|Portrayed by||Alin Sumarwata|
|First appearance||14 March 2012|
|Last appearance||24 September 2013|
|Introduced by||Susan Bower|
|Occupation||Chef and waitress|
Vanessa Francesca Antonella Villante is a fictional character from the Australian soap opera Neighbours, played by Alin Sumarwata. The actress's casting was announced on 5 December 2011, though she began filming the week before. Sumarwata and her family relocated to Melbourne and purposely moved near to the studio, so she could manage work and be close to her daughter. The actress stated that she was excited about the role, while the show's executive producer Richard Jasek commented "She's a wonderful actor and we think her character has so many exciting possibilities for us." Sumarwata made her debut screen appearance as Vanessa during the episode broadcast on 14 March 2012. In August 2013, it was revealed that the actress had been written out of the show and Vanessa departed on 24 September 2013.
Before her arrival on screen, Vanessa was described as someone who embraces life to the full. She is Italian and a professional chef. A TV Week writer called Vanessa "volatile", while an Inside Soap columnist said was "fiercely independent". Sumarwata described her character as being someone who wears their heart on their sleeve. The actress stated that Vanessa's background would be explored in the future, adding a new dimension to the character. Vanessa's first storyline saw her have a one-night stand with Lucas Fitzgerald (Scott Major), before falling pregnant. Sumarwata thought the storyline was a great way to get viewers talking about the character. Vanessa later developed a relationship with Rhys Lawson (Ben Barber), became involved in a sham wedding storyline and gave birth to a son.
On 5 December 2011, Daniel Kilkelly of Digital Spy reported Sumarwata had joined the cast of Neighbours as regular character, Vanessa Villante. Sumarwata relocated to Melbourne from Sydney with her husband and their young daughter, and she filmed her first scenes the week before her casting announcement. She told Kilkelly "Everything happened so quickly and it coincided with the move from Sydney - it was very chaotic at first and it did take a while. I felt I was coming to work, then dashing back to the baby between scenes - very full on! However, now I feel settled and I know what to expect." The actress explained that she and husband deliberately moved close to the studio where Neighbours is filmed, so she could work and be close to her daughter. Sumarwata said she was "very excited" about her new role, while executive producer Richard Jasek quipped "We're thrilled to bits that she's joined the cast. She's a wonderful actor and we think her character has so many exciting possibilities for us." Sumarwata made her first screen appearance as Vanessa on 14 March 2012.
Vanessa is of Italian heritage and a professional chef. Sumarwata revealed that she shares a similar love for food with her character. Of Vanessa, a writer for Channel 5 stated "Anything but a wallflower, it seems that Vanessa will cook up a storm in more than one sense of the word, embracing life to the full and turning the world on its head for one of Ramsay Street's male residents." A reporter for TV Week said Vanessa was "volatile" and they described her as "a temptress" and "a glamazon". The writer added that Vanessa's emotions "are always simmering at the surface" and she would set pulses racing among the men of Erinsborough. An Inside Soap writer described Vanessa as being "fiercely independent". When asked to describe her character by Digital Spy's Daniel Kilkelly, Sumarwata stated "She is impulsive, excitable and doesn't let much get her down and wears her heart on her sleeve." Sumarwata told Kilkelly that exploration of Vanessa's background was in the pipeline and that it would add a new dimension to her. She said that some parts would surprise the Ramsay Street residents, while others would be embraced and questioned.
Vanessa is one of five children who were born to strict Catholic parents. A writer for Channel 5 explained that while Vanessa loves her family, she has occasionally felt lost among her siblings. Vanessa's "formidable" mother, Francesca (Carmelina di Guglielmo), was introduced in October 2012. Vanessa was initially rattled by her mother's appearance and tried to cover up the fact she is pregnant to avoid being berated by her. However, her secret is revealed when Francesca overhears a conversation between Vanessa and her neighbour, Chris Pappas (James Mason). Sumarwata stated "Vanessa planned to turn up on her mum's doorstep after the baby was born, so that all the shame, blame and judgement about getting pregnant before marriage would just dissolve when the family saw the baby." Francesca was "shocked" to learn her daughter was having a baby out of wedlock.
