Lisa McCune: Goodbye, girl next door
As she publicly romances her sexy co-star, Lisa McCune's good-girl image is taking a battering. But will this make her Australia's most bankable star, asks Sue Smethurst.
Legendary theatre producer John Frost is known for his uncanny ability to cast performers who can create magic on stage.
So he knew he was on a winner when the arrogant Operatic playboy Teddy Tahu Rhodes, agreed to star opposite TV sweetheart Lisa McCune in the Broadway love story South Pacific.
The partnership of the married mother of three and the charismatic baritone, known as the 'Brad Pitt' of opera, would guarantee 'bums on seats'.
Frost could barely contain his delight; "The casting of Teddy Tahu Rhodes is brilliant," he gushed in a publicity video, "and of course, Lisa McCune, Australia's favourite girl, this role was written for her."
What he didn't bank on was that the palpable chemistry he noted during auditions was no act, his stars had fallen madly in love and are now very publicly playing out their romance on and off stage.
"You couldn't have scripted this better if you tried," says respected entertainment reporter Peter Ford, "for the producers and publicists this is a dream come true, Teddy and Lisa are the hottest ticket in town."
And they are, because this is TV golden girl Lisa McCune as we have never seen her before.
The paparazzi have snapped the pair, who are both still married to other partners, unabashedly locking lips, legs and everything in between in public hotspots across the country, (there's even video of Tahu Rhodes openly touching Lisa's breasts at one of Melbourne's busiest cafes).
But what does this mean to the golden girl of TV who has built a career on her squeaky clean image?
Show business insiders say that at last she has buried the ghost of Maggie Doyle, and a new act is playing out in the career of Lisa McCune.
"If the response to South Pacific is anything to go by, this will be brilliant for her career, fans are queuing up to see her on stage," says a leading agent, "It's all about the box office, and she's a smash."
Communications expert and Gruen panellist Dee Madigan agrees, "this makes her much edgier, much more interesting, she'll be on the top of the casting wish lists, this will make her one of Australia's most bankable stars."
From the moment she hit our screens as the Coles check-out chick, Lisa McCune was destined for stardom.
Those sunny ads and her girl next door looks landed her the plum role of Constable Maggie Doyle in Blue Heelers.
The show was made as a 13 part series but audiences were so smitten with the police team from Mt Thomas, it became one of Australia's longest running TV shows, and fans fell in love with the wholesome Maggie Doyle.
At its peak, three million people watched Blue Heelers every week and 400 individual fan sites were dedicated to the show.
Lisa was the highest paid female actress on Australian TV, earning a reported $15,000 per episode.
But ten years and three Gold Logies later, and with her popularity at fever pitch, McCune feared being forever typecast as Maggie Doyle and decided it was time to bid her farewell.
Her final episode, 'Who Killed Maggie Doyle' was one of the highest rating shows in Australian TV history and Channel Seven boss, billionaire Kerry Stokes, personally delivered her farewell speech.
But Lisa's next role was distinctly off-camera. She married technician Tim Disney, who she met on the set of Blue Heelers the very week that the final Maggie Doyle episode went to air and fell pregnant with her first child soon after. The couple have three children, Archer, 11, Oliver, 9 and Remy 7.
The pandemonium that surrounded their wedding showed that fans weren't going to let Maggie Doyle rest easily.
Outside Mietta's Hotel in seaside Queenscliff, fans and media lined the streets, and radio stations and television networks broadcast live from the event.
Lisa wanted a small, private celebration, but when a newspaper published details of the day she felt she had no choice but to sell exclusive pictures to a magazine to control the images and details that were released.
A clear photo of the bride was worth a $100,000 bounty to the paparazzi who captured the lucky shot, and they staked out every vantage point.
One rival journalist even got caught checking into the hotel as a wedding guest with empty suitcases.
"She's was genuinely shocked by how much interest there was," says a former Channel Seven publicist, "Lisa never willingly chased publicity, she felt forced into selling her wedding pictures because she was being hunted by paparazzi who would've taken shots anyway.
"Rather than have it open slather she's tried to control what is written and retain some sort of privacy, which is why I just don't get what she's doing now with Teddy. If she wanted to keep it quiet, she could."
And that is the hot question on the lips of those closest to her, why is the reluctant star so publicly flaunting her new lover when in the past she has gone to such great lengths to protect her privacy?
Many of Lisa's closest colleagues who were contacted by The Weekly, were stunned by her behaviour but would not speak publicly about her, echoing thoughts of a former agent who said, "this is so out of character I don't think anyone knows what to say!"
"The first time they got caught you could say 'well it's an accident but she should've known better', but the second, third and fourth times? That's no accident, Lisa would know cameras were following her, and it just keeps happening."
Lisa is managed by the RGM Artists group, a formidable agency who've managed the careers of the likes of Cate Blanchett, Rebecca Gibney and Rose Byrne.
