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 labour.
“Unlike Mac, I’ve never been in danger of losing everything, but I did have debt collectors come after me when I was in my early 20s,” the 30-year-old performer adds, adding that her own issues started when she’stupidly’ bought an Australian credit card before leaving on her European OE.
“I used up all of my savings but wanted to keep travelling, so I began withdrawing cash throughout Europe using my Australian credit card.” The interest on that is insane, but I was so young and ignorant that I just 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 work three jobs and, luckily, I paid it off before it got too terrible, but I was in a lot of trouble for a while,” she adds, adding that she’s never had another credit card since. “I’ve learned my lesson,” says the narrator.
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 kind of bars where folks went to have a good time.” From scrubbing toilets to cleaning up food, I did it all. She says, “I’ve never been afraid to get my hands filthy.”
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 favourites will be lured into it as well.
“The plot is quite fascinating. It has a lot of various layers, and it’s something that will eventually take over the entire bay. “This illicit gambling tale affects everyone,” she explains, “and it really goes out and into a lot of other people’s storylines.”
Weir feels that many viewers would empathise 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.
“I believe it’s a very relevant and very relatable subject,” Weir says, referring to the number of enterprises that have gone out of business due to no fault of their own.
“Even though it’s being done under the cover of casinos and illicit gambling, glitz and glamour, and all the fun stuff, Mackenzie is suffering greatly underneath it all.” She is frightened, frightened, frightened. It’s not just for her, either. It’s for her workers. She has people for whom she is accountable, therefore (the plot) is very current and relevant.
“Being in debt is such a bleak, awful place to be because it pervades every aspect of your life.” It’s always at the back of your mind, and it makes you feel ill. All of your stress and anxiety levels skyrocket, and when you’re in that situation, you make terrible decisions and do things you wouldn’t typically do.”