Sumarwata told Kilkelly that she was excited to learn that Vanessa's mother was being brought into the series, as it meant that there would be some exploration of her background. Of Francesca's relationship with Vanessa, the actress revealed "The woman is so overbearing and doesn't give Vanessa any credit at all. It's pretty clear that their relationship has been strained for quite a while, which is why Vanessa left the family and there has been very little contact. Can you blame her for staying away?" She further explained that Vanessa's family are strict Catholics, so having a baby out of wedlock was not acceptable. Vanessa became "petrified" when Francesca threatened to cut her out of the family if she did not get married. She agreed to go along with her mother's plans because she does not want to bring up her child without her family around her.
Lucas Fitzgerald and pregnancy
A TV Week writer revealed that Vanessa would become a love interest for one of the male characters and that she would turn his world "upside down and more." Vanessa's first storyline saw her have a one-night stand with Lucas Fitzgerald (Scott Major). A columnist for TV Week said Vanessa makes an instant impression on Lucas and she goes back to his house. The following morning Vanessa cooks breakfast for both Lucas and his housemate, Lou Carpenter (Tom Oliver). Vanessa then does "a disappearing act", but she returns a few weeks later to tell Lucas that she is pregnant with his child. Vanessa appears on Lucas's doorstep just as he brings home another woman. Of how Vanessa breaks the news to Lucas, Sumarwata explained "She is determined to reveal her news. She believes that no matter what Lucas's reaction is, he deserves to know she is carrying his child. She has no ill feelings towards him and tries to be as easy-going as possible by bringing up casual and random topics of conversation. But before Lucas can guess what the news could be, the words from Vanessa hit him like a tonne of bricks." Lucas then questions Vanessa about how she can be certain the baby is his and Sumarwata stated that it was not the response Vanessa imagined. Susan Hill of the Daily Star reported Vanessa's news turns Lucas's world upside down and she quipped "The carefree lad can't believe their steamy one-night stand led to this."
Lucas "hits the roof" when he learns Vanessa has decided to start a new life for herself and their unborn child in Erinsborough. Lucas does not accept his new responsibilities towards Vanessa and the baby and he just wants her to disappear. He makes her aware that she is not welcome. Vanessa tries to find employment as the head chef at Lassiter's Hotel, infuriating Lucas. He then tells her potential employer, Paul Robinson (Stefan Dennis), that she is pregnant costing her the job. Speaking to a writer from Channel 5's Neighbours website, Sumarwata said that playing a pregnant character brought back memories of her own pregnancy. Vanessa is seen suffering from severe morning sickness and Sumarwata commented that she also suffered with nausea just from the smell of food. She commented "It is a bit like déjà vu and certainly helps to understand why Vanessa can be a little scary at times." The actress also revealed that to portray Vanessa's condition she had to wear a false stomach and added that the one consolation with the pregnancy was that she could take it off at the end of the day. Sumarwata told Kilkelly that she was initially unaware of how significant the storyline would be, but thought that it was a great way to get viewers talking about her character. Lucas eventually becomes more supportive of Vanessa and the baby. Sumarwata observed that Vanessa begins to feels more settled because of this and she starts to understand Lucas better.
Relationship with Rhys Lawson
When Vanessa is admitted to hospital with severe morning sickness, she is treated by Rhys Lawson (Ben Barber). Rhys believes Lucas is not "pulling his weight" with Vanessa and the baby and he starts looking out for her. Rhys helps Vanessa lift some heavy boxes and she offers to show him how to bake a cake to say thank you. A columnist for All About Soap observed "While Vanessa sees it as mates having fun, it's clear Rhys has got it bad!" Rhys later returns to spend more time with Vanessa, which unnerves Lucas. Jason Herbison, writing for Inside Soap, commented that Rhys may have met his match in Vanessa, while Barber said that her feistiness appeals to his character. He stated "He finds her attractive, and she takes the mickey out of him - that's good for Rhys. He needs to be knocked off his pedestal! Vanessa also exposes a rare vulnerability in Rhys, so there's a risk he could get hurt and lash out in other ways." The actor added that Rhys is attracted to Vanessa because of her "fire and passion" and that she does not play games. He also thinks Vanessa is someone he can trust and is not deterred by the fact she is pregnant with another man's child.
