Aussie actress Ashleigh Cummings on playing Westside's Cheryl West
It was the question Westside fans were talking about for months. Which actress would play a young Cheryl West?
Hands up who guessed Ashleigh Cummings? No, we didn't either.
While the Australian is not yet a household name, Cummings, 24, is carving out a career across the Tasman in TV shows such as Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and Puberty Blues.
This year she also starred in the New Zealand film Pork Pie with fellow Westside actors Dean O'Gorman and Antonia Prebble.
Before scoring an audition to play Cheryl, the character made famous by Robyn Malcolm in Outrageous Fortune, Cummings knew "absolutely nothing" about Cheryl.
Yet she already had a connection to Outrageous Fortune having appeared in the 2010 Sydney play Our Town with the late Frank Whitten, who played Ted West in Outrageous.
(Whitten died in 2011.)
"I was aware he was a part of a widely respected Kiwi show but never saw Outrageous until landing Westside," says Cummings. "It's been so wonderful to have a little bit of him back in my life again through this experience."
Cummings had a lot to learn about Cheryl before starting work on Westside, the Outrageous Fortune prequel.
"I trawled through every ounce of Cheryl West that had been released into the world," says Cummings. "(That's) all the Outrageous DVDs, soundtracks, books, interviews with Robyn Malcolm ... and I absolutely immersed myself within it, in order to understand the woman she would become and search for any mention of her past."
Cummings had to keep quiet about her Westside gig to build up the anticipation for her appearance.
"Luckily my boyfriend was shooting a different show in Auckland at the same time I was filming Westside so I was able to pretend I was in town to be with him," she says.
"However, the brilliant Jessie Lawrence (who plays Cheryl's older sister Jeanette) quickly became one of my favourite humans in the world, so there were a few instances where we had to rehearse a vague backstory to explain to mutual friends how we knew each other."
This season's Westside takes place in 1982 when 16-year-old Cheryl's wardrobe includes off-the-shoulder T-shirts, hotpants, and mini-skirts.
"There's not always much actual material when it comes to Cheryl's wardrobe," says Cummings.
"The costume department made sure her 'Slutty Pants' nickname had been accurately coined. I thought they (the hotpants) were underpants when I had my first costume fitting.
"We definitely brought in the leopard print and a little bit of leather. However, it was very important to the team to capture Cheryl's youthful and bright spirit before she's hardened by all the events that occur in her adult life."
This is the Westside season in which Rita (Antonia Prebble) and Ted West's (David de Lautour) son Wolf, played by Reef Ireland, falls in love with Cheryl, his future wife.
"This is the third project I've worked on with Reef," says Cummings, who met Ireland around seven years ago when the pair auditioned for the same TV show.
"Our first job together was Puberty Blues in which he played Bruce Board who was my character's first boyfriend.
"The other show we worked on was Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries where we weren't love interests for once. I was so excited to hear that Reef was working on Westside."
Taking on the role of Cheryl, the part Malcolm played for six seasons, is something Cummings, doesn't take lightly.
"I have infinite respect for the Cheryl West we have all come to know and love in Outrageous and I did my absolute best to pay tribute to her," says Cummings, who was born in Saudi Arabia.
"However, in amongst all my panic and obsession to do Cheryl justice, I was given incredible advice by our producer Mark Beesley who was a director on Outrageous and knew the world of Cheryl West inside out.
"He told me to surrender a little bit, to trust my instincts because I have young Cheryl within me ... He helped me realise that some of the qualities that the older Cheryl West is known and loved for, haven't actually developed within young Cheryl as we meet her.
"Her hardness and grit develops from the pain we hope to explore."
Westside, Three, Monday, 8.30pm
- TV Guide