Photography DAMIAN BENNETT Styling KELLY HUME Interview NADIA SALEMME
trange as it may sound, when Kerry Armstrong finds herself in front of a lens, she just wants to disappear. Never mind that she firmed up her status long ago as one of our most acclaimed actors, known for roles on shows such as Seachange (where she played bubbly housewife Heather Jelly) and Bed Of Roses (as widow Louisa Atherton), or films like 2001’s Lantana, for which she won an AFI award.
She can certainly act her heart out in front of a camera; it’s just the posing that she finds difficult. And playing herself may be the hardest role of all. “I’m not that good at getting my photo taken,” Armstrong admits to Stellar with a laugh. “That’s not my thing. On the red carpet, I always look like someone’s lost aunty.”
Even for this shoot, Armstrong would have preferred to be snapped in character mode – kitted out, say, as Alice Wells, the Mary Poppins-esque nanny with a dark side she is about to play in a guest role on Neighbours. (She ends up settling for a chic green suit, and opts to go barefoot.)
It has been a big year for Armstrong. She turned 60 last month, joined the cast of Neighbours and made headlines with her spiky run on Network Ten’s reality series I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!.
And there were smaller, more trivial things for her to contend with as well. “I had to learn about Instagram!” she says. “I think the British girl [Vicky Pattison] had four million followers; someone else had two million. Simone [Holtznagel] looked at me and said, ‘How many have you got, Kez?’ I said, ‘28.’ And she said, ‘Only 28,000?’ I said, ‘No… 28.’”
The jungle also brought Armstrong back to her first love. “I stopped acting for quite a while,” she says. “I loved being behind the scenes.” Joining Neighbours was predicated on a particular idea. “I said if I did it, I had spent my life playing goodies. Why not a bad guy role?” she explains. She relishes playing against type and pushing against any notions that age may be an impediment. “Acting has nothing to do with your age,” she argues. “There’s no use-by date on an actor because you’re always telling a story. And human beings don’t stop at 40. I always knew it’s a game of leapfrog, that there was a lily pad to land on.”
But she does understand why plenty of actors, young and old, might think differently. “No-one wants to grow up,” Armstrong says. “You know, the coolest age was 30, then it was 21, and now it’s apparently about 15. People tend to put lids on us a little bit as you get older. We understand a woman in a cardigan, knitting or making cups of tea, and we understand a rough one with moccasins.”
Armstrong has long been privy to not just ageism, but also sexism in her chosen industry – and believes it kept her from landing roles. “I know that because I didn’t play the game here or in the States,” she says. “There were as many good men and women as there were a whole bunch of people who, I think, imagined this business was about getting laid. We’re starting to find out what right and wrong is again.”
In the meantime, she tries to stay philosophical about life in the public eye and aims to keep it real. Exhibit A: those truth bombs she dropped in the jungle. “When you leave the planet, you won’t leave with anything except what you’ve become to the people around you,” she says. “I can’t bear bullsh*t. We bullsh*t ourselves sometimes. I want everyone to be themselves. Please show me who you are! So instead of judging you, I can try and understand you.there’s a difference.
“There are stories about me that are ludicrous,” Armstrong continues. “The internet says I’ve been married four times and I think, ‘ Wow, that’s more than is true.’ ” (For the record, she has been married twice.) “And then they announced that I was 60 when I was still 59. I thought, ‘That’s so unfair!’
“There’s an invented world that we all live with, being in the public eye,” she says. “You have to laugh.”