SHE first made a name for herself starring in popular children’s television show Guinevere Jones, but it was her role as Neighbour’s first openly gay character that really got people talking.
These days Bridget Phillips – or Bridget Neval as she was known back when she was acting – works out of the public eye, by choice. But she has fond memories of playing Lana Crawford and the relationship that developed with Sky Mangel (Stephanie McIntosh).
“The question made no sense to me because sometimes my brain works weirdly. I just thought, ‘Well, acting’s about pretending, right? You have to act attracted to people you’re not really interested in’. I honestly couldn’t understand why I was being asked the question,” Phillips told the Star Observer.
However, McIntosh – who had already been on the show for over a year and amassed a huge following – was not as comfortable about her character’s new direction. Phillips said she felt for her as she hadn’t been given a heads up about the storyline.
“[The storyline] was originally intended to end with her character realising she was bisexual,” Phillips revealed.
“It wasn’t something she was comfortable with because she had a lot of young fans and she was worried about the negative backlash. She was much more savvy about and aware of public opinion than I was, having been on the show for a while and known a lot of people in the high-profile entertainment industry her whole life.”
Despite McIntosh’s hesitance with the role, Phillips said she was more than welcoming when she joined the show.
“She was always so freaking lovely and generous to me. Her discomfort with the storyline aside, she always treated me really well and was insanely welcoming,” she said.
“It was a great group of people, both cast and crew. Steph never made me feel like I was a burden while she was showing me around the set and reminding me of people’s names when I was new… She was really nice.”
The reaction to the storyline was huge, with coverage in newspapers, the radio, and people approaching Phillips whenever she left the house. She also received letters from sexually-diverse people from around the world thanking her and sharing their own struggles.
But there was also backlash from far-right and religious groups.
“I’d get calls from reporters asking how I felt about that kind of bigotry and it was great to be able to say, ‘well let me tell you’ instead of just sitting at home being furious,” Phillips said.
“For all of the scorn on the internet and the radio and in the papers about having a lesbian on Neighbours, the people who mattered – fans of the show and those tuning in because they related to the character – were amazing.”
After leaving Neighbours, Phillips started working on another children’s show called Wicked Science. By season two, she was struggling to make it through the day without crying.
“I’ve had massive struggles with depression, anxiety and eating disorders my whole life. Part of why I really related to Lana was because I understood what it was like to just not be able to do normal – to not fit in, to not feel comfortable, to look at other people and think, ‘How are you doing this? How is it so unthinkingly EASY for you to live your life?’,” she said.
“I loved acting. Loved loved loved it. I loved taking someone else’s words and trying to make them believable. I loved the challenge. I loved doing something different every day. I loved the people I worked with. But I did not love myself, and eventually it got too hard to do a job where I was stared at all day, when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and die.
“I’m better now, but I barely finished season two of Wicked Science. I was crying whenever I wasn’t on set (and sometimes when I was – poor makeup people) and I only kept myself alive because I didn’t want to be the dickhead who wrecked everyone’s income by killing off a main actor in the middle of a shoot.
“I didn’t die and I am now happy with myself and who I am as a person, but that person still doesn’t want a job in the spotlight.”
Now working in what she describes as a boring office job, Phillips hopes to one day become a peer mentor for people who struggle with eating disorders, or to finish her degree in counselling. But she has ruled out a return to acting.
“I want to do something that focuses on helping others, cheesy as that sounds,” she said.