“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
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.