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BRUISED, battered and emotionally exhausted, actor Jenni Baird limped into her local salon last month and plonked down in a chair for her annual “cleansing”.

Over the years, the process of stripping back her A Place To Call Home character Regina’s trademark dark locks at the end of filming each season to return to her own soft blonde hue has become a bit like shedding a skin.

“This time around though, I rushed to dye my hair back,” Baird says.

“It was so toxic, so incredibly painful this season. I just had to get her gone. It was almost ritualistic.”

The new chapter of the hit Foxtel period drama, on showcase, picks up with Regina married to George (Brett Climo) but furious that his former flame Sarah (Marta Dusseldorp) is carrying his baby.

Baird promises her conniving and dangerous alter ego remains “at the centre of the action”.

“She’s causing trouble as she should — in a very major way,” Baird teases.

“At the end of filming, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck. I was in such agony. It was quite physical, dramatic and traumatic. On a scale of zero to 10 for each, I’d say it got to 10.”

She agrees that a psychologist would have a field day with Regina, probably describing her as delusional among other things.

But at the ruthless character’s core lies a heartbroken little girl, Baird believes.

“It’s the reason she does what she does — she never got the guy she wanted. Her and George met when they were 15 and she fell deeply in love, then he married her sister. She never got over it.

“You know how children have a different morality to adults? Their attitudes to good and evil, to life and death are different. That’s Regina.

“She’s a teenage girl trapped in a 40-year-old woman’s body. And if you wrong a 15-year-old girl, she might just burn your effigy.”

Baird drew on some of her own personal experiences to help develop Regina early on, and to expand her complex behaviour in recent times.

“I went to an all-girl’s school — need I say more?” she laughs.

“I’ve also met many different actors along the way and there are some who’ve been very helpful in my portrayal of Regina.”

Her co-star Dusseldorp isn’t one of those people. The pair met for the first time on this show and have become firm friends since.

“The hate is hard sometimes because she’s such a kind soul,” Dusseldorp says.

“She’s very sweet. She’s a mum too, which I find really comforting. Working mums — sometimes you need to share the load, whether it’s guilt over not seeing them as much as you’d like or worrying because they’re sick.

“Jenni is such a generous person with a good soul. She’s a wonderful human being.”

When it was almost time to wrap filming on the new season, the women went off to have dinner, just the two of them.

“We talked late into the night and had some champagne,” Baird says.

“It was one of the most beautiful times that I’ve had on the show. I think it was symbolic in a way. In reality we’re friends and I think that was our way of coming back together again.”

Dusseldorp promises the next chapter of the story is as compelling as ever, with plots that “cut to the marrow of a character’s being”.

“It infects the audience,” she says.

“You have a page-turning need to know on a very visceral level. It’s about the character and possession of morals and integrity. It’s really good.”

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