There are certain inflections in Asher Keddie's voice that are so very Nina Proudman, the deeply insecure and vividly imaginative obstetrician she plays on television's enduring relationship drama Offspring. When she wonders aloud whether it's appropriate for the show to have pre-teenage fans, some of whom have interrupted filming in Melbourne to say hello, she is every inch Nina obsessing over the hidden meaning of a lover's gesture. When asked to compare her own interior design style with the show's impeccable sets, Keddie's emphatic "Nooooo!" is pure Nina, shocked by the revelation of yet another Proudman family scandal.
Keddie's life has had parallels with Nina's (both are mothers of young children, both recently returned to work) but she is often struck by how different child-rearing is in real life to the fictional representation. She is amused when her on-screen daughter (four-year-old Isabella Monaghan) – notorious for messing up Nina's kitchen bench with half-eaten bananas – declares she's had enough acting for the day and refuses another take. And like many working mothers, Keddie feels the sting of maternal guilt.
"Last year it was very difficult to go back to work and I really felt it, especially after spending 13 months at home all day with my baby," she says. "But this year I've embraced it. I wouldn't be going back, and certainly not into a seventh series, if I didn't love it."
Keddie's credits list shows steady TV employment until 2004's Foxtel hit Love My Way and she has since been in memorable biopics (playing Ita Buttrose in ABC's Paper Giants and Blanche d'Alpuget in Ten's Hawke) and had a Hollywood role in X Men Origins: Wolverine. But the Melbourne actress is undoubtedly most fondly known for her enduring stint on Offspring, which has earned her seven Logie awards, including the Gold. She says sustaining the endearing essence of Nina, while allowing the character to evolve, is a delicate balance she is constantly striving to achieve.
"You would think, surely, after seven seasons, it would be feeling tired or not as exhilarating, but it's actually the opposite," she says. "It is as challenging as it ever was in all the ways I want it to be as an actor."
She finds stepping into high heels and fastening Nina's trademark scarves helps her adjust to a physicality that is "much fussier" than her own. She relishes Nina's uptight strut and her propensity for "clowning".
Keddie acknowledges that for new cast members, such as Alexander England, who plays Nina's love interest, workplace consultant Harry Crewe, as well as non-actor cameos, such as The Bachelor's Osher Gunsberg, infiltrating the tight-knit ensemble must be daunting.
"It must be intimidating, but [co-producer] Imogen Banks has an uncanny ability to put together the right cast and the right mix of personalities," she says. "And I love non-actors. Just like I love working with children. They have spontaneity and a great energy. You're just not sure what you're going to get."
As for where Nina is now, on the cusp of a work promotion and solidifying her relationship with Harry, Keddie says she is pleased her alter ego is making "brave choices" at last.
"I had to find a way to front-foot her in a way that we've never seen before, but still make sure she was exposing her vulnerabilities and being that embarrassing character we love. But it's about how she deals with things this season that are quite different from previous seasons."
Declaring it too soon to speculate on an eighth season of Offspring, Keddie is anticipating the summer release of Stephan Elliott's 1970s swingers movie Flammable Children, in which she appears opposite Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue. She is also working on her own project, the details of which she won't reveal, other than to say the creative landscape in which she finds herself at this point in her career is an increasingly exciting one for women.
"We're getting bolder with our drama and we're allowing women to be unapologetic about their ambitions in a professional sense, and also about their vulnerability as mothers and lovers," she says. "We're seeing more of the female psyche on screen than we used to."
Offspring airs on Wednesday nights on Channel Ten.