Michele Hewitson Interview: Louise Wallace

By Michele Hewitson

Louise Wallace says she has Jekyll and Hyde-like public and private personas. Photo / Richard Robinson
Louise Wallace says she has Jekyll and Hyde-like public and private personas. Photo / Richard Robinson

Louise Wallace - remember her? - has kindly agreed that I can interview her at home in "deepest, darkest Remuera".

This might sound defensive but she says, no, it's funny. I don't know why. She often says things she thinks are funny but which sound not very funny on the page. She is in Shortland Street, in a guest role, playing a dipso cougar and what she loves about her character is that "she's funny without knowing it". I thought they might have written the part for her.

Not that I'm suggesting she is a dipso cougar, of course, although she did get drunk the day before her audition and got the part despite, or possibly with the help of, a hangover. When I said I couldn't imagine her properly drunk, she said, "Why do you say that? Why wouldn't I have been drunk? Oh, you mean because you think I'm always in control?"

I suppose that's exactly what I mean, which suggests some confusion between her and her career which is, well, what exactly? She is probably best known for being the bossy whip-for-a-mouth host of The Weakest Link and for Celebrity Treasure Island in which she, as one critic noted, helped turn the whole silly shebang into a catfight.

There are, she says, "these two sides to me, the public side and the private side. Jekyll and Hyde, completely." I don't understand why anyone would want to come across as a control freak. "I don't. It's not so much what I want to come across as - that's what I've been portrayed as by the roles I've done."

People would not approach her in a supermarket, for example, which could be useful. "Ha, ha. Very useful. It doesn't worry me at all." She wouldn't particularly enjoy people coming up to say hello. "No, I wouldn't."

And she is a control freak. Did I say she kindly let me go to her house? When I mentioned this, she said, "Well, you know what? I thought if I said, 'You can't come to my home', the first paragraph will be: 'Louise Wallace didn't want me to come to her home. She was so stuck up ...' "

Do people think she's stuck up? "No. But I thought you would think I was." Is she? Not a bit, despite the very nice, very large diamonds and - I'd better say something about her house as I'm in it - the very nice, very large Remmers house with the pool and pool house and the clipped box hedging. She says she's not at all posh and not a snob either. I believe her because the CD on the top of the pile is Susan Boyle and, what's worse, she likes her.

I'm still not sure what to make of her career. I asked about her odd CV and she thought, or pretended to think, that I was accusing her of having made it up. "What? Are you saying it's a fake?" Of course I wasn't. I meant that she has made some odd choices for one so fiercely ambitious. She is the only person I've ever met who admits that she wanted to be on TV so she would become famous and have people look at her. But if she wanted to be taken seriously as an actor ... "Yeah, but I was never going to be hired as an actor after having done news and current affairs. I mean, would you hire Judy Bailey?"

Nobody much has hired her for a few years now. "Thanks for reminding me." I was going to ask what had happened but I didn't need to. She said, five minutes after I arrived, "I don't know what research you've done. Have you read up about that newspaper article?" That's the article about the court case (it was thrown out) about her cousins suing the Wallace family company, DR Hooper Ltd, for $2 million and which detailed the couple of million plus shares she had been left in family wills.

She says after the story came out, in 2006, "the phone didn't ring in three years". Somebody who'd provided her with a lot of work said, "'I haven't had family money to get me ahead', and I thought, 'Well, that's me stuffed'."

This was because until that article, according to her, nobody knew she was loaded. That seems a bit difficult to believe - she does live in deepest, darkest, richest Remuera - but she says she has always liked to "keep a few things private".

Of course I said, "What things?", thinking she'd say that the whole point of private things was that they were private. She said, "Well, the way I live for one thing. That I live pretty well." I suppose that, since her cover was blown, she might as well raise the topic herself. But why she raised the one thing she hates talking about is beyond me. I suppose you could call it getting in first.

