it was a job with a beginning and an end and I was going to soak up every minute I had. I really feel like I did that and there’s not anything I regret at all.”

Did the team ever tell you about plans for the Rodwells that had to be scrapped?

“Initially there was meant to be a younger son. Then when we had an end date, they decided they were just going to have Sadie as the daughter.

“Wendy’s storyline was going to develop and unravel. They were going to explore why she was the way she was. It would have been cool to find out why she wanted everyone to like her. I think she was full of anxiety when she went to talk to people.

“I’m not sure about any scandals that were meant to happen. I have a feeling that one of us would have had an affair!”

Were you surprised when the Rodwells suddenly announced they were moving in the final week?

“Nothing that happens in Erinsborough surprises me! I just felt they were going with the flow, to be honest. Because there had been a scene where Wendy sat down with Andrew, they looked at their finances and decided they couldn’t afford to move.

“Then suddenly everyone was doing it and they were like, ‘Maybe we can!’. It was the essence of Erinsborough that allowed that storyline to happen. Wendy was like, ‘Let’s just do it because everyone else is doing it’.”

Are you glad they decided to stay?

“I’m glad they did. I think Wendy would have become good friends with Terese and Jane. As soon as that hype of ‘please like my daughter, like me, like my husband!’ had faded.

“I think Wendy would have tried to work her way up to being manager of The Waterhole. Sadie would have excelled. Our family would have shown that they were accepted.”

What was it like to film the final scene with the street party?

“It was so amazing. We all got in so early. They had to get in so many hair and make-up people. The calls started at 5.45am. We all got taken out to the street in shuttle buses around 9.30am. We were there until 4pm and it happened to be a really cold day. The top temperature was probably around 10 degrees and most of us were in dresses and spring wear.

“It was bittersweet when they called ‘cut’. We all gathered together and there were sprinkles of rain. There were lots of tears and hugs. But we hadn’t really finished. That was the end of the show, but we still had more to do, including the scene with the videos.”

What are your future plans?

“At the moment I’m doing some presenting work. I’m coming off the ride of how intense it was doing the hours at Neighbours and I had a little break, just with my cats! I’m having some down-time but doing a lot of auditions. I’m back in the pool with all of the other talent.”

We haven’t seen much East Asian representation in the soaps over the years. Do you hope the Rodwells can pave the way for more?

“Wouldn’t that be great? I grew up not really seeing a lot of that, so it was great to be a part of that family – a mixed family. I hope there are more Asian and mixed race families, especially in the soap world.

“I don’t really feel like I’ve seen a lot of it, but times are changing and that’s coming into play. All we can do is keep going. You never know what people are looking for. I’m hoping the Rodwell family does help to bring that in with soaps. That would be really cool.”

Neighbours has now come to an end, but catch-up episodes are available via My 5 (UK) and 10 Play (Australia).