TV presenter Jaquie Brown doesn't like being called a comedian. The author and guest host of TV3's The Project is a self-confessed introvert who recently turned her hand to screenwriting.
1 You're one of over 20 celebrity guests appearing on one night each in the Basement Theatre's annual Christmas show. Do you know what you'll be doing?
I have no idea what's going to happen when I walk out on stage. The guests are guided by the cast. You just have to trust them and go with the flow. The first time Oliver Driver asked me to do it my gut reaction was, "No way, this is terrifying". He said, "That's exactly the reason you should do it". So I went, "Curse you Oliver Driver, you're right". The relief afterwards was like being on drugs, I imagine.
2 Are you a very social person?
No, I'm an introvert. When people see you performing they think you're like that all the time. You don't want to let people down when you meet them by not being nice and kind and friendly. That act in itself is a giving and it can be quite draining. I like to retreat and recharge alone at home. Socialising is something I gear up for and if someone cancels plans I'm so happy.
3 Growing up in London what was your childhood like?
Really happy. Mum was a nurse and dad an architect. I loved being in school plays, I'd often get the lead. I was a bit of a show off. I had a lot of confidence – possibly too much. When I was 18 a friend asked if I could cut hair and I said, "Yes". I went to his hair with some scissors and brutalised him. So it's good to know your limits. I attribute my confidence to the loving, stable foundation provided by my parents. I know that success isn't a TV show or an accolade, it's being happy in me.
4 You immigrated to New Zealand at age 15. Was it a culture shock?
I remember driving down an Auckland street on a Saturday afternoon and all the shops were closed. So that was different, but it was sunny and there were incredible beaches and palm trees. Everybody looked healthy compared to the kind of people I'd hung out with; cigarettes and gelled fringes. Our family had no idea how damaging the sun was and all got sunstroke at Mission Bay.
5 How did you get your break in broadcasting?
I was doing a degree in photography when a friend invited me up to bFM to help on the graveyard shift. It was such a thrill. I ended up being the first female talkback host on the station. bFM was the greatest love of my life because I didn't have a serious boyfriend until I was way into my 20s. I'm not sure why. I felt like my energy would get sucked away and I wasn't into casual sex.
6 You hosted television music shows Space and C4. How did life change with TV?
Dominic Bowden and I were universally panned when Space started. It was at a time when New Zealanders hated New Zealanders being on TV. A girl came up to me at a party and said, "Are you as much of a bitch in real life as you come across on TV?" It was like a knife in my heart. Then this guy came up to me at a bar and goes, "I know you. Oh yeah - I hate you". I worked my hardest to try and make that man like me. It was exhausting. I've learnt that not everybody's going to like you and that's okay.
7 What has been your personal career highlights?
The Jaquie Brown Diaries. When I was working at C4 I'd tell my director Gerard Johnstone all the funny things that would happen to me like people thinking I was Jackie Clarke; or going to the gynaecologist and having him say from between my legs, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" while looking at my fanny. That actually happened. Gerard thought we could spin all those hilarious situations into a comedy series. We did two series; both won best comedy in the New Zealand Film and TV awards and were sold in the US, Australia and Finland.
8 You wrote a book called I'm not Fat, I'm Pregnant! Had writing a book always been a life goal?
No, when I got pregnant with Leo I wasn't doing any TV and I just wanted a project so I thought I'd document what it's like in a funny guide for Kiwi women. The pregnancy was horrendous. I was so ill I eroded the enamel on my teeth from vomiting and ended up in hospital on a drip. I'm really proud of that book.
9 How did your life change after having a second baby?
I felt like I'd lost my footing career-wise. I thought, "Who's going to hire me? What have I got to say? I don't fit in current affairs. I don't particularly feel funny. I feel like I've lost my sense of humour. I'm worn down by the day to day of raising those two beautiful energetic little chipmunks." One thing that's really helped rebuild my confidence is a Meisner acting course I've been doing over the last two years. I've discovered screenwriting is my passion. I got validation recently when one of my scripts made it to the semi-finals of the Page international screenwriting awards. It's black comedy - the kind of heartfelt, emotional humour I wouldn't have been able to write at 18.
10 Creative people often cite their inner critic as their biggest barrier. How do you overcome yours?
Losing my dad at 58 and my sister-in-law to breast cancer last year at 48 has made me look at the world differently. It sounds clichéd but that's because it's true; there is no point in worrying. It's a waste of time. I now have greater empathy for people who have gone through similar things and a deeper appreciation of time. Each day is so important. Deciding to go grey was also a very freeing experience.
11 What was the catalyst?
I've been going grey since I was 15 and was always really embarrassed about that. It was a secret I carried for years. Then I just got sick of getting it dyed every three weeks. It's so time-consuming and expensive. So I shaved my head for the Cancer Society and let it come back grey. Being truthful about my hair colour, as superficial as this sounds, has lifted a weight for me. It just so happens that having white hair is on trend, so I'm screwed when it goes out of fashion but right now I'm living the dream.
12 Have you ever been publicly political?
Probably when I did a welcome talk for Jacinda Ardern earlier this year, when she was sworn-in as the MP for Mt Albert. She asked me, perhaps because I'd worked with her husband Clarke on C4. I've always shied away from politics because I was brought up to believe it was private. Going on The Project I felt a bit out of my depth but I've learnt so much being on the show every Friday that it doesn't scare me anymore. Now I'm chatting to taxi drivers about Winston Peters! The issues that get me most fired up are the oceans and our environment. What we as humans do to the planet upsets me so much.
• Santa Claus, Basement Theatre, 30 November to 20 December, 7pm to 9pm
Jaquie Brown is one of over 20 guest stars including Miriama Kamo, Mark Sainsbury, Te Radar, Urzila Carlson, Madeleine Sami, Chlöe Swarbrick, Rose Matafeo and Dave Fane.