“All of a sud­den, everyone knew me”

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy JEDD COONEY Styling IRENE TSOLAKAS Interview ADRIENNE TAM

Look­ing for Ali­brandi star Pia Mi­randa ex­plains why the mi­grant story re­mains rel­e­vant and the reason she agreed to go hun­gry on an is­land for her lat­est gig.

Two decades af­ter Look­ing For Ali­brandi put her on the map, actor and “awk­ward Ital­ian girl” Pia Mi­randa tells Stel­lar why the story of a mi­grant still mat­ters, how fame changed her (or didn’t) and the reason she agreed to be trapped on an is­land for her lat­est job

At first glance, it looks like Pia Mi­randa has just re­turned from a very nice trop­i­cal hol­i­day. She is deeply tanned, re­laxed and prac­ti­cally glow­ing with hap­pi­ness as she poses for a shoot with Stel­lar. She has in­deed been over­seas on a re­cent is­land hol­i­day of sorts – just not the kind pop­u­lated with pool­side piña co­ladas. On the con­trary,

food and drink were some­what elu­sive on the set of her lat­est job, which both gave her the chance to live out a fan­tasy and also proved, at times, to be a bit of a liv­ing night­mare.

Since it de­buted in the US in 2000, Mi­randa has been a self-de­scribed “su­per­fan” of the jug­ger­naut real­ity TV se­ries Sur­vivor. “And I’ve pretty much seen ev­ery sea­son since,” she tells Stel­lar. “I just love it; it’s my guilty plea­sure.” So when an op­por­tu­nity arose for

her to join the new sea­son of Net­work 10’s it­er­a­tion of the show, Aus­tralian Sur­vivor: Cham­pi­ons V Con­tenders, she pre­dictably leapt at the chance.

No doubt her ded­i­ca­tion to the fran­chise served the 46-year-old well as she filmed in the wilds of Savusavu, Fiji – not that she is giv­ing any hints about how she ul­ti­mately fared. Well, maybe one. Posed a del­i­cate ques­tion about the “toi­let sit­u­a­tion” on the is­land, Mi­randa bursts out laugh­ing. “I can go any­where now, let’s just say that,” she says. “If there is a tree or a bush, I’ll go.”

She’s also lov­ing her new­found free­dom to “go and buy food or eat an ice-cream. I guess this is how peo­ple feel when they get re­leased from prison! I’m a big pasta lover, so I thought a lot about spaghetti – like all day. Eighty per cent of our con­ver­sa­tion [on Sur­vivor] was food-re­lated.”

Food de­pri­va­tion still wasn’t the low point of be­ing stuck on an is­land with strangers. “Miss­ing my hus­band and kids was the worst part [Mi­randa mar­ried singer Luke Han­ni­gan in 2001 and they have two kids, Lily, nine, and James, five],” she

says. “That was the big­gest strug­gle, just the men­tal gymnastics I had to over­come in my head and keep my chin up.”

Be­ing re­united with her fam­ily has brought the smile back to her face, and Mi­randa is now ready to dive back into more reg­u­lar work, which

in­cludes film­ing the up­com­ing third sea­son of the ABC dram­edy Mus­tangs FC. Over the years, she has reg­u­larly ap­peared on TV in shows such as Went­worth, The Time Of Our Lives and The Se­cret Life Of Us.

But it was her film de­but in 2000’s Look­ing For Ali­brandi, a com­ing-of-age mi­grant story based on the novel of the same name, that got her recog­nised around the coun­try.

“I have always felt very grate­ful to be a part of some­thing so loved,” says

Mi­randa. “I did have to ne­go­ti­ate that time of my life – all of a sud­den, everyone knew me on the street, and I’m not

the kind of per­son overly com­fort­able with at­ten­tion. I had to make sure and re­mem­ber how lucky I was. It was a weird time, but so many op­por­tu­ni­ties opened up. Who would have thought they were look­ing for an awk­ward Ital­ian girl to be the lead in a movie?”

Look­ing For Ali­brandi high­lighted a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about di­ver­sity and im­mi­gra­tion, a con­ver­sa­tion its au­thor Melina Marchetta told Stel­lar ear­lier this year must go fur­ther. Her lead­ing lady agrees. “A lot of that ground­break­ing stuff that hap­pened with the book and film is the reason it means so much to peo­ple.” In 2017, Mi­randa and Marchetta ap­peared to­gether to mark the book’s 25th an­niver­sary at a writ­ers’ fes­ti­val. “Peo­ple there were over­whelmed with emo­tion,” she re­calls. “And not just be­cause it was a good book, but be­cause it was the first time they had ever seen them­selves re­flected in the me­dia.

“That means a lot to peo­ple, when you feel like an out­cast or you feel like you don’t be­long. It happens to so many of us grow­ing up – you might be a dif­fer­ent eth­nic­ity than most peo­ple at your school, or you feel like you don’t be­long be­cause you don’t speak the lan­guage. So if art can re­ally speak to you and make you feel like you’re not alone, that’s in­cred­i­ble.”

Mi­randa still gets recog­nised on the street, although she says, “Some­times they think, like, ‘Are you the cousin of Maria?’, ‘Do you work in the fruit shop?’”

There is no es­cap­ing its legacy – even on a re­mote is­land in the South Pa­cific. Af­ter all, Aus­tralian Sur­vivor is hosted by Jonathan LaPaglia, brother to An­thony, who played her fa­ther in the film.

“I did feel like Jonathan was a friendly face when I was out there,” she tells Stel­lar. “It was a nice con­nec­tion to have. How­ever I did of­ten think he was look­ing at me think­ing, ‘What are you do­ing? Why are you here starv­ing and cry­ing when you could be on a nice cushy film set with make-up and food and peo­ple mak­ing you cups of tea?’”

She grins. “Af­ter I left, I asked him if I was right and if he was star­ing at me won­der­ing why on earth I was do­ing this. And he said, ‘Oh, defi­nitely…’”

Aus­tralian Sur­vivor: Cham­pi­ons V Con­tenders pre­mieres 7.30pm, Wed­nes­day July 24, on Net­work 10.

“Is this how peo­ple feel when they get out of prison?”

(from top) Pia Mi­randa’s chil­dren Lily and James gear­ing up for Foot­ball Day at school in 2017; on Aus­tralian Sur­vivor: Cham­pi­ons V Con­tenders with Sarah Ayles (right); Mi­randa (cen­tre) in the 2000 Look­ing For Ali­brandi. PIA WEARS Christo­pher Es­ber dress, my­chameleon.com.au; Chris­tian Louboutin shoes, (02) 8355 5282; (op­po­site) Dion Lee dress, dion­lee.com

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