Of how Vanessa feels about Rhys, Sumarwata revealed "She has been quite torn and also not sure of his motives in these very unusual circumstances. She is definitely attracted to him but she is still guarded." When Vanessa witnesses Rhys shouting at their neighbour Susan Kennedy (Jackie Woodburne), she thinks that she could end up in a similar situation in the future and she is scared by that. Sumarwata told Kilkelly that after Rhys opens up to Vanessa in a bid to fix things, she feels relieved. Vanessa and Rhys eventually give into their attraction for one another and share a kiss in the kitchen at Harold's Store. Barber commented that his character enjoys making the first move, so he is the one who goes in for the kiss. When asked if Rhys and Vanessa make a strong couple, Sumarwata observed that the baby is a big hurdle for them to cross and intellectually she did not think they were on the same level. The actress added "He is ambitious, whereas she is happy with her lot. I think it's too early to say how they will fare in the future."
When Rhys is offered a three-month work placement in Japan, he tries to convince Vanessa to go with him. Barber revealed that his character puts his heart on the line, but is devastated when Vanessa says no. Rhys is determined not to give up and he is "thrilled" when Vanessa changes her mind. Barber commented "They're very much in love and Rhys is thrilled when Vanessa does say yes." Shortly before Rhys and Vanessa's departure to Japan, Rhys' mother, Elaine (Sancia Robinson), gives her "seal of approval" to her son's relationship with Vanessa by giving him an engagement ring. Sumarwata told TV Week writers Jackie Brygel and Erin Miller that Vanessa is not aware that Rhys is contemplating proposing to her. The actress believed that Vanessa would probably laugh if Rhys proposed and then double-check that it was not a joke. Sumarwata added "She's really attracted to Rhys's drive and, after meeting his mum, now understands the reason behind that drive. That's the most beautifully heartbreaking thing about Rhys's story." The couple later break up, but Sumarwata revealed that Vanessa still loved Rhys "deeply", but thought that it was bad timing for them. She added "In other circumstances, I think they would be great together, they balance each other."
On 25 October 2012, it was revealed that Vanessa, Lucas and Rhys would be involved in a sham wedding plot. When her mother comes to visit, Vanessa is pleased that Lucas manages to win her approval, but her relief is short-lived when Francesca insists that they get married. Jackie Brygel from TV Week observed that Vanessa did not expect Lucas to agree to Francesca's demand, but he surprised her with his "willingness" to go along with a sham wedding. However, she remained unaware that he had developed genuine feelings for her and was hoping that by getting married, she would fall in love with him too. Sumarwata explained that Vanessa was still in love with Rhys and being with Lucas was the last thing she was thinking about. When asked what to expect in the lead up to the wedding, Sumarwata told Kilkelly "Well you have a bride who doesn't want to be there, a mother who desperately needs a wedding, a groom who knows that the bride is hanging by a thread, and a lover who wants to prove he should be with the bride!"
In the lead up to the wedding, Vanessa struggles with her mother's expectations and she also fails to convince Father Guidotti (John Orcsik) that she wants to get married to Lucas. Rhys also causes problems when he senses that Vanessa still loves him and challenges her to call off the wedding. However, when he does not admit his own feelings for her, Vanessa decides to go ahead with the wedding. When she learns that her father is not attending the ceremony because he is ashamed of her getting pregnant out of wedlock, Vanessa briefly thinks about cancelling. The wedding scenes were filmed in July in a historic chapel. A writer for Channel 5 commented that while the producers were "remaining tight-lipped" about the outcome to the wedding, there would be a surprise twist. During the wedding, Rhys' appearance at the church "rattles" Vanessa and she struggles to get through her vows. Vanessa then stops the wedding and runs out of the church, leaving Lucas at the altar.
During an interview with Digital Spy's Daniel Kilkelly in August 2013, Sumarwata's former co-star Sachin Joab revealed that she had been written out of Neighbours. Joab told Kilkelly that "every single multicultural full-time actor on the show" had been written out during the first year of their full-time contracts. He stated that Jasek decided to let go of four actors hired by the former producer Susan Bower. News of Sumarwata's exit came shortly after Major also departed the show. Sumarwata confirmed her departure during a feature in TV Week. Of her exit, she said that while it was not her choice to leave, there could have been worse endings. Sumarwata admitted that she had a feeling her character would be axed when ten regular characters were introduced during her time on the show. She added "They gave us six months' notice, but the thought of saying goodbye to the cast and crew never got easier." Jasek commented that Vanessa could return in the future. Vanessa will depart with Lucas on 24 September 2013.
