Emily Weir, who has portrayed Mackenzie Booth on Home And Away for three years, knows what it’s like to be pursued by debt collectors.
The similarities, however, end there. While the feisty Summer Bay restaurateur resorts to illegal poker games to raise the funds she needs to save her business, Weir – whose only gambling experience is playing poker for matches as a child – overcomes her financial difficulties via good old-fashioned hard labor.
“Unlike Mac, I’ve never been at risk of losing everything but when I was in my early 20s I did have the debt collectors coming after me,” the 30-year-old actor says, adding her own problems began when she ‘stupidly’ got an Australian credit card before heading off on her European OE.
“I went through all my saved money but wanted to continue travelling so I started withdrawing cash on my Australian card in Europe. The interest on that is unbelievable but I was just so young and naive that I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll pay it back once I settle in’.”
Weir took action after her mother began calling from Australia, claiming debt collectors were calling the family home looking for her.
“I had to really hustle and work three jobs and, luckily, I paid it off before it got too bad but I was in hot water for a little bit there,” she says, adding she’s never had another credit card since. “I learned my lesson.”
To pay off her debt, the young Australian worked as a receptionist during the day and in what she refers to as “dive bars” at night in London.
“They were the type of bars where people go to really hit it hard. I did everything from cleaning toilets to cleaning up food. I’ve definitely never been shy to get my hands dirty,” she says.
When staff member Felicity Newman (Jacqui Purvis) indicates that there’s lots of money to be made in conducting illicit poker games, a desperate Mackenzie takes a much more glamorous way.
While Mac claims it’s a one-time thing, the allure of easy money draws her in, and she lies to her lover (Harley Bonner) – and just about everyone else – about the source of her sudden fortune.
Weir implies that, as with most illegal undertakings, Mac and her team – Felicity, whose brother Cash (Nicholas Cartwright) is the local cop, and Ryder (Lukas Radovich), the grandson of Summer Bay founder Alf Stewart – will face obstacles (Ray Meagher).
As Mackenzie and her team grow further involved in the hazardous world of illegal gaming, many other Summer Bay favorites will be lured into it as well.
“The storyline is super exciting. It’s got so many different levels dramatically and it really is something that eventually takes over the entire bay. Everyone becomes affected by this illegal gambling storyline like it really spreads out and into a lot of other people’s storylines,” she says.
Weir feels that many viewers would empathize with Mac’s financial difficulties, even if they disagree with her approach to overcoming them.
The rising cost of living, inflation, tales of collapsing businesses, and other issues have dominated headlines in Australia and New Zealand three years after the Covid-19 outbreak began.
“The amount of businesses that have gone under from no fault of their own is devastating, so I think it’s a very topical and very relatable storyline,” Weir says.
“Even though it’s being done under the guise of casinos and illegal gambling and glitz and glamour and all the exciting stuff, underneath it all, Mackenzie is suffering big time. She is terrified, absolutely terrified. And it’s not just for her. It’s for her employees. She has people she’s responsible for so, (the storyline) is very topical and very relevant to now.
“Being in debt is such a dark, gloomy place to be because it really does infect every aspect of your life. It’s constantly in the back of your mind and it kind of makes you unwell. All your stress levels and anxiety go through the roof and, when you’re in that state, you make really bad decisions and start doing things that you wouldn’t normally do.”