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Brett Cousins article

Dream role almost became nightmare for Brett

Soap success had surprise down side

The Weekly News February 14th 1998

For unknown young actor, Brett Cousins, joining the Neighbours cast was a dream come true. Not only was he signing on for a top-rating soap, he'd be playing one of the most challenging roles in the series.

As Ben Atkins, the illegitimate son Ruth Wilkinson secretly gave up for adoption as a baby, he'd be at the centre of an intriguing storyline.

But the dream role almost turned into a nightmare. Brett discovered that when the public recognition that comes with a top TV role turns from friendly interest to rude intrusion, the life of a soap star can become a misery.


"It's amazing," said Brett, 21. "You're just going along, living you life, with no-one knowing you from Adam. Then, suddenly, you appear in Neighbours and nothing is ever quite the same again. You totally lose your anonymity. You can't do anything without it coming back to you.

"Chat up a girl at a party and everyone knows about it the next day. You can't even rent a video without everyone knowing what film you've watched. It's been quite a shock to the system. I'm still trying to learn how to cope with it."

Normally sociable and friendly, Brett was delighted when he first appeared on Neighbours and suddenly found himself being greeted in the street by total strangers.

"I've met some wonderful people," he said "I've even had members if the Canadian ice hockey team come up to say 'hello'.

"But there are also times when it becomes a real intrusion into your life. For instance, you've just worked 10 hours three days in a row, you're dead on your feet and just want to get home and chill out.

The last thing you want to do is be all chatty with a group of lively Neighbours fans. But, of course, you can't be rude and just walk away.

Or you're sitting in a quiet corner over a cup of coffee, with your best mate pouring out his heart to you about how he's just broken up with his girlfriend, and you get three people coming up to talk to you as if it's their right.

It would be easy to lose your cool. Instead, you button your lip and reply politely.

"Of course, the attention is nowhere near the level Hollywood stars might have to deal with, but it's still difficult to come to terms with. You find yourself looking at people and wondering, 'What do you want from me?' which is a real shame.

"I'm trying to learn not to be too suspicious and to take people on their merits. But sometimes it does really feel like a bad dream. You realise what a real commodity privacy can be."


To try to keep some vestigies of that privacy, Brett has turned down magazine requests for photo shoots in his spare time and tries to keep his home life completely seperate from his work.

"This industry can chew you up and spit you out without a second thought," he said.

"That's one of the reasons I've continued to live from home with my family, so that I can keep my feet firmly on the ground.

"But I'm not complaining," he added quickly. "It's just that I'm still learning how to deal with the recognition and how to deal with it. Because I also know that it can go just as quickly as it arrives and then you might find yourself missing it."

Brett's dad, Nigel, is a lecturer in business training and mum, Anne, teaches child care to student teachers. Sister, Emma, 19, is doing a commerce/arts degree at university and the youngest of the family, Sally, 15, is still at school.

"We all get along really well," said Brett, "which is another reason why I see no point in leaving home just yet. Home is just an hour's drive away from a surfing beach and I just love the water. I spend most of my spare time surfing, water skiing and sailing."

Brett's also a skilled rock climber. He taught abseilling until his work on Neigbours took up so much time he had to quit.

He also plays the guitar in two bands, one called Jester, the other The Cherrypickers. Any time left over he spends with his girlfriend, Alice, 20, a student he met at a party.

Brett got into acting at Melbourne's St Michael's school, where he took part in all the school plays he could manage.

"The school was heavily biased towards drama - we put on 22 plays a year," he said. Getting the lead in a school production was as prestigious as being the captain of the football team at any other school."

It was when Brett played Rosenkrantz in the Tom Stoppard play Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead that he finally decided the acting lark was for him.

"Before then, I'd been sitting on the fence wondering whether to take the big leap into acting as a career," he said, "But it was such an amazing role it comvinced me I had to do it."

Full Support

"It helped, too, that he was named the 1993 runner-up actor of the year for school productions in the state of Victoria.

"Now I'm concentrating on learning as much as I can, as fast as I can, from anyone who'll let me know anything," he said.

"I realise that at 21, there are still unfathomable depths of things I don't know about.

"But the most experienced cast members on Neighbours like Ailsa Piper who plays Ben's mother, Ruth, have been brilliant.

The dramatic story of Ben's return and the way it shakes the foundations of divorced Ruth's family has had a deep effect on some viewers.

"I've had letters from an adopted girl who was inspired to seek out her own mother by watching this story," said Brett.

"She has the full support of her adoptive parents in her quest, but so far she hasn't been successful. But she keeps me informed.

"It was very sobering to me to know that as an actor you can have that sort of impact on people's lives. I'm really moved by this girl's letters.

"They're a reminder to me that for every difficult thing that Neighbours brings you as a cast member, it brings 10 times more rewards."