“There are a lot of things I really love about playing Irene,” McGranger explains. “To be honest, as an actor when you play a character you really only have yourself and your experiences to draw on, and what you can remember from acting school .. but there are a lot of differences between Lynne and Irene, even after all these years.
“Irene is very upfront and will call a spade a front end loader, I’m not quite as outgoing as that in real life. Irene wants to take in every wayward teenager she comes across, but I think I’d rather swallow a hammer!”
McGranger was living in Melbourne with her husband and a new baby daughter when she landed a three-month part on Home & Away.
“I remember telling my husband, who is a musician, that I really needed a role in a soap because I’m not really going to be a very good stay at home mum,” she says. “He was happy to be a stay at home dad, the role kept getting extended and now, three decades later, Irene is a major part of our lives.”
Only a few actors in Australia have reached the sort of milestone McGranger has, including her co-star Ray Meagher, who is the only remaining original cast member on Home & Away since its debut in 1988 and holds the record for any Australian TV performer playing the same role.
Over on Neighbours, Alan Fletcher continues to play Karl Kennedy after joining the show in 1994, the same year Jackie Woodburne, who plays Susan Kennedy, moved into Ramsay Street, while Ryan Moloney has been playing Toadfish for a quarter of a century.
Last week one of McGranger’s American peers shocked the world of soap operas when Days of Our Lives alumni Kristian Alfonso announced she was leaving the show and her character, Hope, after having played her for a staggering 37 years.
“I feel blessed and honoured to have been invited into people’s homes for over three decades. However, it is now time for me to write my next chapter,” Alfonso said in a statement.
Alfonso has played Hope Williams Brady on the daytime drama since 1983 and, with two brief breaks, had been on the show ever since, earning a Daytime Emmy Award nomination.
Her character fell in love with and married Bo Brady, played by Peter Reckell.
She left the show for two years in 1987 and returned briefly from April to July 1990, which culminated with the entire town of Salem believing that Hope had died.
She returned again in 1994 as Gina, an amnesiac who had a marked resemblance to Hope. The character turned out to be Hope after a complicated storyline involving the evil Stefano DiMera (Joseph Mascolo).
Having played the same character for so long, it is difficult to see how the actor will be able to move on professionally from Hope.
Though when it comes to longevity among British television performers, not even Alfonso or McGranger can hold a candle next to William Roache, who has been playing Ken Barlow on Coronation Street for a mind blowing 59 years.
But McGranger says that all comes down to the actor.
“Look, if an actor is worried about being typecast then that really comes down to how good they are. I’ve been on Home & Away so long I know its cycles. Irene at present is just part of Summer Bay, she’s running the cafe and pops up in all sorts of scenes, I am very comfortable with that, it is very familiar,” she says.
“However, every now and then the writers will throw a big story her way, and that is great for an actor. It knocks you out of your comfort zone. It can be incredibly challenging, but ultimately, I find that exhilarating.”
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.