IT is not out of the ordinary to hear an Australian voice on British television. All you have to do is turn on Home and Away or Neighbours any evening to get a comforting reminder of home, albeit in the dulcet tones of Alf Stewart.
However, it is far more unusual to hear an Australian voice in British made programs. One such exception is Australian actress Natasha Leigh since taking on the role of Dr Lilah Birdwood in long-running drama Holby City recently.
Leigh, a graduate of the Australian Acting Academy, joins the long-running British medical drama in its fifteenth season for an eight-episode appearance as a focused and determined Australian doctor studying to become a surgeon at the hospital that serves as Holby City’s setting. Her character immediately became close – perhaps too close in some cases – to many of the program’s established cast members.
Leigh claims that winning a role on Holby City was an exciting moment in her career, particularly as it marked her first job as an actress outside the Australian entertainment industry.
She told Australian Times: “I started crying when I heard [that she had won the role]. This industry is a roller coaster and I feel very blessed when I get a chance to work. It was obviously very exciting to land such an amazing role on such a massive show.
“In terms of celebrating — my girlfriends and I shared a nice bottle of champagne!”
Although her role on Holby City marked Leigh’s first major international experience, she has been prominently featured in Australian productions for a number of years. Her breakthrough role as Melissa Hollingsworth in 2010 drama Underbelly: The Golden Mile saw her working alongside other rising Australian stars such as Firass Dirani and Emma Booth.
“I have played some very interesting roles! They have all been so different but they are always intense, raw, vulnerable and honest. I love roles you can get your teeth into and test yourself as an artist,” she said.
The role of Lilah Birdwood posed relatively unique challenges to Leigh as an actress – particularly when it came to pronouncing the complex medical jargon associated with taking on the character of an aspiring surgeon. Leigh says that working on a medical drama was a notably different experience to any of the roles she had taken on in the past.
She said: “Learning dialogue for me is easy, but this is totally different. It’s not person-to-person chat a lot of the time, its lists, lists, lists, which I found difficult to remember sometimes. Also, with my Aussie accent, I really had to articulate my words for the UK audiences to understand me.”
Aside from the occasional pronunciation challenge, Leigh found working on the iconic British television program to be a positive experience and says that she was welcomed with open arms by Holby City’s crew and fans alike.
She said: “It’s lovely being the only Australian on the show. My nickname was ‘Kylie’ and I was constantly being called ‘ya hoon’ and ‘flamin’ galah’ though!
“I have had some great feedback, which is always lovely. I have just started with Twitter too, which is keeping me up late responding to my fans in the UK, but I enjoy it! The UK audiences have always had a soft spot for Aussies.”
Although she has made her mark in the British entertainment industry, even being named ‘Best Dressed’ at the recent Inside Soap Awards, Leigh insists that she will continue to support the Australian entertainment industry and perform in Australian dramas whenever she has the chance.
“It is positive to support the local industry, though it is limited in Australia. When I travel to the US or UK no one really knows anything about our industry which is saddening,” she said.
“I think artists should always travel as its great for character and opportunities, but always support home.”
Leigh intends to return to London next year, as well as travel to Los Angeles to audition for roles in television programs during the American pilot season. Her role as Dr Lilah Birdwood on Holby City will come to a conclusion in early December.
Natasha Leigh can be seen on Holby City on BBC1 at 8pm on Tuesday nights