Over the past six years, she’s brought to life Wentworth’s mother-hen inmate Lizzie Birdsworth. For the delightfully down-to-earth Celia Ireland, a real-life mum, it’s been the role of a lifetime.
That’s not to say, though, that it’s been without its sacrifices for the acclaimed performer.
While the show is filmed for months at a time in Melbourne, Celia’s husband Tim and their girls live in Sydney, where Maeve, 17, and Maggie, 13 attend school.
‘I’ve been blown away by both my girls, – their resilience,’ she says.
‘But really and truly, what a gift for my girls to have a relationship with their father that they’ve had – they probably never would have that, had I not been away as much as I have’ve been away.’
Celia, who has regular visits with her family during breaks in filming, couldn’t be more grateful to Tim – the general manager of Sydney’s Seymour Centre – for holding the fort on the home front.
‘When I go back, I can see the depth of the friendship and the respect they hold for each other,’ she says.
‘For them to grow up with a father who is just such a great human, I’m really, really pleased.
‘But it hasn’t been easy,’ she also concedes. ‘There have been seasons where I’ve felt really bereft coming back to film. You ring your co-stars and have a chat and a bit of a cry. I remember Tammy [MacIntosh, who is also based with her family in Sydney] and I doing that at one stage and Danielle [Cormack] when she was with this show, going: “Oh God, it’s just so hard!” I think it’s because you also know the work you do on the show itself is hard.’
Wentworth’s legion of fans, as well as critics would agree.
One of the grittiest and most confronting dramas on television, the multi-award-winning show is compelling viewing.
‘I think people are enjoying seeing women in roles that normally you see men play, particularly in the power play of status,’ says Celia.
‘Within the prison system, amongst the inmates, there’s a hierarchy and you see who strives to be top dog – who wants it, who doesn’t and who has loyalty to whom. It’s intrinsically interesting and it’s really complex.
‘I think the great thing about the show is that it shines a light on these women’s humanity – their good bits as well as their bad bits, because all of us have those. One of the other things I love most about it is that it’s women of all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities.’
Indeed, there’s no room for vanity on Wentworth!
‘Certainly, for characters like Lizzie and Boomer (Katrina Milosevic), that’s long gone,’ agrees Celia with a laugh.
‘Any kind of interest in how they physically appear is of no consequence to them, and it’s actually oddly liberating.
‘One of the loveliest things – it’s a little bizarre – is that whenever I’m out in public, I get these very flattering comments. “You’re so much smaller in real life” or “You’re very pretty in real life and so much younger”, all because I’m not in the blue tracksuit with my hair pulled back and no make-up on!’
Wentworth isn’t the first time Celia’s created a memorable character. As the loveable Regina in long-running hospital drama All Saints, she was one of the show’s most unforgettable characters. She also made her mark in Home And Away and Packed To The Rafters.
‘You realise that the work you did before has got an impact down the track,’ she says.
Interestingly, too, Celia had just completed a two-year diploma of counselling and groupwork with Relationships Australia when Wentworth came knocking.
Needless to say, the actor’s counselling career was put on hold – perhaps indefinitely.
‘I loved the course,’ she says. ‘But then this gig came along and totally took me on another trajectory.’
And what about series six of Wentworth?
‘For Liz, it gets bleaker and bleaker,’ Celia says. ‘There is a big health issue that comes up for her, but there are some lighter moments as well.’
For the full story see this weeks issue of New Idea, on sale now.