While she is in Charlie's, Vanessa flirts with Lucas Fitzgerald and they have a one-night stand. In the morning, Lucas is surprised when Vanessa cooks him breakfast. They both agree that they are not looking for anything serious. A month later, Vanessa returns and reveals to Lucas that she is pregnant. Vanessa explains that she is not going to force him into anything, but she had to tell him. Lucas offends Vanessa when he asks if the baby is his and she quickly leaves. She runs into Sonya Mitchell (Eve Morey) and tells her that now she knows where Lucas stands, she is glad she is on her own. Vanessa is interviewed by Paul Robinson for the pastry chef job at Lassiter's Hotel. Paul initially seems happy with her, but he hires someone else and tells Vanessa that Lucas informed him of her pregnancy. Vanessa confronts Lucas and then tells his housemate Kate Ramsay (Ashleigh Brewer) that she has no job and is sleeping in her car. Kate invites Vanessa to move in and Vanessa also finds employment at Harold's Store. She suffers from severe morning sickness and has to be treated at the hospital. Rhys Lawson helps Vanessa carry some boxes inside and stays to bake a cake with her. Vanessa then asks him to dinner and they begin to see more of each other.
Vanessa is shocked when she witnesses Rhys shouting at Susan Kennedy for befriending his mother, but Rhys apologises to her and Susan. Lucas attends Vanessa's first scan and asks her to move in permanently. Vanessa takes over a cooking class at the local community centre and becomes jealous when Rhys flirts with another woman. She invites him to dinner where he suffers an allergic reaction to the food. Their night is then interrupted by Lucas, so Rhys goes to Harold's Store the following day to kiss her. Rhys later introduces Vanessa to his mother, Elaine (Sancia Robinson). When the house is put up for sale, Vanessa starts looking for somewhere to live. But Lucas buys Number 32 for them instead. Vanessa agrees to accompany Rhys on a three month work placement in Japan. However, their trip is cancelled when Rhys injures his hand, leaving him with only 5% chance of full recovery. Vanessa stands by Rhys when he sinks into a depression. Rhys later admits that he has altered his test results, so he can assist in surgeries. Vanessa tells his superior, Jessica Girdwood (Glenda Linscott), that his hand has not fully recovered and Rhys blames her for ending his surgical career. They then break up.
Vanessa's mother, Francesca, comes to visit and Vanessa initially tries to hide her pregnancy. Francesca insists that Vanessa and Lucas get married and they agree to the sham wedding. During the ceremony, Vanessa struggles with her vows and flees the church. She then tells her mother that she does not love Lucas and Francesca disowns her. Vanessa berates Rhys for being a coward and tells him that she does not want his love. Vanessa becomes confused about Lucas when she realises he loves her. She tells Sonya that she is not sure if she loves him or is just grateful to him. Rhys tries apologising to Vanessa again, but she tells him it is too late. Vanessa becomes frustrated when she goes past her due date. When she does go into labour, Rhys takes her to the hospital and stays with her while she delivers a son. Rhys proposes and Vanessa accepts. She also reconciles with her mother and she and Lucas decide to name their son, Patrick (Lucas MacFarlane). Patrick is diagnosed with Ebstein's anomaly and Rhys explains that he will need surgery. Vanessa then calls off their engagement. Sonya tells Vanessa that Lucas loves her and Lucas confirms it when Vanessa confronts him.
Patrick undergo surgery when his oxygen levels drop and Vanessa moves into the hospital accommodation. She and Lucas begin a relationship and the Turner family rent their house. Vanessa is shocked when she learns Rhys has died following a gas explosion at Sonya's wedding. Vanessa receives a cheque when a magazine republishes her topless photoshoot. She worries that Lucas will be upset and explains to him that she was 21 and needed the money. Patrick undergoes his second surgery and Vanessa and Lucas bring him home. Lucas's ex-partner, Stephanie Scully (Carla Bonner), returns and takes over as manager of Harold's Store. Lucas tells Vanessa that he has testicular cancer and she is hurt when she learns Steph knew about the diagnosis first. However, she is delighted when Lucas proposes to her and immediately accepts. When Steph tells Vanessa about all the accidents Lucas has sustained while riding his bike, she asks him to get rid of it, which causes tension between them. Lucas learns that Vanessa was married when she was younger and calls the wedding off. Vanessa goes to stay with her parents. On her return, she asks Lucas to cut Steph out of his life, so they can get their relationship back on track.
