EXCLUSIVE: Rebecca Gibney and Erik Thomson on the highly-anticipated Rafters reunion

"It’s not a hard day at the office if you’ve got to show up and work with him"
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It’s been more than eight years since Dave and Julie Rafter packed up their life in Sydney to travel around Australia in a green kombi van with their three-year-old daughter, Ruby.

Saying goodbye to their grown-up children and loved ones, the trio set out in search of something new in an emotionally charged finale of Packed To The Rafters. Now, they’re ready to return. 

WATCH: Look back on the final season of Packed To The Rafters

Set six years after the final episode of the Channel Seven series, the new Amazon Prime reboot, Back To The Rafters,  reunites viewers with their favourite family.

Dave and Julie (the lovable Erik Thomson and Rebecca Gibney) are enjoying a quiet life in the country town of Buradeena, with their daughter Ruby (Willow Speers).

Their original trio of kids, now in their 30s, appear to be doing well – though, nothing ever stays that way for long in the Rafters family. 

Nathan (Angus McLaren) is living with his son, Edward (Kaspar Frost), from his previous marriage. Ben (Hugh Sheridan) is newly married to Cassie (HaiHa Le) and they’re trying for a baby. And Rachel – previously played by Jessica Marais, now by Georgina Haig – is living a somewhat secretive life in New York City. 

Julie and Dave Rafter
Dave and Julie are enjoying life in the country. (Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

Though they’ve built up a quaint country life for themselves, things take a somewhat chaotic turn for Julie and Dave in the premiere episode

A visit to the city to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary leads to trouble, when Julie realises she misses being there, in Sydney, for her kids and father, Ted (Michael Caton), who is living in a nursing home due to his Alzheimer’s disease. 

“Are you and dad getting a divorce?” a tense Rachel asks in one clip from the trailer. And that’s just the beginning of the drama.

Julie Rafter
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Julie. (Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

We caught up with the famous heads of the Rafter family – Rebecca and Erik – ahead of the show’s return, to see what’s in store for fans and find out why they loved the chance to reunite.

What was it like to pick back up from where you left off in 2013 and return to the world of the Rafters?

Rebecca: Oh, it was incredible! I mean, we are so lucky. I hadn’t seen Erik for ages – it’s so lovely to be able to hang out with people that you just want to hang out with, because they’re fun and they’re easy

Erik: And we had that really lovely, shared memory of making the show together in the past. It was a big part of our lives, quite a few years, and we all had small children then, so it’s kind of going back into that world. It’s got a lovely nostalgia to it – we’re getting the band back together.

Rebecca Gibney Erik Thomson in Back To The Rafters
(Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

And it must have been so exciting to work closely together again. What do you love about working with each other?

Rebecca: Well, he’s still hot! He’s still go it – a silver fox. It’s not a hard day at the office if you’ve got to show up and work with him. I mean, really? ‘Oh no I have to go work with Erik Thomson’ [laughs]. 

Erik: I’m blushing!

Rebecca: It’s such an easy, wonderful relationship. The hard thing is, I can’t work with him on anything else because we’re such an established couple on Rafters. Every time I go on another show, and they go ‘we need a hot guy’ and I say Erik, they’re like ‘as if.’ But why not!

Erik: One day, someone will go, ‘that’s actually a really good idea’. I think people would go on a journey with us. But, you know, working with Rebecca is like… we’ve done 120 episodes of television together over a long period of time. You’re not just sharing the on-screen stuff, but the off-screen stuff as well. With any new show it takes a while to get through the small talk and nuances of a new relationship, but when we got back together for work, it was just – we had the shorthand, the energy, the history. So, it was really nice to go into a new show with the language already sorted out.

You’ve also got some new, younger characters this time around with grown-up Ruby [Willow Speers] and little Edward [Kaspar Frost]. Did they bring new life to the set?

Rebecca: [Laughs] there were some days with Kaspar when you’d go ‘well, okay, how much sugar has he had today?’ and Willow, who plays Ruby, is kind of wise beyond her years.

Erik: A real old soul. A little fighter! And the great thing with Kaspar is that… he’s a kid in an adult environment, so it took him a little while to settle down, but once he did we found that what we’d get on screen was great. He’s got a really lovely quality about him.

Rebecca: Yeah, gold.

Erik: You just have to bottle it. Sometimes it’s hard to bottle [laughs].

