H2O: Just Add Water star reveals behind-the-scenes secrets: ‘Terrifying’

It’s been 16 years since H2O: Just Add Water premiered on TV, and yet the Australian teen drama still remains popular thanks to social media, Netflix and a global fan base.

Now, one of the show’s stars Cleo Massey - who played Phoebe Tonkin’s on-screen sister Kim Sertori - has spoken candidly with Yahoo Lifestyle about the pop culture phenomenon and shared some juicy behind-the-scenes details.

H2O: Just Add Water's Cleo Massey.
Cleo Massey played Phoebe Tonkin’s on-screen sister Kim Sertori on H2O: Just Add Water. Photo: Channel Ten

What was your audition process like?

So I was 11 years old, I was super young. I was kind of in the industry, but not really. My mum was a performing arts teacher so I did drama and I was an extra on a few different productions when I was younger, but nothing big.

So this audition came along for this show called H2O: Just Add Water, which meant nothing to us at the time, and they wanted me to audition for the role of Kim. Phoebe Tonkin was already cast as Cleo, which was a coincidence in itself, and they said that they wanted the character of Kim to dye their hair to match Phoebe's hair. And as an 11-year-old with light blonde hair, that was terrifying, so I didn't want the role.


I walked in there going like, I'll do the audition because mum was telling me to just do it and have fun, and we’ll see what happens. When I walked into the audition room, it was just filled with these beautiful-looking girls with dark long thick hair and beautiful tan skin and I was sunburnt just from the walk in with my blonde hair. I just remember thinking I was so out of place like, I’m not going to get this.

Three or four days later, we got the call and I just heard mum being like, ‘Oh my god, she got it? Wow, that’s amazing!’ and I remember sitting in the backseat of the car being like, ‘I don’t want it! I don’t want to dye my hair’. I was so terrified like, what’s everyone in school going to think? I was in year seven. And then I heard mum go, ‘And she doesn’t have to dye her hair?’. Because Phoebe’s real sister actually has blonde hair like me and we actually look quite similar, so thanks to her I didn't have to dye my hair.

What was it like filming while at school?

I was honestly really lucky at school. I guess I was an easy target for bullying, but it didn't happen at school and I was so lucky. I had the best group of girlfriends who are still my best friends to this day, and at school, everyone thought it was cool, but they all knew me already. So I think people found it kind of interesting that I wouldn't be at school a lot and then I would kind of come to school sometimes when I wasn't filming, but I was really lucky during school with my peers, I guess you could say.

There were always comments made here and there. Like, I do remember I got a lead in one of the school plays and someone made a comment being like, ‘It's just because she's famous’ or whatever. And I remember that cut me deep because I was like, ‘No, it's because I deserve the role okay!’. So there were little things like that, but honestly nothing major. The major stuff happened online with people who I didn't know.

Did you watch the show as it was airing?

Yes! I think from memory it was on a Friday afternoon at like, four or five. And sometimes my friends would come back to my house after school and we'd watch it. Me, mum, dad and my brother Joey would always watch it, but sometimes I'd have friends over.

We'd only seen a couple of episodes, like I think we had a little viewing in the studios of one or two episodes, but really, I was sitting down to watch it for the first time sometimes, so it was pretty nerve-racking.

H2O: Just Add Water's Cleo Massey and Phoebe Tonkin.
‘I was just treated so well on that set by the cast and the crew, I was never uncomfortable.’ Photo: Channel Ten

Do you remember your first day on set?

The first day I went in and met everyone, we did a script reading. I remember walking in and meeting Phoebe and Claire [Holt], I don't think Cariba [Heine] was there, but I remember meeting them and thinking, ‘They’re so pretty!’. And I was just this 11-year-old girl that hadn’t grown into herself yet being like, ‘Oh my god, who are these angels?’.

I remember being really, really nervous, but I was really nurtured, I think because I was the youngest. I was just treated so well on that set by the cast and the crew, I was never uncomfortable.

What was it like playing a ‘bratty’ little sister?

It was so funny because Phoebe's lovely and we got along so well, and then obviously when the cameras started rolling we hate each other. But I feel like Cleo and Kimmy had this nice relationship where they loved each other so much, but there was a lot of conflict there like any sister relationship or any sibling relationship.

I'll never forget, I think it was season one, Cleo’s coming down the stairs and she's going on a date with Louis and I say to my on-screen dad or mum like, ‘Why? She's so ugly’. And I remember everyone laughing because it was such a ridiculous line. Like, here I am this 12-year-old girl going, ‘Oh my god, why is she going on a date she's so ugly?’. Like, Phoebe Tonkin ugly, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. And I got permission to say that and be a brat and so I loved playing Kim. I got away with saying whatever I wanted to say, even if it was completely untrue.

What is your relationship with the cast like now?

When I was over in LA I caught up with Cariba quite a bit, she’s so lovely. I'm still close with Brittany [Byrnes] who played Charlotte, she’s amazing. Trent [Sullivan] who plays Elliot, we both live on the Gold Coast still and he's such a legend. He's actually about to become a dad!