It's founder, Robyn Gardiner is renowned for stopping at nothing to protect her talent.
It is RGM who have built the very bankable 'brand' McCune, the image of the wholesome, endearing and trustworthy girl next door.
At the peak of Blue Heelers, against her agents advice, she knocked back multi-million dollar endorsement deals because she had "no interest" in the products wanting her prized face and good-girl reputation.
The only brand she has publicly endorsed is Coles, the company that kick started her career. They reportedly paid her $500,000 a year.
"She could've sold anything from cars to toilet paper and made millions doing so," says Gruen's Dee Madigan "Basically any product on a supermarket shelf that a family would buy, would want her."
CEO of the Harry M Miller Group, Lauren Miller Cilento says her affair with Tahu Rhodes has "absolutely put her back in the spotlight and it's given her more publicity than she's had for years, and with that comes more opportunities and big money."
Ask any co-star why Lisa McCune is so popular and they'll tell you the same thing; "she's normal".
One TV critic summed her up as "pretty without being threatening, direct without being aggressive and approachable without being a pushover. She could pop over for BBQ and no-one would blink, she'd just fit right in."
She shuns the limelight, doesn't do the red carpet and she is not snapped in the social pages, she is happiest at home in her jeans and RM Williams boots. The 'star' label has never sat easily, a publicist recalls how Lisa was surprised when she received an invitation to the Logies the year after Maggie Doyle had been killed off, "we had to politely point out that she was nominated for the Gold Logie, so of course she would receive an invitation, but that's Lisa, she never takes anything for granted. She once asked if a big company could provide a taxi home from a late night event she had hosted for them for free as a favour to a friend. Other actors would have a list of demands."
"She is sincerely the nicest most generous actor I have ever worked for."
Despite her success, she is plagued with insecurities about her looks and her acting ability.
Her former Blue Heelers co-star Martin Sacks said; "She has enormous self doubt which isn't matched by her work. Even after she'd been on the show for years, she'd ask us 'is that okay?' after every take."
And in an early interview she openly described how she taped her ears back on set because she didn't like them and said; "There are days when I look in the monitors on set and wish I could have an accident and break my nose so then when it was being reset I could have it fixed."
She described her frustration on one occasion, when she'd done 19 takes to get a scene right.
"I was beside myself. I was throwing my hat on the ground, jumping up and down screaming, 'why isn't this f***ing working' I often joke about my inadequacies because so many people imagine me as sugar and spice and all thing nice, but I'm not.
"Everybody thinks I am this quiet demure little girl who wouldn't say boo and is always polite and in control but I have the most volatile temper. Seriously I have this vile, vile temper there's this whole other side to me that most people just don't know about."
Such carefree detail would not be allowed by her management today, they've refused to discuss her relationship with Tahu Rhodes, but as each week, and each new set of sizzling pictures emerges, the story isn't going away.
At a media conference in Brisbane for South Pacific, reporters were banned from asking questions about their romance, but just minutes after the media call ended, Teddy and Lisa were photographed in a semi-nude romp in a Brisbane park, just metres from where their press conference had been.
"Part of me thinks that this is Lisa's way of politely thumbing her nose at everyone," says a former publicist, "I've never known her to do anything like this, but Lisa has always done things her way, and it's never been about public perception for her, so maybe she's saying 'this is me and I'll live my life the way I want'. "
Two years ago Tim and Lisa renewed their vows but in an interview with 60 Minutes perhaps prophetically shared their first hint that marriage was in trouble. When Tim was asked "are you meant to fall in love with your leading lady?" He replied, "well no, it's sort of against the rules don't you think?" But Lisa chimed in "No, all's fair in love and drama."
Theirs was an old fashioned romance and at their wedding Lisa described how Tim was the first man to ever properly ask her out on a date.
Often when she was working days on Blue Heelers and nights at the theatre, they would write love notes for one another on the bathroom mirror.
Friends of the couple say Tim is very private and describe him as "chivalrous", "the sort of guy who'd wait for her outside the theatre each night."
Even those closest to the couple are at a loss to explain the end of their fairytale marriage.
In stark contrast, Teddy the 'buff baritone' as he was described by the New York Times, comes with a reputation.
The 46 year-old who lives in New York, has made his name playing Mozart's "skirt-chasing" love rats like Don Giovanni and Count Almaviva. He has a two year old son Teo with his second wife, Argentinian beauty Isabel Leonard, a mezzo-soprano who graduated from the prestigious Juilliard school.
She is yet to comment on her husband's behaviour but it is believed the pair separated some time ago.
Ironically, if the romance between Teddy and Lisa continues to blossom, they will attract even more of the attention that Lisa loathes.
Says one colleague; "Lisa is just a normal girl and things happen to normal people in real life, people make mistakes, it's just that hers end up on magazine covers!"