Perfectionist ... Offspring star Asher Keddie. Photo: James Geer
''CAN we do that one more time?'' Asher Keddie asks. She's in the middle of shooting a scene from the third season of Channel Ten's Offspring, in which her character, thirtysomething obstetrician Nina Proudman, is having a tiff with her beau Patrick on her hands-free phone. The scene hinges on Keddie's talent for physical comedy - while attempting to pull her handbag over her head mid-argument, she gets the handle caught up in her headphone cords and sunglasses.
The director is laughing approvingly as he yells, ''Cut!'', but Keddie is not satisfied. ''I'm not getting tangled up enough,'' she says, exasperated. Like Nina, Keddie is a perfectionist, a trait that has served her well professionally.
If I was going to do a long-running TV series, I wanted it to have a point of difference.
Keddie first came to attention in 2006, playing highly strung Julia Jackson in the Foxtel drama Love My Way. In 2010 she played Blanche D'Alpuget in Ten's telemovie Hawke, attracting praise from critics, not to mention Hawke and D'Alpuget.
Her breakthrough role, however, was as Ita Buttrose, complete with lisp, in last year's Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo. That, and her role on Offspring, introduced her to a broader audience and led to her picking up the Logie for most popular actress last year and again this year.
Although Keddie is the star of Offspring, it's very much an ensemble piece. Nina's unconventional family, eccentric colleagues and lovers are all carefully drawn and performed winningly. By the end of season two, sister Billie (Kat Stewart), a brazen real estate agent, had married easygoing gardener-muso Mick (Eddie Perfect). Immature younger brother Jimmy (Richard Davies) was expecting a baby and Nina was uncharacteristically happy and in love. Clearly, that won't last. At the end of season two, we also discovered that the Proudman patriarch, Darcy (John Waters), is not Nina's biological father. This revelation served as a tumultuous reset button for season three.
''The challenge when you go into the third season of a relationship show is to keep it surprising but feel true to the series you've created,'' creator Debra Oswald says. ''I guess people can expect the same juicy mix of funny and serious and playful and sexy but I think we've done some really different things; we've tried to make it surprising.''
The element of surprise that runs through Offspring sets it apart from more conventional family dramas, such as Seven's Packed to the Rafters.
It's what attracted much of the cast in the first place. ''If I was going to do a long-running TV series, I wanted it to have a point of difference,'' Keddie says. Producer John Edwards, whom Keddie worked with on Love My Way, first told her the concept for Offspring, knowing Keddie was searching for a vehicle of her own. ''I wanted it to be challenging in a way that we hadn't seen before,'' Keddie says, ''so we had discussions about how it might manifest.''
There was another criterion: it had to be funny. ''I'd been exploring humour on the stage for some years and had a taste for it in a strange kind of way in Love My Way,'' Keddie says. ''I know with Julia people were laughing at her, not with her, but I really enjoyed pushing the blacker side of things.''
Keddie says she can relate to Nina - successful in her professional life but racked with self-doubt in her personal life. ''I understand her need to fix things, I understand her desire to control her environment sometimes, to make it feel like she's standing on solid ground. I understand feeling confident one day and waking up the next and feeling vulnerable. It motivates me; I think it motivates her, too.''
It is important to Keddie that Nina is still in a relationship in the third season. ''I was confident she could still be as mad and as full of foibles if she was going into a relationship,'' she says. ''And I feel like we're achieving that. I guess that's the exciting part about being in a third season, that you have to step up, otherwise people will get bored.''
Asked if there will be a fourth season, Keddie demurs. ''I have no idea; actors are the last to know.'' But she adds: ''I think there's still plenty of great material to mine in the Proudman family.''
Ten, Wednesdays, 8.30pm