She said later that she had, in her 40s, taken "a bit of a harder look" at herself. I was asking whether she had good self-awareness, because it's hard to tell. She says she didn't know she came from a rich family until she was 18 and her now husband told her, which might suggest fairly limited awareness. Anyway, she is "hugely" self-aware now although, "oh, I didn't sort of sit down and write an essay". She certainly didn't trot off to see a therapist. "No, but you see, that would be my idea of heaven. In fact, this interview feels like therapy, actually." Her idea of absolute heaven, and "it has to be everyone else's idea of heaven as well - [would be] listening to me talk about myself!"

There were limits. She was going to the US later in the day but wouldn't say why. It was "family business". What family business? "Just family business." The most she would say was that she and her sister are going to open "some bank accounts". Why? "Well, why would I tell you that?" I didn't really care and I suspect she didn't either; not telling was just her being bossy and competitive.

She is a "type A personality" and it took none of my non-existent therapist's skills to extract that. She offered it, but that's hardly news, now is it? She is bossy. "Yeah." What's she like to live with? "Fabulous! Ha, ha, ha. Oh, I don't know. I have to pull my head in occasionally, but who doesn't?" Should she ever seek out a therapist, good luck to the shrink, is all I can say.

When I pointed out that she does rather say what she thinks she said, "I reckon. And so do you."

Oh look, she'd be a terrible disappointment if she wasn't a bit stroppy. She always has been. She says she used to feel that it was "important to keep up a profile", but now she doesn't "give a shit about profile". I think she might a bit. But you can't help but wonder what sort of profile she thought she was building.

When she was a current affairs journalist she said, about TV3: "I would like them to be promoting me more because I think I deserve it. I would hope I'm a big asset to the network and I hope they realise it." She thought that was funny. And "well, I might be right about that!" She does often say things that sound ... I paused and she offered, "Clever? Ha, ha, ha." No. Slightly abrasive and possibly a bit arrogant. "My friends would say the same thing. Oh, yeah, definitely."

Another quote: "One thing about sports commentators I can't stand is when they're overweight and unhealthy. It really irks me to see a big fatso sitting there ..." A big fatso? "I think that's very funny! Yeah, I do, I'm sorry." And: "People ... don't want ugly people on television." Most people wouldn't put it quite so brutally. "No, probably not. But I am opinionated." Which might not win her friends. "No, probably not."

She told me that at her 50th her husband gave a fabulous speech, the highlight of which was provided by his wife: "'I look f***ing good for 50.' That was the quote of the night!" Did I happen to mention that she says things that make her sound a bit up herself when you see them in print?

Her friends (she wouldn't tell me any of their names because she said I wouldn't know who they were) know what to expect. "They'll say, 'Well, what are you going to wear? I'll say, 'I don't know, but I'll look fabulous!"' And she believes it. "Yeah, probably, but if I look like a dog, my God, I'll say it. Don't worry about that."

I wondered if she was vain. "No. I don't think I'm terribly vain." A bit vain. "Well, I don't want to look like a dog on a day-to-day basis." When she turned 40 she lamented, "My God, I've only got 10 good years left in me." I wondered how she thought she was holding up now that she's 50. "I don't know. You're the one looking at me."

She looks, by the way, terrific but I wasn't about to encourage her by telling her so. I was having a good look to see if she's had any work done. Being as qualified to be a plastic surgeon as I am a therapist, I had to ask. She said, "I'm not going to tell you if I have." I guessed she might have had quite a bit of Botox. "Well, your forehead is looking pretty smooth, I have to say." She's had something done to her lips. "Yeah. I put lipstick on."

Has she had her boobs done? "For God's sake!" But it serves her right for being so lookist. And she wasn't remotely offended; she was acting. Anyway, she said, "you can be flat-chested and still be good-looking." That may or may not mean the answer is no. It is certainly the answer you'd expect from her.

She said, as we were leaving, "You should be a therapist actually." I said no thank you. I wasn't interested in people's problems. I also wasn't really interested, I said, in her family business - just in case she was congratulating herself on winning that little wrangle. She said, "No. And you don't really care about me either really." That's her idea of a compliment and is, of course, absolutely true.

But, and nobody tell her because she's already quite impossible, I did enjoy her.

- NZ Herald

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