New Ramsay Street resident Ariel Kaplan tells Francine Wolfisz how her showbiz family inspired her to land a starring role in Neighbours.[divider]

Although still a teenager, actress Ariel Kaplan is something of a veteran when it comes to showbusiness. She has been singing, dancing and acting since she can first remember and was still at primary school when she landed a lead role in The Lion King as well as the Australian television series The Saddle Club.

Earlier this year, the South African-born actress joined the cast of Neighbours as Imogen Willis. Pulse caught up with the talented soap star to talk about her latest role, her close-knit family and why Neighbours really are good friends…

JN: You joined the cast of Neighbours just under a year ago. How has the experience been so far?

Ariel Kaplan: I’m loving it! Well, it’s pretty impossible not to love it! Everyone gets along so well.

JN: Neighbours attracts fans from all over the world. How do you feel about being seen not just in your own country but also abroad?

AK: It’s pretty crazy actually, especially when I’m on Twitter and get tweets from fans on the other side of the world – and here I am, just sitting in this little studio in a suburb in Melbourne! It’s quite humbling to think that people so far away appreciate it.

JN: What are your working schedules like?

NEIGHBOURS GENERICS

“We don’t necessarily follow Judaism to the nth degree, but we love the family-based traditions. It’s the best!”

AK: (Laughs) They are pretty crazy! Every day is different, but usually I have to leave home around 5am. If it’s a big day I won’t get back until 7pm. So that’s about as bad as it gets. It’s certainly very long hours, but you can hardly complain when you are doing something you love.

JN: Tell us about the audition for Neighbours.

AK:It was actually one of the quickest audition processes I’ve ever been to. I had one audition and it went well. Then I got asked to do a screen test with Harley [Bonner], who plays Josh Rebecca [Elmaloglou] who plays Terese and Kip [Gamblin], who plays Brad. They wanted to see if we had that family dynamic that is so important in Neighbours. Luckily we all have very big, outgoing personalities so we bonded very well. A few days later I got the call.

JN: Where were you when you heard the news?

AK: I was actually studying full-time at the 16th Street Actors Studio and was in a class. No phones are allowed, but I saw a missed call from my agent, so I said: “Can I quickly go to the bathroom?” I ran there, heard the news, had a little scream in a cubicle and then had to hold it in for the rest of the day, because I wasn’t supposed to have a phone in class! It was only when I got home that I was able to tell my parents and we had a big dinner celebration. It was really nice.

JN: In recent months, your character Imogen developed an eating disorder. How did you feel when you found out about the storyline and did you do any research for it?

AK: I got told a couple of months ahead and instantly wanted to make sure I did the storyline justice. It’s such an important issue that people are dealing with more and more these days. I contacted an organisation over here called the Butterfly Foundation, which is a support network for people with eating disorders. They helped with the scripts and gave me plenty of information. It was an honour to be given a storyline like that, so I wanted to do my best from the get-go.

JN: There are quite a few veterans in the cast, including Alan Fletcher (Karl Kennedy), Tom Oliver (Lou Carpenter) and Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson). What’s it like working alongside them?

AK: They are definitely superstars – they’ve been doing it so long they know it like the backs of their hands! It’s such an honour to work with them because they are such experienced actors and just know how to deal with every situation. They keep the rest of the cast at their best as well, because even after all this time they are still striving to perfect their work. That’s very honourable, because it’s very easy when you are so comfortable with something just to rest and not do as much as they all do.

JN: Neighbours is known for its younger cast members too – and mostly good looking actors! Is it sociable behind the scenes as well?

AK: Yes, absolutely! There’s such a huge age range on the show, but we all go out for dinner on the weekends. The girls are always in the green room, chatting away and getting in trouble because we are supposed to be on set, but instead we’re on YouTube looking up the latest videos! We all get along really well, which is hard to believe. Most people would think it’s not possible, but surprisingly we are very lucky.

JN: Good neighbours really do become good friends then?

AK: Exactly! Just as the song suggests!

JN: You live at home in Melbourne and have just a short commute to work. Do you like living at home and would you describe the Kaplans as a close-knit Jewish family?

AK: It’s amazing, because so often in this industry you’ll get a great job, but you’ll have to relocate. I’m such a homebody and I love nothing more than living at home with my family. I’m so close to my siblings and my parents, so this is the perfect job for me. I have to drive about half-an-hour each morning there and back and then I’m home with my dog and I’m happy! We are quite a traditional family. We always get together for Pesach, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as Shabbat, which has always been a highlight of my week. We don’t necessarily follow Judaism to the nth degree, but we love the family-based traditions. It’s the best!

JN: You come from a talented family. Your two older sisters, Gemma-Ashley and Dena, are actors, your dad is a musician, your grandfather was an actor and your grandmother was a professional ballerina. I guess it’s true to say that entertainment is in your blood?

AK: Pretty much. It was honestly never a second thought. I was just born loving show business. My parents would love me to have a normal nine-to-five stable job, but I just loved singing, dancing and acting from when I was little. I literally didn’t give my poor family a choice!

JN: Is it true that when you were seven you made your mum line up for hours in the pouring rain so you could go to an audition?

AK: (Laughs) Yes, it’s true! I was number 714 in a line of girls at the Rod Laver Arena waiting for an audition for Oliver! It was freezing, because it was the middle of the Melbourne winter. After a while, my mum said: “Ari, this is ridiculous, we’re going home. I’m really proud you felt confident enough to come, but there are a lot of girls here. You’re not going to get this role.” I was so naive, I said: “No mum, I’m definitely going to get it.” We ended up being there the whole day and as it turned out I finally got the part of one of the orphans. I thought: “Oh this is easy, I’ll just get any role I like”, but later on I realised that was not so much the case! But it was still one of the most amazing experiences I had.

JN: Do you miss theatre?

AK: I definitely do. The last theatre show I did was about two years ago and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that adrenalin rush of being on stage. I’m hoping that over time my career allows me to do both television and stage work.

JN: Maybe you should suggest a musical spot in Neighbours?

AK: Exactly. I’ve suggested to the producers we should do something like Glee – I think that would be great!

• Neighbours airs weekdays at 1.45pm and 5.30pm on Channel 5.