Tammin Sursok first shot to fame in Australia when she appeared on Home and Away as teenager Dani Sutherland. The versatile actress used the soap as a stepping stone, eventually finding success in Hollywood.
Her biggest role in the US so far has been playing Jenna Marshall in the hit series Pretty Little Liars. The teen mystery show ran for seven seasons and also starred Home and Away alumni Rebecca Breeds.
Now, Tammin has opened up to Yahoo Lifestyle about how landing the role of Jenna 'completely changed her life', spills some behind-the-scenes details, and which cast members she gravitated towards.
How did you get on Pretty Little Liars?
I was, remember being really nervous. I auditioned for Spencer. I thought it was the worst audition that I'd ever done. I remember at one point saying to Marlene King, who was the producer, I said, 'This is the worst audition that I have ever done, I think I should just leave'. And I called my husband after that audition and I said, 'I'm giving up acting, like I'm done'. Which proves that you don't have any idea about what you're feeling compared to what you're showing, because they loved the audition, and they didn't think I was right for the Spencer role but they had me in mind for the Jenna role. So I got the part of Jenna for the pilot, and in the pilot, I didn't have to talk at all. So the funny thing is, after the pilot was made, and they got picked up for the first season, the other people who weren't in the room didn't know if I could act or not. So then I had to re-audition for Jenna, after I'd already done the pilot to see if I could act, to see if I could actually play the role for the rest of the season.
What was your first day filming like?
I had a 103-degree fever, so in Australia, that would be like a 40-degree fever. I was really sick. I had bronchitis but you know, in my world, the show must go on like no one, these days I think people care if you're sick, and you go to work. Back then it was like, no, you need to go to work, I don't care if you're sick, I don't care if you're throwing up, like you need to come to work. So I showed up and I was, I took all my Panadol and all my Nurofen, all the things. And then I remember when they said action, the adrenaline kicks in and you just feel like you can do anything. So I remember that day really well.
What was it like playing Jenna?
These days, rightly so they would probably cast someone who was visually impaired. Back then it was just the way things were done. And I was very grateful to be able to step into her shoes and get to play that. I learnt a little bit of Braille, I went to a school for the visually impaired. I tried to learn as much as I could for it to be as authentic as possible. I made sure that when I was on set that I wasn't really able to see, because I can see in real life, I wouldn't just automatically reach for a cup of coffee or something like that. But if I couldn't and I was on set, then I would have to really try to motion my hands or my stick to try to figure out where objects were. I think it's really important with any character that you play, that there has to be some kind of empathy and understanding for the character, or you kind of just write her off as being evil for just being evil. And I think that there's no layers to that in any way. And it's also not interesting to play a character who has no layers. So I tried to make sure that Jenna, you did feel sorry for her, and you did have empathy towards what had happened to her. And maybe you can understand that people turn into a certain way because of their circumstances. And that's what I always wanted people to see for Jenna was like, she wasn't just evil. She had a lot of trauma, and a lot of PTSD from her past that made her into who she was. And I wanted people to be scared of her, but I also wanted people to care about her as well.
Any behind-the-scenes secrets that Pretty Little Liars fans might not know?
When I was pregnant, Shay Mitchell had to, you didn't know I was pregnant. But I was almost nine months pregnant, and I was in the lake. And Shay Mitchell had to pull me out, and I was — everyone thought I was dead. And I was, like close to giving birth. I was really nervous about that scene, because I was like, 'Oh my goodness, like what if it? What if I go into labour?', and I mean, it wasn't that close, but still close enough that I just wanted everything to be safe and comfortable. And they were just so amazing on set when you're shooting scenes like that, especially when you're pregnant or are going through something, there's a million people around you to make sure that you're comfortable. But I just think it's funny because I look at that scene now and they pull my body and I'm like, I have a baby inside my stomach when that's going on. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes things like that, where like, you guys would see, oh, that's just a simple scene, but it wasn't, or there are certain scenes that something went wrong and we were there for like 17 hours or something. But you guys were just like, oh, that scene was just a normal, great scene. You know, there's a lot of that that happens behind the scenes.
What was your relationship like with the cast then and what is it like now?
