The magic charm of Julia Zemiro
Fall in love with the talented Julia – her infectious smile and philosophy about life is catching!
There is an infectious joy about Julia Zemiro. Her animated features are in constant motion; eyes twinkling, mouth moving rapidly between a grimace, a laugh and a look of surprise. Within moments of arriving at our cover shoot she has cast a magic spell over the crew. “I want to ask Julia to be my new best friend!” one whispers.
By shoot’s end the love affair is complete – people warmly embracing in the way of friends muttering that they must catch up again soon. Everyone leaves with an extra bounce in their step.
Julia’s charm offensive on Australia has been on a long, low burn for almost three decades; just some of the ways in which she’s charmed us are as host of Rockwiz, Eurovision, Home Delivery and now Network Seven’s new singing contest All Together Now. “I’ve done a lot of hosting,” says Julia. “It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s what comes naturally to me I guess.” Or, as she once quipped,
“I give good audience.”
She credits her French/Anglo background with teaching her to set people at ease. “I think I’ve always
been a go-between. I was born in France, came to Australia and went to a French primary school in Bondi. Because I was bilingual, I was often the one who translated for the Russian kids, the Greek kids, the French kids and the Aussie kids. And so I was the go-between, the interpreter.” And it meant she became adept at making others feel comfortable.
Growing up Julia also learnt early on to speak up for herself. At home, along with her dad, a French chef and restaurateur, and her mum, a high school language teacher and academic, they would enjoy assertive, opinionated conversations over the dinner table in the French manner, something which, she says, would alarm her Aussie friends, more accustomed to lightweight family chit chat.
It was when Julia moved to Melbourne and studied acting at the Victorian College of the Arts that her natural talents came into focus. Her quick wit she puts down to formative training in improvisation, a form of acting that is clearly a passion. During the ’80s Julia was a regular team member at Theatresports, an often hilarious improv stage show at Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre, which launched the career of fellow castmate Andrew Denton.
“I’ve never been a comedian or a stand-up. My friends who’ve done stand-up, Kitty Flanagan, Cal Wilson, Julia Morris, they’ve done the really hard yards of going to nightclub after nightclub, standing alone onstage and having to make people laugh. That terrifies me.”
And yet, standing on stage in a crowded room talking to strangers, is something Julia finds effortlessly easy and is what she loves.
“That’s my sport. I never did sport when I was younger because I’m not good at it and it’s not my thing. And that’s why improv work was so much fun, it was like the sport for people who never played sport. You’d often use people from the audience and the last thing you want to do is to bring this person up on stage and humiliate them. So how do you make that person look amazing?”
And she discovered that once you’re trained to do that, the same skill can be used in life; whether you’re buying something in a shop, or working with extraordinary people like writer Louis
SOMETIMES I’LL WALK AWAY TO MAKE A PRETEND PHONE CALL SO I CAN SIT QUIETLY: BREATHE AND RECHARGE.
Theroux and English physicist Brian Cox on Home Delivery. “You just use those techniques and then everyone has a good time,” she says.
“One of my favourite quotes about improv is: ‘Everything I need is in front of me’ – meaning the person you’re working with. So rather than saying, I haven’t got a chair or a table or a script, it’s about realising the person standing in front of you is everything you need right now (to create a scene).
“What if you looked at relationships that way, that everything I need is right here and we’re going to make it work?”
It’s a philosophy that Julia applies to her everyday life, using her mental smarts to outpace the little gripes that can lead to unhappiness. “If you’re hard on yourself because you don’t relax enough, or you’re not nice enough to your friends and family, I sort of flip it and go, well what’s in my own best interests? It’s to have my friends and family enjoy my company or to be useful to them.”
Julia’s happy place
Being upbeat at work all day, making other people look amazing, takes a lot of energy and so Julia tries to balance this out with a little solitude.
“People go, ‘Oh you talk a lot’. And I do, but I also like quiet time to recharge. Sometimes I’ll pretend to go and have lunch, or walk away to make a pretend phone call and I’m actually disappearing to a nearby park to sit there quietly, no sound, just quiet: breathe, recharge and then come back. I know I can’t keep going if I don’t find that space.”
