Actress Sophie Dillman is in her car, on phone speaker, laughing as she tells TV WEEK her whereabouts when we call. “I’m just driving up to the beach now and it’s not ideal beach weather. But I guess we’re back at it!”
It’s mid-morning, and she’s back on set of Home And Away for the first time in a week. Sophie is familiar with the travel to Palm Beach in Sydney’s north, which is home to the imaginary town of Summer Bay. Sophie’s years as Ziggy Astoni on the long-running drama have provided her with some routine and security, which is a rare gift for performers.
However, in 2022, the motivation is a little different. Sophie admits that the world seems different and that she is different. The Queenslander has felt the impact of the global pandemic, as have many Australians, to the point where her holiday break with her boyfriend and on-screen partner Patrick O’Connor “didn’t feel quite long enough.” She, on the other hand, is grateful for what she has.
As with her on-screen character Ziggy, Sophie has a beaming smile and empowering confidence. (Image: TV WEEK)
“I’m very lucky – my cup is full,” she says. “No-one in my immediate family is sick [from COVID-19] and I am, thus far, healthy. I haven’t been home in a year, so to see everyone was incredible. Being around my family brings me back to my roots.”
While Sophie has deep ties to her native state, she is accustomed to the fast-paced lifestyle in Sydney – “I find I get impatient in Brisbane now,” she says – and currently resides with Patrick, who plays Dean Thompson on the show. In addition, she is now in her fifth season on Home And Away.
Sophie, like her on-screen character Ziggy, has a bright smile and exudes self-assurance. It can be discovered in the most unexpected settings, such as after a workout, while conversing with friends, or while sitting on the couch with Patrick – “I adore hearing Paddy’s passion for what we do and our future,” she adds.
Sophie and Patrick are pictured with their co-stars Georgie Parker and Emily Symons. (Image: Instagram)
However, this wasn’t always the case. The actress has worked on who she wants to be for a long time – a challenge she faced on the shores of Summer Bay. The road she knows so well now was once a little rocky.
“Yes [I’ve changed], absolutely – hugely,” Sophie says when asked if she’s a different person from her debut in 2017. “I think I was turning 25 when I got the job on H&A. I was very young and hadn’t really done any major growth as a person yet.
“I’d spent my entire life in institutions: I went to school, earned two university degrees, and worked as a nurse for a year when I moved to Sydney. “I discovered what it meant to be independent.” Then I got cast in Home And Away, where I was still learning how to be a grownup – with the added strain of potentially being in the public light and how others perceive you. It had been a steep learning curve.”
Sophie lives with her boyfriend Patrick, who plays Dean Thompson on the show. (Image: Seven)
There was an incredible sense of exhilaration in the air during Ziggy’s first season as a mechanic. Sophie, wide-eyed, was eager to prove herself in a situation she refers to as “Am I dreaming?” The advice on how to handle media attention came thick and fast, and the walls began to close in quickly.
“I remember being upset or depressed, or taken back and vulnerable… that all happened,” she recounts. “However, I had a great support system.” One of the first stories about me — I’m not sure if it was the story or the images – made me quite angry. One of my dear friends, Raechelle Banno [who played Olivia in H&A from 2015 to 2018], sent me a gift and wrote me a note regarding the issue. I elected to follow the advice I’d received from numerous sources, and as a result, I’ve escaped reasonably undamaged.”
Five years on and more experienced, Sophie is paying it forward.
“Every time someone new comes on set, I try to tell them the same thing, because it saved me. I’m forever grateful,” she says.
Whether it’s within the entertainment industry or out, Sophie, who’s an ambassador for Endometriosis Australia and is personally affected by the condition, is fast becoming a role model for other women. The benefit, she believes, comes full circle.
“My mum [who works as a nurse] is my role model. She’s great at problem-solving, helping and keeping people calm,” she says. “She’s the first person I call in an emergency. But so too are my girlfriends – they’re nurses, economists, lawyers, business owners, optometrists, bank workers, to name a few. I find them so inspiring.
“I didn’t see many women helping other women when I was growing up in the 1990s, and I wish I had. It’s inspiring to see women achieve success. It’ll be worth it if I can help just one person.”
Sophie’s progress continues in 2022, with a mantra to “be kind” to herself and others. It’s fine if it’ll never be finished. Her goal is to have just enough to keep her feet on the ground, not to have everything.
“I always try to put things into perspective – my mum taught me that,” she says.
“There’s a lot of anxiety out there right now and the world is exhausted. I’ve definitely grown as a person and as a woman over time. I feel comfortable in my skin and more sure of who I am, who I want to be, and who I want to surround myself with. I’m taking it one step at a time.”
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