Neighbours casting director defends the soap against woke critics

The former casting director of Neighbours has come out to defend the classic soap against ‘woke‘ critics.

Jan Russ, who discovered Kylie Minogue and Margot Robbie, said that dramatic storylines suffer if ‘diversity is pushed too hard.’

The 82-year-old made the comments on the TV Reload Apple podcast on Tuesday, after Neighbours was criticised for being ‘too white.’

The former casting mastermind behind Neighbours Jan Russ (pictured) has defended the soap against woke critics who have labelled the soap 'too white'

The former casting mastermind behind Neighbours Jan Russ (pictured) has defended the soap against woke critics who have labelled the soap ‘too white’

Russ told podcast host Benjamin Norris that Neighbours had a strong track record of ‘diversity’ since its debut in 1986.

She pointed out that Indigenous actor Tony Briggs, best known for creating the stage play The Sapphires, got his start on the show in the 1980s. 

‘We did gay characters [in the 90s],’ she added. ‘We had lots of different nationalities and ethnicities.’

She admitted the classic series in its early years was not as diverse as it would later become, but said that back then, ‘people didn’t notice and just accepted it.’

Jan Russ discovered Kylie Minogue (pictured) who played Charlene in the hit series

Jan Russ discovered Kylie Minogue (pictured) who played Charlene in the hit series

Neighbours ended after the UK’s Channel 5 decided in March not to renew its contract with production company Fremantle to finance and broadcast the series. 

Russ was responsible for casting superstars Kylie Minogue, Margot Robbie and all three Hemsworth brothers – Liam, Luke and Chris.

‘All were relative newcomers to showbiz and they felt authentic to the show’s millions of fans,’ she said. 

Margot Robbie (pictured) was another of Jan's discoveries - her career was launched on Neighbours

Margot Robbie (pictured) was another of Jan’s discoveries – her career was launched on Neighbours

‘If you used well known faces the audience can’t really relate,’ she explained.

‘The audience needed to feel that they were a fly on the wall,’ Jan added.

Asked why the now famous cast – and the show – had such a massive global impact over its 37 years on the air, Russ said its because everything about Neighbours felt ‘genuine’.

‘That made it all so real and believable and that’s what drew out audiences in.’

Jan was also responsible for casting Chris, Liam, and Luke Hemsworth on Neighbours. All pictured

Jan was also responsible for casting Chris, Liam, and Luke Hemsworth on Neighbours. All pictured

Amongst Russ’ other star discoveries are  Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Dan McPherson, and Jason Donovan.

The starmaker said she was surprised to see so many former cast members return for the finale.

‘But then again that’s where they all started,’ she said. ‘That’s where they got their big break. ‘So, I think its lovely that they have come back, and they do appreciate that that’s where it all started for them.’

Kylie Minogue as Charlene Mitchell, Craig Mclachlan as Henry, Anne Charleston as Madge Bishop, and Ian Smith as Harold Bishop on the soap

Kylie Minogue as Charlene Mitchell, Craig Mclachlan as Henry, Anne Charleston as Madge Bishop, and Ian Smith as Harold Bishop on the soap

In the 90-minute finale special, the cast will gather for the wedding of Toadie Rebecchi, played by Ryan Moloney, and Melanie Pearson, played by Lucinda Cowden.

Returning cast members include Delta Goodrem, Olympia Valance, Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce, Ian Smith, Paul Keane, Bonnie Anderson, Daniel MacPherson and Jodi Gordon. 

Russ said she plans to watch the finale and remember the good times. 

The Neighbours finale will air Thursday, July 28 at 7.30pm on Channel 10 and 10Peach

The cast of Neighbours in its 80s heyday on their way to global success

The cast of Neighbours in its 80s heyday on their way to global success

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