At 51, Julia has the self-knowledge to nurture herself carefully. “It’s not that I want to look young, but I want to feel good and I don’t want to feel shit. So I do everything in moderation. I don’t drink a lot, I get plenty of sleep. Because I just know then I perform better at everything: I’m a better friend, I’m a better girlfriend, everything.”
Julia and her Danish partner, Carsten Prien, share their time between Sydney and the Southern Highlands, where they escape to most weekends. They’ve been together for four years, with Carsten providing another balancing influence in her life.
“It’s fairly new, but it’s been great. We met on a plane. He was sitting behind me and he recognised me from TV and he came up and we chatted all the way from the plane landing to the gate. It was only about 15 minutes. But he seemed really grounded and I got a really good vibe from him.”
And that was that. “I kind of lost contact and I thought, well, that was a bit stupid.
“Anyway,” she adds sheepishly, “I found him on LinkedIn and we started messaging each other and then had a couple of nice dates… it was just so lovely. What I love about him is that he’s calm and he’s zen and that’s like a holiday for me.”
“He’s got two sons and it’s great to have that element in my life, because I don’t have my own children.”
Calm amongst the showbiz storm
“I was single for a long time, and five of those eight years I really enjoyed. Then those last three, it was just getting a bit lonely. But when you’re in the public eye, how do you date? You just don’t know what they’re going to say [to the media], or they might see it as an opportunity
[to promote themselves]. It sounds ridiculous but part of me thinks, they could even take a photo of you when you don’t know. You know what I mean? I’m very mistrustful.”
But now, with Carsten, Julia is relishing a simple, domestic life. “What’s nice about the Southern Highlands is it’s quieter. For me it’s an antidote of calm, with lovely neighbours. The boys have a dog so we get to have a dog for a weekend. And I love cooking all weekend cause there’s two teenage boys and Carsten to feed and I enjoy it.
“Weekends are anything that’s not to do with showbiz, so there won’t be any make-up involved, there won’t be any dressing up,” Julia says.
“I will do gardening – badly. I love to read.
And walk, get fresh air, do yoga. I’m not big on the gym. I give it a crack but it’s really fresh air I enjoy. I like walking on my own. Walking is so great for getting ideas.”
I should point out that Julia is sitting crosslegged on the floor with admirable flexibility. “That’s the yoga,” she says. Julia’s approach to her health is an extension of that simple philosophy she explained earlier, asking herself: ‘What’s in my own best interest?’
“But I’ll have my little acts of defiance like today – at this photo shoot I didn’t wear a push-up bra. To the women who, like me, have a smaller breast size, I wanted to show that this is what it is, and I’m not going to bump it up with a fake bra to balance out the rest of my body. Nup. It’s too silly!”
Given her mix of wisdom and youthful energy, is Julia surprised that she’s 51?
“People say I look young for my age. Well, I get a lot of sleep, I’m not a parent. I’ve had friends who have had babies who say they don’t think they’ve ever recovered from that first year of not having enough sleep. We’re in an industry where people are delighted that you don’t look your age, and I try to diffuse that and say, ‘Well it’s only because I missed out on something that you had that’s quite extraordinary, too, for better or for worse.’”
“I live this life having all the sleep that I need, and I can do what I want, when I want. Sometimes I wish my friends with children would understand: I enjoy my life, but sometimes it can seem rather cavernous when you don’t have things like family to fill your time up. But I couldn’t hope for a better career. I’m in a very privileged position where I can say no to work I don’t like. I only say yes to the things I think will be interesting and fun.”
Small acts of kindness
Meanwhile Julia is preparing to be artistic director of next year’s Adelaide Cabaret Festival. And while such wonderful opportunities keep rolling in, she says it’s actually the small things that are her focus these days.
“I feel more and more it’s what I do now on a micro scale and not a macro scale that counts the most. I enjoy meeting up with a friend and going and having a coffee or a glass of wine at the pub, enjoying each other’s company and telling some old stories, more than trying to save the world.
“It’s those little things: hanging out with your friends and family; getting over there for coffee if someone’s upset; or buying them something nice from the shops so when you arrive you can say, ‘Here you go’.”
Now who wouldn’t want to ask Julia to be their new best friend?
Julia Zemiro will host All Together Now on Network Seven