“I can’t af­ford to re­tire”

Noni Ha­zle­hurst has been a main­stay of Aus­tralian en­ter­tain­ment for more than four decades. But at the age of 65, she tells Stel­lar she might just be get­ting started

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy STEVEN CHEE Styling IRENE TSO­LAKAS In­ter­view KAR­LIE RUTHER­FORD

She’s been a main­stay of Aussie en­ter­tain­ment for over 40 years and at 65 is still go­ing strong. Noni Ha­zle­hurst talks to Stel­lar about moth­er­hood, sex­ism in show­biz and why the fem­i­nists of the ’70s would ab­hor re­al­ity TV.

Noni Ha­zle­hurst likes to be com­fort­able. The beloved ac­tor with more than 40 years of roles across screens and stages big and small lives on a semi-ru­ral prop­erty in the Gold Coast hin­ter­land, and proudly ad­mits that on most days, “I nor­mally get around with my hair in a pony­tail, no make-up and dirt in my fin­ger­nails from gar­den­ing.”

So it’s no sur­prise that even af­ter all this time in show busi­ness, Ha­zle­hurst still finds photo shoots awk­ward. “I can watch my­self onscreen,” she says. “Which is not al­ways pleas­ant, but it’s be­cause I’m try­ing to tell a story. I’m a sto­ry­teller but I’m un­com­fort­able telling the story of my­self in that kind of en­vi­ron­ment – be­cause it’s not who I am.”

In fact, ahead of her photo shoot for Stel­lar she packed 20kg of her own cloth­ing and brought it along with her on the plane, just in case she ar­rived and didn’t take to what was on of­fer. She did end up lik­ing a Marni dress pro­vided by the stylist… at least un­til she dis­cov­ered it re­tailed for more than $1000. “I’m a thrifty per­son,” she ex­plains. “As an ac­tor in Aus­tralia, you have to be. So I will wait till I find it re­cy­cled in the op shop.”

Ha­zle­hurst is proud to call her­self or­di­nary. “Of course I’m or­di­nary,” she says. “Who isn’t? We are all or­di­nary peo­ple. We just may live in ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances, ei­ther good or bad.”

If the 65-year-old mother to sons Char­lie, 31, and Wil­liam, 25, (with ex­hus­band John Jar­ratt) prefers a couch and a good book to heels and the red car­pet, she also prefers not to swan around like some sort of overly pam­pered diva. So much so that she only flew first class for the first time last year, and that was thanks to an up­grade she re­ceived dur­ing her time film­ing SBS’s Who Do You Think You Are? “I was call­ing all my friends ex­cit­edly from the lounge,” she re­calls, smil­ing. “Peo­ple as­sume if you’re on telly you’re be­ing paid a for­tune and we travel first class all the time, but we don’t.”

Ha­zle­hurst says that trip to the UK to trace her fam­ily tree was the first time she’d been back to Europe in 35 years, since sin­gle moth­er­hood took pri­or­ity over any ca­reer or travel op­por­tu­ni­ties: “It was bad enough that my kids got moved in­ter­state be­cause I worked in­ter­state, never mind

that Mum was go­ing to Amer­ica for six months. It wasn’t an op­tion.”

Now, it just might be. In­spired by the late-ca­reer resur­gence of fel­low Aus­tralian Jacki Weaver (who cracked the US mar­ket at 63), Ha­zle­hurst has placed Broad­way in her sights. Serendip­i­tously, it’s with her ac­claimed role in the one-woman play Mother, about fe­male home­less­ness.

“I’ve been re­ally lucky,” she says. “I’ve had some won­der­ful roles but, if any­thing, I re­gret that I wasn’t more proac­tive, that I didn’t push my­self harder to get in front of peo­ple. There have been a num­ber of roles in the past where I’ve been lucky enough to get some at­ten­tion, but not that next step. But I’m ap­ply­ing for a green card with my one-woman show, and tak­ing it to Amer­ica soon,” she says.

Age is not go­ing to slow Ha­zle­hurst down. While a re­cent gos­sip-mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle claimed she had be­come a recluse af­ter ex-hus­band Jar­ratt – they sep­a­rated more than 20 years ago – was charged with sex­ual as­sault (he has pleaded not guilty to the charge), the ac­tor has never been busier. “I can’t af­ford to re­tire,” she says. “And I wouldn’t if I could. There are too many things I’d like to do. I want to write a book about act­ing, and also some kind of mem­oir about the dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion of women through the decades, and how I’ve learnt and grown as a woman. I want to take Mother over­seas. I want to di­rect again. There is so much I want to do.”

Ha­zle­hurst be­lieves it’s an en­cour­ag­ing time to be a woman in an in­dus­try that’s known for its in­sti­tu­tional ageism and sex­ism. “I think back to the times I was locked in dress­ing rooms by older men who were go­ing to show me how to do things and I went, ‘OK!’ – I had no idea,” she says. De­spite any ad­vances made in light of #MeToo, she still be­lieves there is a long way to go, par­tic­u­larly in the era of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion.

“The women on re­al­ity TV all look the same,” she says. “In the ’70s, the fem­i­nists were fight­ing to stop women feel­ing like they had to do that sort of stuff [like plas­tic surgery]. Women have a right to look glam­orous, but I don’t feel like they are em­pow­er­ing them­selves by do­ing it. It feels like con­form­ity. The creepy no­tion of the word ‘re­al­ity’ now is that it bears no re­sem­blance to re­al­ity as we live it.”

