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
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.’”
Choose from celebrated local brands such as Alex Perry, Carla Zampatti, Collette Dinnigan, ELLERY and Country Road. Of her range, Kym Ellery says, “Each piece in my new collection tells a story and offers a versatility suited to a range of occasions from a daytime event to an evening soirée.” International brands include Tommy Hilfiger, Karen Millen, Marc Jacobs and our own homegrown export, Kylie Minogue.
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“Each piece in my new collection tells a story and offers versatility”