‘We support each other.’
In 2014, after spending two months touring with an Alice in Wonderland performance in the Philippines, actor Jessica Redmayne received heartbreaking news that would change the course of her life.
“I’ll never forget the day I returned,” says Jessica, 31, to TV WEEK. “Mum sprinted down the driveway and called out, ‘Jess, everything’s changed — I’ve been diagnosed with dementia.'” I assured her that everything would be fine, but I was aware that she already held it. Now, it was documented.
When Christine, Jessica’s mother, would forget she’d made a cup of tea and left it in the microwave, or when she would go to the store to purchase bread and come back with laundry detergent, Jessica had a suspicion that something could be amiss. What she didn’t anticipate was how quickly her condition would deteriorate if the diagnosis was confirmed.
“After I returned from doing 800 Words [the comedy drama that ran for three seasons until 2018] in New Zealand, she declined significantly,” she says. “She has been in care for four years; she is non-verbal and lacks physical mobility. Five years ago, she had no idea who my dad and I were at all.”
When Jess first started going, her mother would frequently mistake her for a friend and believe that she was much younger than she actually was, making trips difficult for Jess.
“She’d ask, ‘Where’s my mum?'” Jess remembers. “When I told her, ‘Your mum died away,’ when she inquired for the first time, she started crying. In the end, I lied to her, but it was for the best—I told her that her mother had gone shopping.”
Jess is aware of the pride Christine would take in playing Harper Matheson in the film Home and Away.
Jess continues, “The worst part is that I can’t share this with her,” as she starts to cry.
“She created all of my costumes and sent me to dancing classes four or five times a week for almost fifteen years. She was really supportive and took me to acting classes, modeling, and anything else under the sun.”Without her, I couldn’t be doing this, and I know she would be really proud.”
As an ambassador for Dementia Australia, Jessica wishes to give those who have experienced a similar situation reassurance by sharing her own story. She also wishes to teach people how to recognize early-onset dementia symptoms.
“Mum was a very vibrant, charismatic woman, but that started to diminish in her personality in her mid-50s,” she says. “She became quite insecure, particularly in her decision-making, so we knew something was wrong, but it [evidence of dementia] didn’t show up in MRI scans until she was 60.”
After beginning their journey on Home and Away together, Jessica and Ally Harris, her co-star, were instant friends and have supported one another through the unfamiliar. Ally, who jokes that she’s fortunate to have Jessica to inform her when to show up to set, was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) later in life.
“I had a long history of not being very productive and not understanding why,” Ally, 24, explains. “I kept asking myself, ‘Why can’t you follow through?’ and felt a lot of pressure. Why are you unable to complete tasks? I’ve got a better handle on it now, and I’ve developed an obsession with finishing a ton of tasks. It could be too much.”
Ally plays Dana Matheson, Jessica’s sister’s character. In a case of life imitating art, the two have what Ally describes as a “big sister, little sister” dynamic in their off-camera friendship.
“I’m so thankful I’ve met Jess,” she says. “Throughout my career, I’ve met wonderful women who have helped ground me and respect myself more as an artist. She helps me articulate my needs as an actor; she really has her stuff together.”
“We spend a lot of time outside of work together,” Jess reveals. “Our friendship really contributes to the chemistry of the characters on the show.”
Packing up in Perth and moving to Sydney for the role, Ally has left behind her partner of nearly two years. But the distance hasn’t dimmed the relationship.
“Honestly, it’s much better than I thought it would be,” she says. “He’s interstate a lot and we’re very lucky that we’ve never played mind games or anything like that with each other, so we’re very secure [in our relationship].”
Jess says that being a part of the H&A legacy “hasn’t sunk in yet”.
“It’s such a huge part of the Australian culture,” she continues. “It is astounding how many people go from all over the world to Palm Beach, which is located in northern Sydney, to see us film. It makes me very proud to have even a tiny part in that.”
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