“All of a sudden, everyone knew me”
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