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Penny McNamee on her loyalty to Home And Away – and her new career move

Penny McNamee spent six years of her life playing Tori Morgan in Home And Away. So when she was asked to return for a very special wedding, she leaped at the chance.

“It had to be something big to pull Tori back, because she was ready to move on from Summer Bay to have this fabulous life in London with her new husband and little girl and a great job,” Penny, 41, tells TV WEEK. “Justin’s wedding is a big enough reason. They have such a close relationship, it made sense she came back for it.”

The actress says the show’s fans, as well as her real-life friendship with James Stewart (who plays Tori’s brother Justin), made her want to return to the Bay after three years away.

“I felt I owed it to the fans, because that wedding would have felt inauthentic if Tori wasn’t there,” Penny explains. “I felt loyalty to Jimmy [James] and to the storylines I played for six years. In the end, it was a no-brainer.”

Despite her years away from the Home And Away set, Penny says it felt like she’d never left.

“I was a bit apprehensive going back,” she admits. “But as soon as I got there, there were a lot of the same crew and cast, so I slotted back in. I sat with the people I usually sat with at lunch and it was like, ‘How are the kids? How are the house renovations?’ It felt familiar and easy.”

Penny and her husband Matt Tooker have two children, and she can remember juggling her role in Home And Away with being a mum. Her son, Jack, was just 10 months old when she joined Home And Away in 2016. Daughter Neve came along in 2019.

“Throughout my entire six years in Home And Away I don’t think I ever got a full night’s sleep,” she recalls with a laugh. “I don’t know how I did it. There was a night when Jack was a baby where I just didn’t sleep. I was breastfeeding, and he was up sick and crying. And the next day I had to do a 12-hour day. But I managed to get through it, and I remembered my lines. From that point on, I thought, ‘Well, that’s the worst that it can be, and I got through it.’”

Life’s easier now that the kids are older and Penny isn’t pulling gruelling 12-hour days on set.

“Jack is nine and Neve five – she’s just learned to ride a bike without training wheels and has taken off her floaties. It means we can go to the beach without all these flotation devices; we can go on family bike rides. We’ve been doing a lot more adventuring together.”

Family is important to Penny, who has four siblings, including fellow actress Jessica McNamee.“We all see each other a lot,” she says. “We’re married and have kids who kind of cross over in age. Jess moved to LA, but has been back filming the second Mortal Kombat movie, back and forth to Sydney from the Gold Coast, and she stayed with Mum and Dad. We all had Christmas together, so it was really nice.”In fact, it was spending time with her teenage nieces that prompted a new role for Penny: as an author.

“I was trying to find books on kids being in musicals for my nieces, who love theatre, and they didn’t exist,” Penny recalls. “So I went to [book publishers] Scholastic and said there’s a real gap in the market. And they loved it.”

The first book from Penny’s teen series Stage Stars comes out in July.

“The lead character Millie has ADHD. She talks too much, sings too much – is just ‘too much’ for everyone, and doesn’t find her place in school,” Penny says. “It’s not until she goes to this musical theatre club called Stage Stars, and gets to perform with other kids who are just ‘too much’, that she really finds her place.”

Millie’s experience is close to Penny’s heart, and she hopes the character resonates with neurodivergent kids.

“I’ve had some experience with ADHD in our family, and I knew there was an important story there,” she says. “It’s been a joy to write the books.”

Penny’s next role is in the play The Odd Couple, which kicks off in Melbourne in May. She co-stars with Lucy Durack, one of her oldest pals, who she last worked with in the original run of Wicked.

“We’re so excited. The play is an absolute hoot and these characters are pretty ditzy, so we get to act like fun-time girls for a couple of months,” Penny says. “It won’t even feel like work!”

As for Tori, don’t rule out another return to Summer Bay for the fan favourite.

“If I was in my 20s and was going off to Hollywood after Home And Away, maybe I’d say I’m done there now,” Penny says. “But I live in Sydney, I’m doing other acting work here. So if the story calls for it and it’s important to the viewers that Tori be there, I’d consider coming back for sure.”

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