Pop Culture | TV | 80s

'The Thorn Birds' Stars Reveal What It Was Like To Film The Iconic Miniseries


There are a lot of television shows and movies that people remember from the "good ol' days," but when it comes to miniseries, there aren't many that we remember.

But there was one miniseries that seemed to completely sweep the nation, and that was the 10-hour drama The Thorn Birds.

The miniseries was based on the book of the same name, written by novelist Colleen McCullough. But how did a story about sheep farmers become the second-highest rated miniseries ever? Well, the cast revealed what they thought about it in Closer Magazine.

"The attraction of doing, or thinking of doing, something forbidden appealed to the audience," Anne Mueller actress Piper Laurie said. "It was powerful!"

The Thorn Birds

The dramatic and romantic series followed a fifty year span, as the Cleary family struggled with their love lives and tried to find their ways.

While the show may have only lasted a limited time, it was one that according to actress Sydney Penny, quickly became a "water cooler show."

"I didn’t appreciate how big it was at the time until I was watching the Emmy's and I saw all these people I knew who were nominated," Penny explained. "I guess we did pretty well!"  

It wasn't always easy to film such a steamy show though, Richard Chamberlain played Father Ralph, and he revealed that it wasn't always as glamorous as people think.

Thorn Birds

"There’s a microphone hidden in the armpit," he explained. "And you’re trying not to smear her lipstick!"

He also explained that this job was "more difficult than Shogun." In case you don't remember it, Shogun was another miniseries set in the 1600s about an Englishman who has to travel through Japan.

"I did break my hand at one point. I was having a lot of trouble remembering my line, and it was a scene with, I think, Barbara [Stanwyck] and Jean Simmons, the [camera] dolly … had seats and I thought they were soft and I [slammed my hand down, and said] ‘Oh sh**,’ and broke this bone," Chamberlain said. "What a fool. What a stupid thing to do, but we carried on, the show went on."

But not everything about the show was loved. A lot of people, including the author of the source material, hated the actress Rachel Ward's performance as Meggie.

The Thorn Birds

Meggie was obviously a very important character, but Ward received a lot of criticism for her portrayal. "I felt terribly like I’d disappointed [everyone]," she said. "I felt that despite me it was a success."

But decades later, her daughter saw the series and said she was "fabulous." "That was, for me, the most important response that I could’ve ever had."

Ward did have one big fan though, Chamberlain admitted that he was stunned when there were rumors they didn't get along, because he was completely smitten with her.

"I was so in love with her and I loved working with Rachel so much, I couldn’t believe that there was any talk about us not getting along," Chamberlain said.

Perhaps the miniseries harshest critic was McCullough. As the writer of the original book, she obviously understands the characters better than anyone, so her words about the performances were especially cutting.

"It was instant vomit!"

"Ward couldn't act her way out of a paper bag and Chamberlain wandered about all wet and wide-eyed," McCullough revealed.

The Thorn Birds

As for the setting, she was upset at how little they did to make it actually look like Australia. "The filming was done in Hawaii, there was only one kangaroo on set and everyone sounded American except Bryan Brown, whose Oz accent stuck out like a dingo's bits."

She hated the show so much that she actually started writing a musical to try and make up for it. The musical was not the hit she had hoped, but at least she was able to tell the story her own way, and most importantly, she was proud of it.

"It's a brilliant show," she said back in 2009 when the performance happened.

Thorn Birds

McCullough always had an interesting relationship with the story though, admitting that she actually hated her main character.

"Meggie in The Thorn Birds is basically my mother. I detested her. Can you imagine writing a 280,000-word book and hating your heroine? She was everything I despise in a woman. She suffered and, worst of all, she enjoyed suffering."

The novelist didn't seem to mind the fame that her newly successful book gave her, and she never let it change who she was a person. She remained outspoken and herself no matter what.

"They love me because I am rich and famous without being beautiful or having slept my way to the top - and, unlike our politicians and financiers, I don't lie," the author said about all of her fans.

She passed away in 2015 at the age of 77, but even though she didn't love the series, a lot of us did. She created a story that touched the hearts of millions, and remains a favorite to this day.

Source - Closer Weekly / Access Online / Daily Mail / Telegraph

Do you remember watching 'The Thorn Birds'?