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Winning formula returns to TV
The West Australian

Winners & Losers' frantic leading lady Frances James is set to endure one hell of a rollercoaster ride when the third season of the hit Seven drama returns to TV screens next week.

Fans were left on the edge of their seats when the series wrapped last year, as Zach (Stephen Phillips) was attacked by Shannon (Luke McKenzie) after a heated argument over their relationships with Frances.

The violent encounter renders Zach unconscious and questions loom over whether he will recover.

Strangely enough, delving into the tense, emotionally charged scenes was the part best of the job for seasoned actress Virginia Gay.

Rather than allowing Frances' dramatic turn of events to get the better of her, the former All Saints favourite found herself thriving off her character's anguish and tears.

"Weirdly, it's the most fun to play. You get a chance to really stretch your muscles and see what you can do," Gay explains. "It's really interesting actually, because you pray for the worst things in the world to happen to your character . . . you want to be a magnet for the bad times."

For Gay, filming a confronting scene between Frances and an irate Shannon wound up as one of the most powerful moments she's experienced on the show.

"It was spectacular, that was such a joy to be in," Gay enthuses. "It's a scene I'll remember for the rest of my life. I really loved playing off him (McKenzie).

"The sound guy actually came up to me afterwards and said, 'You know I could hear your heart beat in that scene?' And I actually said, 'That's very sweet of you but I'm sure that's not true'.

"But we actually had to go in and AVR (edit) some of the lines because Luke was so powerful, so terrifying, yet so vulnerable that all you can hear is my heart beating.

"That's never happened to me before, it was just fun to be so visceral and it's just a tribute to how bloody excellent Luke is."

As Frances tries to cope with Zach's deteriorating health, life is far from rosy for her three high school besties.

Sophie is still struggling to come to terms with the post-traumatic stress from her violent attack in Africa, concern is mounting for Jenny's mental state following her botched nuptials with Callum, while single mother Bec questions whether she's ready to jump back into the dating scene again.

Drama aside, Gay and her fellow leading ladies Melanie Vallejo (Sophie), Melissa Bergland (Jen), Zoe Tuckwell-Smith (Bec) and, more recently, Katherine Hicks (who plays Jenny's half-sister Sam), will be lapping up each other's company for another year with Seven last month commissioning a fourth season of show, which begins filming next month.

Gay says the girls have become such close friends that they regularly hit up Melbourne's vibrant cafe scene together, much to the shock of their fans.

"I think its hilarious because we all hang out together quite a lot outside of work," Gay laughs. "I always think it must look incredibly freaky and weird for fans to see us hanging out together outside the television screen."

That said, Gay can't reiterate enough just how much she and her character Frances are polar opposites.

"We are so different," she laughs. "That's quite a delight for fans too because they're expecting to see tightly wound, highly controlled Frances and instead they get mad cat, I-just-shut- my-dress-in-the-door-of-my- tiny-s...tbox-car Virginia . . . and I'm swearing like a sailor. That's so spectacularly un-Frances."

Beyond Winners & Losers, the WA Academy of Performing Arts-trained actress manages to keep herself busy.

After the series wrapped in July last year, Gay returned to the theatre stage to perform in Offspring star Eddie Perfect's main stage debut, The Beast, then went on to hold her own in her one-woman cabaret show, Songs to Self-Destruct To.

Needless to say, Gay was born to entertain.

"It was great to go out every night in front of a live crowd because I do love a live audience," she beams.

"That's an adrenaline high like nothing else."