When it comes to small-screen characters with a style all their own, Summer Bay’s long-time resident Marilyn has few equals. From the moment the bubbly former hairdresser, played by actress Emily Symons, first moved into town some 29 years ago, she’s delighted viewers the world over with her love of all things leopard-print, sequinned and colourful.
But what many may not know is that Emily’s personal style couldn’t be more different from that of her alter ego. “We’re absolutely polar opposites, in the sense that I never wear colour,” laughs Emily. “I’m constantly teased for always wearing black. I’m not very adventurous either, so I would never wear a print with colour and leopard, and I wear very minimal jewellery.
“So it’s funny – I get to go to work and become this person who is the opposite of me, but I just love it. The thing I’ve always said about Marilyn is that she doesn’t care what other people think of her, and I think that’s a great and really positive message to send out.”
For Emily, a doting mum to three-year-old son Henry, playing Marilyn on and off for the past three decades has truly been a gift.
“This is now my third visit to Home and Away and my longest one yet, as this stay has been nearly 10 years so far,” she says.
“Marilyn has been with me every decade of my career and that is something special. To have had the connections I’ve had – my friendship with Ray [Meagher] and Kate Ritchie – all the friends you make over the years. Home and Away is a family to me.”
Emily admits she has also come to feel quite protective of her beloved character.
“At first, Marilyn was this very impressionable, ditzy hairdresser from Yabbie Creek, so she has really grown and matured,” she says. “But she’s always been a good person – a very kind lady – and I still enjoy playing her every day. She’s been through such a journey as well.”
Certainly, there have been some memorable and challenging storylines for Emily to bring to life. “Marilyn lost a baby, she’s a cancer survivor, she was horrifically burnt in a bushfire that her husband started, but to survive all of that just shows her strength and positive nature,” says the star.
“There were the years when she was with Donald Fisher (Norman Coburn), and now she loves having John (Shane Worthington) to look after. I think she also has a lot to say to the young people in the Bay, as she’s a real nurturer.”
Similarly, Emily has formed a close bond with the show’s youngest cast member Olivia Deeble (Raffy), with Olivia describing Emily as her second mum on set.”
“That’s a lovely compliment,” muses Emily. “When the young actors start at that age, they need to have role models to show them what to do. I know they can act, but it’s just everything else that goes around it.
“One minute you’re at school and the next minute you’re on the cover of a magazine and in this full-time working situation. It takes a great deal of maturity to handle that, which I think Olivia has shown beautifully.
“I’m incredibly proud of her – she’s a very clever, talented and funny young lady..”
And when she’s not working, Emily loves spending every moment with her gorgeous son Henry.
“He’s the light of my life and the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea, on sale now.