She might’ve been positively petrified to take on the iconic role of Cheryl West on Westside, but Australian actress Ashleigh Cummings was put right at ease jumping back into bed with her co-star Reef Ireland.It’s almost seven years since the duo played hot-headed adolescents on Aussie series Puberty Blues, but time hasn’t dulled their chemistry.
“Our first scene on Westside was a sex scene – yup, we were right into it,” laughs 24-year-old Ashleigh, who also starred in the 2017 remake of Kiwi classic Goodbye Pork Pie. “
Reef and I were so well acquainted from doing it on Puberty Blues, it felt like déjà vu in many ways.
“We were familiar with how each other worked and we knew each other’s boundaries, so we had no problems tossing each other about.”
While the longtime friends mightn’t have any qualms about getting freaky between the sheets, Reef – who reprises his role as young Wolfgang West on Three’s Outrageous Fortune prequel series – says it’s certainly a lot to ask of his girlfriend of one year, university student Bec Keen.
“For an actor, it’s all part of the job, but I wouldn’t expect her to just accept that is the way things are,” says the 24-year-old.
“Fortunately, Bec’s really relaxed and deals with it in her own way. I haven’t seen any alarm bells yet – she’s just really excited I’m back on the box.”
When Ashleigh nabbed the Heath Ledger Scholarship – a prestigious Australian award for rising acting talent – and moved to Los Angeles last year, she and Kiwi-born Reef started to lose touch. But their four-month filming stint in Auckland gave them plenty of time to reconnect.
“Ashleigh is one of the most amazing people,” smiles Reef.
“She’s very unique, genuine and so much fun to be around. I don’t think I’ll ever meet another person like her.”
While living back in New Zealand meant the Melbourne resident was separated from his sweetheart and their two pups, Reef enjoyed the chance to return to his roots.
“It’s awesome having a career that can bring me back home,” he says.
“I moved to Australia when I was seven, but I have fond memories of growing up on a farm in Waiuku [south west of Auckland]. We had cows, sheep, two dogs and a horse named Sheeba, plus the farm was about three minutes from Kariotahi Beach – our backyard was every kid’s dream.
“New Zealand is my first home, but I hold Aussie close to my heart too. It’s where I grew up and where a lot of my friends, my parents and my girlfriend are. It was hard being away from her, but strangely, I missed the dogs more. Bec and I would chat to each other every night, but it’s not the same Skyping your pets.”
With Ashleigh’s actor boyfriend Aaron Jakubenko also in Australia, she was preparing for long-distance romance too. But the actress couldn’t believe her luck when her beau of two years landed a spot on the US fantasy series The Shannara Chronicles, which was being filmed just a short distance from the Westside set.
“Our studios were seven minutes apart, which was just absolutely insane – what are the chances?” muses Ashleigh. “We’ve done long-distance for about half our relationship, so communication has always been key for us.
“Our relationship is totally honest and transparent. When we are apart, we talk to each other every day no matter what. We’ve also established a two-month rule where one of us will go see the other – there’s such a difference in physically being with someone.”
Not only did Aaron make the perfect companion, but he was also a believable alibi for Ashleigh, whose casting as Westside’s Cheryl was to remain top-secret until her appearance on screens earlier this month.
“When I’d bump into people I’d worked with on Pork Pie, I could tell them, ‘I’m here for Aaron,’” she says. “I felt a bit uncomfortable lying, but it was quite convenient.”
With Westside’s dedicated fan following, Ashleigh admits she was apprehensive about taking on the iconic role, previously played by Kiwi acting legend Robyn Malcolm.
“They didn’t cast me until shortly before filming began, so I didn’t have a huge amount of time to prepare, but I was very committed to finding the essence of her character and bringing Cheryl’s mannerisms into it,” explains Ashleigh.
“But my producer told me to stop concerning myself with those things because 30 years down the track, we are very different people. He wanted to see a young Cheryl with her joyous youth and vibrant energy before she was hardened by motherhood and crime.
“So in the end, I wasn’t trying to copy her, which was a huge relief because we all know no-one can do it better than Robyn.”