Zoe Ventoura admits she was struck with a severe case of deja vu when she arrived at the Home and Away studio to begin filming her first scenes as Dr Alexandra Neilson.
It was just over 10 years ago that the WA-raised actor first stepped into the same Seven studios to start filming Packed to the Rafters. It went on to become one of the country’s most beloved and successful shows running from 2008-2013.
“It really did feel quite bizarre at first,” the 37-year-old actor says of her return to Seven. “It was all so familiar and there were faces that I recognised of people who worked behind the scenes on Rafters. It really did feel to a certain extent like I was coming home.”
The new role also reunited Ventoura with her old Packed to the Rafters castmate, James Stewart.
“Having Jimmy there was great,” she says. “The experience on Rafters was such a unique one and I think it really bound all of us together.”
While Ventoura and her husband, fellow actor Daniel MacPherson, have been based in Los Angeles for the past six years, she says they jump at any chance to get back to Australia. It was part of the reason the offer to join Home and Away was too good to resist.
“The opportunity was one I couldn’t pass up and the role was great, so it was a bit of a no-brainer for me to come home and spend this time here,” she says.
Ventoura plays Dr Alex Neilson, who arrives in Summer Bay to cover Dr Tori Morgan’s (Penny McNamee) maternity leave.
“She’s coming in as the head of ED,” Ventoura says. “She’s really excited to come to such a beautiful place and what she thinks is going to be a really peaceful, gorgeous beachside town.”
But there’s never a dull moment in Summer Bay as Alex soon comes to realise.
“It’s certainly a baptism of fire for Alex and she’s thrown straight into the deep end,” she says.
Ventoura says playing a doctor provided an opportunity for her to try something new.
“I haven’t played a doctor before and that brings its own challenges,” she says. “The hospital is where a lot of her interactions with other characters take place and being the head of the department she is driving a lot of those scenes.
“The hospital setting provides a never-ending well of storylines that can be told.”
And being a newly arrived single woman in the Bay, it stands to reason that romance is on the horizon for Alex.
“It’s definitely not what she expected and not what she came to town for, but it’s on the cards,” Ventoura says.
While Ventoura has enjoyed success both in Australia and overseas, she didn’t always have her sights set on acting. The daughter of renowned dancer, choreographer and artistic director Ruth Osborne, Ventoura was initially determined to pirouette in her mother’s footsteps.
“She had a studio in Subiaco and then it moved to Nedlands,” Ventoura says, “I was dancing there from three years old.”
After finishing school, the Penrhos College student was accepted into the Victorian College of Art to study dance.
“At VCA, I started to get into music theatre,” she says. “It was pretty soon after that that I caught the acting bug.”
Despite her impressive CV, which includes being cast alongside Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Packed to the Rafters remains the show she gets the most feedback about.
“It wasn’t really until afterwards that we realised how much it resonated with audiences. I am really proud to have been a part of it.”
Home and Away airs Monday to Thursday at 7pm on Seven/GWN7.