Claire, we message on Instagram quite a bit but, you know, she's over in LA. So yeah, every one's around in their world but it looks like Phoebe and Claire are still really close which is nice because I think they're over in LA together. But literally, everyone who worked on H2O were such legends and everyone just got along so well.

H2O: Just Add Water's Cleo Massey and Phoebe Tonkin.
‘Literally everyone who worked on H2O were such legends and everyone just got along so well.’ Photo: Channel Ten

What were the most memorable behind-the-scenes moments?

There was a scene where I was in a room with a pelican, I think it escaped from Sea World, and I have a phobia of birds. I'm getting better, but that was absolutely terrifying for me and I really, really struggled doing that scene.

I think this same episode was when me, Trent and Angus [McLaren] were on the Bermuda Triangle ride at Sea World, and Trent and I were little ratbags and we kept mucking up the tape so we got to go on the ride again. I think we went on the ride about seven times. Trent and I caused a bit of mischief. I remember we used to make our tutor go steal us chocolates from the catering truck. We would say, ‘We won't do our work unless you go get us chocolates from the catering truck’.

Did you ever get to wear the mermaid tail?

I got to try it on for the blooper reel and it was honestly the best thing in the world. Because obviously I’d been filming the show for like, four years getting to watch these girls get in these incredible tails, and I was just like, ‘Make me a mermaid!’. And then Jonathan, the producer, was like, ’Cleo, let's do a blooper reel for the wrap party, let’s pop you in a tail’. And I was like, ‘Obviously, yes’.

So they popped me on the table, they put me in the tail, and then they flipped the table up and I just went [flying] into the water. And there's got to be like, three stuntmen in the water per mermaid tail because I can't remember the weight of them, but they are like, really, really heavy.

How did you react to the H2O TikTok trends?

I woke up one morning and my ‘other’ DM box was full of voice messages and I was like, ‘What?’. And I listened to them and they were all just ‘Cleo!’ and I was like, ‘What is going on?’. And I didn't even have TikTok at this stage so I did not know what was going on. And then I downloaded TikTok and I saw.

It's crazy, and I feel like I'm getting recognised more now than I was like, 10 years ago.

How does it feel to be a part of such an iconic show?

It's just such a magical show, and there are such nice messages in the show. It's easy to watch and it's magical for these kids, and I say kids, but it’s magical for adults too. I have so many people that are my age and older saying that it's their escape and that they just love to sit down and just escape to that magical world. Especially people from overseas who love the lifestyle of looking at the Gold Coast and Australia and seeing how that plays out.

It was so cool to be a part of that show. And when I was on set as well, I felt that magic as well, like, I felt in the world. I remember going home and kind of being like, I want to be Kim! I want to be a brat and get away with it, of course, but just the world that Jonathan created was so magical and it was so special. So it's really nice that it's kept going. I hope I can show my kids one day.

What was it like saying goodbye to the show?

Oh my god, it was really sad. Like, the wrap party, there were many tears. And I think there were a lot of questions about why we did finish because it still was going so well. But Jonathan wanted to finish on a high and I'm so glad that we did, even though keeping on going would have been amazing and maybe I would have been a mermaid.

But I am so glad we finished because I would have hated for the show to go downhill in any way. And I think we did what we came to do, and we made a magical show and left people wanting more.

H2O: Just Add Water's Cleo Massey.
Cleo launched her business Pass Around the Smile in 2015 to spread positivity. Photo: Instagram/passaroundthesmile

What are you doing now?

So I was back and forward to LA a lot. I had my acting visa and I was auditioning a lot over there and honestly, I didn't fit in over there, I didn't like the competitiveness, I didn’t like the negativity. It kind of took my hope away of the acting industry and why I loved the acting industry because I love to act to make people feel something, to feel happy or to laugh or feel that emotion or to escape from their day and LA made me lose sight of why I was actually doing it.

So I created my blog called Pass Around the Smile which is all about positivity, manifesting, meditation, self-love and the law of attraction, because it gave me hope that I could manifest the role that I wanted and manifest the kind of actor that I wanted to be without conditions and without all of the other stuff that made me uncomfortable in the industry and made me feel like crap. Because it is a really hard industry. You’re constantly getting rejected, you’re constantly being told no, constantly being compared. So I started Pass Around The Smile to kind of help myself and then it started helping others and I found this huge passion with helping others.

Now Pass Around the Smile is a company and I sell positive guidance cards and I make journals and I hold events on positivity and the power of the mind and it's honestly brought me so much joy and so much fulfilment. And I think because I'm feeling fulfilled in a way now I am getting the roles that I wanted. So I'm working on a few comedy projects at the moment. I've actually co-written a series with my mum called Stage Mums that got picked up by Network 10.

Everything's happening how it should now and it’s just a reminder to trust the process because sometimes things don't go the way we want them to but it always makes sense in the end. So now I'm doing the acting roles that I like, I filmed an amazing comedy pilot last year, and I'm filming a little comedy project next week. Just the things in the acting world that made me happy I get to do and I also get to do Pass Around the Smile.

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