Spot the dif­fer­ence

Twenty-five years ago, Pippa Gran­di­son made a name for her­self as one of the mean girls in Muriel’s Wed­ding. Now she is com­ing full cir­cle in play­ing the role of Muriel’s mother in the stage adap­ta­tion

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Front Page - Pho­tog­ra­phy GE­ORGES AN­TONI Styling NI­COLE BONYTHON-HINES In­ter­view MICHAEL BODEY

In her first ma­jor fea­ture film role, Pippa Gran­di­son played a mean girl. She was one of four, tor­ment­ing the ti­tle char­ac­ter played by Toni Col­lette in Muriel’s Wed­ding. The bit­ter­sweet comedy be­came a sem­i­nal Aus­tralian film clas­sic by rev­el­ling in ABBA and self-em­pow­er­ment – but with a sharp, satir­i­cal heart.

But back then, in 1994, Gran­di­son didn’t feel so em­pow­ered. She felt like Muriel.

“I know this sounds silly, but I had a mas­sive body-im­age is­sue right from when I was a very young girl,” Gran­di­son, 48, ad­mits to Stel­lar.

Yes, the hot one in the banana bikini and head­dress – the one who com­mit­ted on­screen adul­tery with So­phie Lee’s new groom – thought she was overweight.

Be­fore that, she was a young bal­let dancer. Just one prob­lem: “I was al­ways told I was too fat.” It was one of her ear­li­est TV roles in the se­ries E Street, and, as she re­calls, “A pro­ducer told me I didn’t have a body to match my face.”

Thank­fully this is not her lament, a wist­ful cry af­ter years cov­er­ing her se­cret. Af­ter all, she is re­turn­ing to the scene of a past crime, as it were, now play­ing the role of Muriel’s mother in the new sea­son of the suc­cess­ful stage mu­si­cal adap­ta­tion of the film.

Gran­di­son is happy. She gets to re­visit one of her fond­est pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ences with di­rec­tor P.J. Ho­gan (he adapted the mu­si­cal with Kate Miller-hei­dke) as well as the many char­ac­ters trans­ferred to the pro­duc­tion by the Syd­ney Theatre Com­pany and Global Crea­tures. And she has no qualms com­ing full cir­cle, from the glee­ful cru­elty of her orig­i­nal char­ac­ter Ni­cole to the sad des­per­a­tion of Muriel’s mother, Betty Hes­lop.

It is a fan­tas­tic chal­lenge, she en­thuses, be­cause “I feel like I’m mov­ing for­ward as an ac­tor. That’s such a trite thing to say, but I’m mid­dle-aged now. I’m grow­ing up, and for a lot of years I played sex­ual preda­tors and god knows, a string of them. Now I’m mov­ing into the slightly dis­turbed, de­pressed, slightly anx­ious mid­dle-aged wo­man… About time!” she laughs.

The truth is, Gran­di­son hit the ground run­ning as a young ac­tor in the ’90s with mul­ti­ple early TV roles, in­clud­ing ABC’S Brides Of Christ and a num­ber of films, while per­form­ing on the stage in sev­eral Stephen Sond­heim mu­si­cals. She was recog­nised not just for her tal­ent, but

she tells Stel­lar. “Which again sounds trite and naff but, with the pres­sure young kids put on each other with so­cial me­dia, it’s im­por­tant.”

Gran­di­son is mar­ried to an­other ac­tor, Steve Le Mar­quand, and they live on the NSW Cen­tral Coast with their 10year-old daugh­ter Char­lie, who she ad­mits she hopes has no in­cli­na­tion to fol­low the lead of her par­ents and be­come an ac­tor. “I’m try­ing to shove a tennis rac­quet or stetho­scope into her hands… As a par­ent, you can’t force your kid into some­thing. I wouldn’t want to do that. If she wants to do it, I won’t stop her – but I’ll have some­thing to say!”

Yet Gran­di­son ad­mits al­though hav­ing two ac­tors in a home can be dif­fi­cult, there is strength in un­der­stand­ing the fickle na­ture of their cho­sen ca­reer. “I like to think we com­mu­ni­cate very well, which is im­per­a­tive, and we’re not jeal­ous of each other,” she says. “If he’s fly­ing and I’m not, I’m re­ally happy for him and I’m glad to say I don’t ever feel… well, some­times you think: ‘Oh god, can it be my time soon? I want that.’” She roars again with laugh­ter. “But there’s hap­pi­ness for our suc­cesses.”

Gran­di­son’s next one may well be the blues al­bum she re­cently recorded. It was a bucket-list item, but the re­sult was so well re­ceived that she plans to re­lease it later this year. “It was one of a cou­ple of things I wanted to do be­fore I turned 50 and I was afraid no-one would want to hear it,” says Gran­di­son. “But who cares? Just do some­thing you’re proud of.” Muriel’s Wed­ding The Mu­si­cal is at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Mel­bourne from March 12 and Syd­ney Lyric Theatre from June 28.

She’s lived over­seas for eight years, but if you walk into Victoria Lee’s home there is one dead give­away that she re­mains a true-blue Aus­tralian girl: that fa­mil­iar yel­low la­bel on a jar in the kitchen. “We al­ways have Vegemite in the cup­board,” Lee tells Stel­lar with a laugh. “It’s cru­cial.” It is not the only thing that keeps ran­dom bouts of home­sick­ness at bay – there’s also her boyfriend of nearly three years, fel­low Aussie Matt Mcdon­ald, who lives with her and “un­der­stands my hu­mour and sar­casm. He’s like a lit­tle con­nec­tion to home.”

Back in Aus­tralia for her shoot with Stel­lar, Lee braved the crisp Tas­ma­nian wind to model psychedeli­c 1970s-in­spired looks from David Jones’s A/W ’ 19 col­lec­tion. Some mourn the im­pend­ing end of sum­mer; Lee in­stead looks for­ward to the “op­por­tu­nity to re­ally em­brace fash­ion more. To layer and play with the amaz­ing tex­tures, colours and shapes that are com­ing through.”

Re­flect­ing on her past 12 months, the 28-year-old con­cedes it may have been the first year where she had “a bit more of a work-life bal­ance – I ac­tu­ally had a re­ally nice sort of time in my life that was more per­sonal. I had my first over­seas trip that was ac­tu­ally a hol­i­day. I moved to [New York City’s] Brook­lyn. My con­fi­dence in my­self [grew]; I trusted my­self more.”

ac­cepted for who they are. I don’t think one [body type] should be praised or one should be, you know, seen in a neg­a­tive light. Ev­ery­body is unique and dif­fer­ent. So I hope it con­tin­ues.”

To a spec­ta­tor, Lee’s life is a whirl of in­ter­na­tional travel, glam­orous events and celebrity friends. But she’s the first to at­test that her as­cent to the top was not with­out its tribu­la­tions. “I’m al­ways aware of how for­tu­nate I am to do this job,” she re­flects. “But in say­ing that, I’ve had to make very tough de­ci­sions at times, make sac­ri­fices… be away from home. You have to grow up very quickly and it’s very lonely. But that’s OK be­cause it is the sac­ri­fices you make in or­der to have those times that are as shiny as they look from the out­side. Be­cause they ex­ist, they re­ally do. Go­ing to Ho­bart and putting on a fash­ion show for David Jones? Yeah, that’s one of th­ese mo­ments where you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s all worth it.’”

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