I would say because, you know, there was the main four girls and there was a lot of ancillary cast. So because the four main girls had to be on set every single day, 12 hours a day, they were very close. And then the ancillary cast also got really close because we would come in and out and sometimes we were in a different section because they were working consistently. So I had a lot of good friends like, you know, Vanessa, who I love and Tori and Brandon, and all that ancillary cast that would come in and go out because we were living the same sort of experience. And that's normally what happens, at least in what's happened to me over the last 20 years of being on set, is that you find that whoever you're working with the most is who you are the closest to. So I had some really good relationships with the ancillary cast and also Keegan, who played my brother. We were, you know, right in the beginning, we did everything together. Because we're also new to the show, and you know, a little nervous. So, he's great. I've actually had a lot of them on my podcast, Women On Top, they come on and chat about all the things and I'm like, wait a second, I never knew you thought that, or never knew you felt that way or never knew this. So it's nice as we've gotten older to be able to talk about things to do with the show, because remember, we were like, early 20s, mid-20s. So it's very different than being in your 30s I think.
What do you think made the show so iconic?
I think what made the show iconic, was that it, at its core, it was about friendship. And I think, you know, mystery always sells and to have a show that you need to know what's gonna happen, the next episode keeps you guessing, I think is always a great tactic to get people to keep watching. But I think it was primarily because the core of and the heartbeat of the show is about friendship, and what you would do for your friends, and sometimes what you wouldn't do for your friends and loyalty. And I think those were the themes that were threaded throughout the show. That's why people kept coming back because they watched it with their friends, and they watched it with their family. And yes, again, the mystery was, was key, but I think it was because of the friendship.
What was it like saying goodbye to the show?
My scene was not at the finale. So I think it would have been really emotional if I was there at the finale, I know that all the girls were there, and everyone was very emotional, which is what we would expect from something being on for seven years, and just changing all of our lives. My scene was really quick, like I was on a horse, I think you might remember, like came in on a horse and, and then it was kind of like, and that's a wrap for Tammin, and then they had to go the next scene. So I felt really emotional, but I think everyone just had to move, move on really quickly. But I think as a whole, like when I left that night, I was like it was, I felt really reflective, and I thought wow, this has completely changed my life. What Home and Away did in Australia for me is what Pretty Little Liars did in America and you spend your whole life waiting for that big break. I never thought when I did the pilot that you know, girls would be like running in the street like crying, I never thought that, that pilot and, and then after that the show, would affect girls in that way. But it was, it was wild. It was like in America, it was like nothing I'd ever experienced.
Who do you wish was -A?
Oh, I think you always wish it's you, like I always wish, I wished it would have been me. But then I thought that would have been too obvious. I think that Aria, I thought one of the main, I know that Spencer was, there was a twin. I just gave away the ending. I wished it was one of the core main four girls, I think that would have been really awesome. Or it was Allison back from the dead or something, like she didn't really die or whatever it was, something like that. Yeah and A, for Aria, then they could have said like, 'Well, why didn't you just change your initials?', and she [would be] like, 'I just wanted it to be, like, obvious' or something.
Would you ever want to be a part of PLL: Original Sin?
It's funny because I said like, I'd never go back to soaps and then I went back and did a stint on Neighbours, because I really wanted to have that experience. I wanted to know what Neighbours is like, compared to Home and Away. So I say no, but then, who knows. But sometimes I really like the idea of chapters and I think about chapters a lot in my life, and also who comes into my life and who leaves my life with friendships and relationships and whatever it is. And that was such a chapter that was amazing, and hard, and life-changing and exhausting, and all everything, that it's like sometimes chapters are tied up, and then they're made to be done. And I had always felt like that had been made to be done as well as, like I don't think I'd go back on Home and Away because it was such a beautiful chapter of my life. And it, it was the beginning of it all and I think I would ruin, I would ruin the magic of it. If I went back to Home and Away or Pretty Little Liars, I think that would ruin it, I would ruin that.
What are you doing now?
Well my podcast has almost hit 200 episodes. We have had the most incredible guests on our show from like Suzanne Somers to Colbie Caillat, to Ricki Lake, to Glennon Doyle, we are so grateful and I just, you think you're talking with one of my best friends and then all these people listen, and it's kind of gone wild over here. So it's called Women On Top, take that as you will. We have a movie that I think it's on Apple, my husband and I wrote it called whaling, Breaking for Whales. We also have a few films that we're doing right now. I'm supposed to go to Australia next month to shoot a film. I've got a film called Love and Penguins. I think that's out in Australia right now. Also another film called Kane that will be out in cinemas. There's, there's a lot going on. Watch my TikToks and Instagram, I try to create really funny content for everyone and also content that makes people feel like less isolated and alone and mental health, or you know their fertility journeys or relationships, parenting, all the things so check it out.
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