Julie and Dave Rafter with Ruby
Willow brought new life to set as Ruby Rafter. (Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

Now that Ruby has grown up a bit more, we also get to see Julie and Dave interacting with their almost-teenage daughter as she becomes her own person – as well as having the dynamic of being parents to older kids in their 30s…

Erik: Yeah, it was interesting because when we finished Rafters, Ruby was only three so she was never really a storyline. She was just kind of like… a prop? [Rebecca laughs] But now in this show she’s a main player so, she has storylines and opinions on pretty much everything.

Another major difference is that we have Georgina Haig playing the role of Rachel Rafter in the reboot, another new actor to throw into the mix. Was it fun to welcome her in to the family?

Rebecca: It was amazing actually because she’s such a wonderful actress, but she’s also a really lovely girl. And it’s a hard gig, asking someone to come in and step into a role that’s obviously been established. But within minutes she was very much a part of it.

Erik: Yeah and she wanted to – she sent us emails back and forth and asked us about our favourite memories of Rachel and we kind of welcomed her wholeheartedly into the production to make sure she didn’t feel like the newbie.

Rebecca: I think it was good because HaiHa was there, too, so we had other new characters coming in as well so it wasn’t so tricky for her to be in there. And I think she’s amazing. She stands in the middle of the two of us and you go oh, that’s way too believable [laughs]. She could be our daughter! But we would have been way too young…

Erik: Far too young!

Georgina Haig Back To The Rafters
Georgina Haig steps into the role of Rachel. (Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

There are parallels between the first episode of the original series and the first episode of the reboot: celebrating an anniversary, enjoying dinner in Shanghai Express, everyone staying under the one roof. It feels familiar and things seem to be going really well for everyone. And then suddenly, they’re not… 

Rebecca: Do you know what, I love the fact that it kind of lulls you into a false sense of security! Particularly the first 15 to 20 minutes of [the first episode]. You go, okay we’re in this beautiful country town, Dave and Julie are happy, beautiful Ruby has grown up and then slowly, bit by bit, you start introducing the issues. But you’re right, I think if we brought them back and BANG Dave and Julie have issues, Ben and Cassie have problems and all this sort of stuff, I think people would go ‘hang on!’ I think we need to have those joyous moments. It’s really important to have the positives. And I love that they go back to Shanghai Express and the waitress is terrible and it’s awful – it’s just those lighter moments that often do come out of dark situations or things that seem a bit flat. You have to laugh about it, it’s a very Australian thing.

Erik: And as much as we brought [the show] back as a reunion, we wanted to make sure it was also ready for new viewers to join. So there’s a bit of a reintroduction in there to get the tone right, in the first 15 minutes anyway, before we started to pick at it and get under the skin of what’s going on with this family – which is what Rafters always did. Amidst all the laughter and shenanigans there was always something brewing underneath.

Rebecca: And we’re not afraid to deal with issues, like dementia, that people are dealing with on a daily basis. So, I think that’s what I love about the show. You take an ordinary family and you put them into ordinary situations, but they are challenging, and people can relate to it. That’s probably why the show is so popular.

back to the rafters
The Rafters return to Shanghai Express in the first episode. (Credit: Amazon Prime Video)

Absolutely. A lot of people could see themselves in the Rafter family when the show originally aired and that was a huge part of its appeal. Is that your hope for the new series, too?

Erik: Oh definitely, televisions changed a lot since we went to air in 2008 and so the playing field is a little bit different, but there is that element of people wanting to reach back to that more innocent time. The rose-coloured glasses are already on, certainly at the moment with everything going on in the world, the timing is sort of good. It’s good to have a little bit of comfort. Just to know that everyone’s alright and the Rafter family, generally speaking, are alright and that the problems we face are universal. We used to say, it was sort of like peeking through a hole in the fence to spy on the neighbours every Tuesday night.

What are you the most excited about as the show premieres on Friday?

Rebecca: You’ve got the fans that have been there right from the beginning, but you’ve also got a lot of people now – because we are doing this on a global stage – who are watching in lockdown in the UK or America, so they’re coming in from all over the place. So, that’s what’s exciting as well. It’s not just fans from Australia and New Zealand, but it’s people from all over the world saying ‘oh I discovered this show on hulu’ or wherever and they’re getting a chance to meet this family and now they can’t wait for it. So, it is exciting.

Erik: And they love the qualities that this country has, there’s a simpleness about it that people really respond to.

WATCH: The trailer for Back To The Rafters

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