The magic charm of Ju­lia Zemiro

Fall in love with the tal­ented Ju­lia – her in­fec­tious smile and phi­los­o­phy about life is catch­ing!

Prevention (Australia) - - In This Issue - BY AN­DREA DU­VALL PHO­TOG­RA­PHY COR­RIE BOND

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.

Act­ing out

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

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