Steph kidnaps Patrick, leaving Vanessa distraught. She blames Lucas for bringing Steph into their lives and after they are reunited with Patrick, Lucas apologises. Lucas returns to work early and collapses due to a mass in his abdomen. Karl Kennedy (Alan Fletcher) tells Lucas and Vanessa that the mass was a result of the cancer surgery and Lucas will be fine. Lucas and Vanessa discuss selling Number 32, but Vanessa changes her mind after learning Lauren (Kate Kendall) wants another child. When Lucas buys a Lassiter's apartment instead, Vanessa urges him to back out of the deal. Paul refuses to cancel the deal, forcing Lucas and Vanessa to sell Number 32. The couple are shocked when they learn that they are expecting another baby, knowing that it will put further strain on their finances. Vanessa later suffers stomach pains and is rushed to hospital, but she and Lucas learn the baby is okay. Vanessa is devastated when Lucas confesses that he has been gambling. Vanessa is surprised when her ex-husband Alek Pocoli (Damian De Montemas) arrives in town and reveals that they are still married. Alek offers Vanessa $100,000, so she will not make a claim on his assets and Vanessa agrees to take the money. She and Alek then sort out their annulment. Vanessa and Lucas reconcile and they exchange vows in a commitment ceremony. Upon returning home from their honeymoon in Daylesford, Vanessa and Lucas receive offers for their Lassiter's apartment and the garage. After contemplating a move to the countryside, they decide to go for it and they leave Erinsborough. Lauren and her husband Matt (Josef Brown) later reveal that Lucas and Vanessa have had a daughter, who they have named Sebastiana.
When asked by Jason Herbison of Inside Soap which new character viewers should be looking out for, Jasek chose Vanessa, saying she would take Erinsborough by storm. TV Week's soap critic Andrew Mercado branded Vanessa a "sexy chef", while Cameron Adams of the Herald Sun called her "a stone-cold fox". A writer for Channel 5 proclaimed that she was a "fiery newcomer". A Huddersfield Daily Examiner reporter stated Vanessa had proved to be "the bane of Lucas' existence". While a Daily Record soap opera columnist observed that she had "certainly made an impact since turning up in Erinsborough." When asked how fans have reacted to Vanessa, Sumarwata revealed "I guess it is still early days, however I gather from Neighbours' digital department - who look after the website and social media - fans are really liking her, which is great considering she arrived with no back-story." A writer from TV Magazine said that Vanessa and Lucas lead "complicated lives" and that their situation is "all a bit of a mess". The writer added that their "bizarre relationship" became more complex when Vanessa pretended to be Lucas' sister in one storyline.
Brygel and Miller from TV Week called Rhys and Vanessa "Ramsay Street's hottest couple". Kerry Barrett from All About Soap revealed that the magazine's writing team loved Vanessa and thought she might be magical. Barrett explained "How lovely is Neighbours' cupcake queen Vanessa Vilante [sic]? Here at All About Soap, we love the feisty mum-to-be – and we've got a little theory about her. Crazy as it sounds we think there's something a bit magical about voluptuous Van. She's sparkled her way into the hearts of the Ramsay Street residents, spreading happiness and sugary treats wherever she goes – and she's changed the lives of just about everyone she's met." Barrett went on to write that Vanessa had changed Lucas and Rhys for the better and wondered who would be next on her list. She added "Whatever she does, it's going to be magic!" The Daily Mail's Jaci Stephen proclaimed that Vanessa is "flakier than a flapjack", while the Herald Sun's Dianne Butler commented "And delicious cakes notwithstanding, is Vanessa a bit of a cow?." All About Soap's Carena Crawford opined that Vanessa and Lucas were a "mismatched pair" and she really did not think it was a good idea for them to get married. Upon Vanessa and Lucas' departures Stephen branded them forgettable characters.
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