“The women on re­al­ity TV all look the same. In the ’70s, fem­i­nists fought against that”

This is a key rea­son she de­cided to host the new SBS series Every Fam­ily Has A Se­cret. From pa­ter­nity ques­tions to crim­i­nal his­to­ries, the three­ep­isode pro­gram fol­lows six or­di­nary Aus­tralians as they try to un­earth the skele­tons in their fam­ily’s clos­ets. “The stakes are real and sky-high for these peo­ple, and you’re see­ing peo­ple at their rawest and their most vul­ner­a­ble,” says Ha­zle­hurst. “For me, that’s re­al­ity. They aren’t act­ing. They are be­ing.”

Ha­zle­hurst learnt the im­por­tance of the lat­ter from time spent with chil­dren dur­ing her twodecade stint on Play School. In fact, of all the roles she’s had (which in­clude in TV shows A Place To Call Home, The Let­down and The Sul­li­vans as well as in films Truth and Ladies In Black), it’s her time on the ABC chil­dren’s pro­gram she’s most proud of. “Play School taught me about com­mu­ni­cat­ing more than any job I’ve ever done. I get stopped in the street every day to talk about it. And I love that. My mum used to say, ‘When peo­ple stop talk­ing to you about your work, that’s when you’ve got to worry.’”

Her ten­ure on the show ended in 2001, when they stopped record­ing it live and started break­ing the show into seg­ments. “It be­came too per­fect. Whereas if we made a mis­take, they wanted us to get out of it so we could model for chil­dren that prac­tice makes progress, not prac­tice makes per­fect. Be­cause there is no such thing as per­fect.”

It’s ev­i­dent how pas­sion­ate Ha­zle­hurst, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion per­former, is about teach­ing and in­spir­ing youth. She’s pa­tron of the Aus­tralian Chil­dren’s Lau­re­ate and has also writ­ten a chil­dren’s TV pro­gram, which she hopes will be picked up by a net­work. Hazel­hurst says it’s aimed to be a “safe haven” for kids, and is de­rived from her fa­mous 2016 Lo­gies Hall of Fame

speech where she called out racism and in­tol­er­ance in the in­dus­try, and asked for more kind­ness across TV screens.

“The need for good news has never been more acute,” she tells Stel­lar. “Un­less a child has some­one to point out there are won­der­ful peo­ple and won­der­ful ini­tia­tives hap­pen­ing, the world must seem like, and of­ten is, a ter­ri­fy­ing place.” She also be­lieves chil­dren are great teach­ers. “They can be a pain in the arse and they are hard work but, like I said in my Lo­gies speech, chil­dren make me old and keep me young.”

Ha­zle­hurst makes no se­cret of her wish to be­come a grand­mother one day (“Char­lie has just got mar­ried, so... it would be amaz­ing”), but in the mean­time she is cherishing the bond she has with her sons. “I’m very proud of my boys. They aren’t rob­bing old ladies – only their mother!” she jokes. “I’m very lucky. They love me. We talk four or five times a week.”

Fox­tel ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of TV Brian Walsh be­came close to Ha­zle­hurst dur­ing her years film­ing A Place To Call Home, and tells Stel­lar that while she is widely seen as an ac­tor of dis­tinc­tion, “When

she lets her hair down, Noni is a real party girl. Noni loves life, adores her sons and cher­ishes her friends.” Walsh saw her per­for­mance in Mother, says she was “a rev­e­la­tion” and ea­gerly awaits her show­ing it to the world. “I would love to see her work in­ter­na­tion­ally,” he says. “Age was no bar­rier to Jacki Weaver and it cer­tainly isn’t go­ing to stop Noni.”

If Ha­zle­hurst’s ca­reer has seemed charmed, it has at times also been a strug­gle – both emo­tion­ally and finan­cially. But for her, there has never been an­other op­tion, or a more at­trac­tive plan B. “I love what I do – I love telling sto­ries. And get­ting feed­back that the story has meant some­thing to some­one is what keeps me go­ing.”

Every Fam­ily Has A Se­cret pre­mieres 7.30pm, Tues­day June 25, on SBS.

“Play School taught me about com­mu­ni­cat­ing more than any job I’ve ever done”

NONI WEARS Coun­try Road coat, coun­try­road.com.au; COS top, cos­stores. com/au; Perri Cut­ten pants, david­jones.com; Os­car de la Renta necklace, pier­rewin­ter Sport­max shoes, sport­max.com

NONI WEARS (left) Witch­ery top, witch­ery.com.au; Ken­neth Jay Lane ear­rings, pier­rewin­ter her own ring (worn through­out); (be­low right) Marni dress, from the Syd­ney bou­tique, (02) 9327 3809; Pierre Win­ter necklace,

(from top) Noni Ha­zle­hurst with her sons (from left) Wil­liam and Char­lie af­ter she was in­ducted into the Lo­gie Hall of Fame in Mel­bourne in 2016; as a pre­sen­ter on Play School in 1991; in the up­com­ing Every Fam­ily Has A Se­cret with Marie-Anne Ke­effe, a par­tic­i­pant on the series.

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