Actress Anna Julienne made television history in TV's first civil union on Shortland St. The 800 Words star explores love again in Auckland Theatre's Company's new play Rendered.
1 You're about to star in a new play by New Zealand playwright Stuart Hoar. What's it about?
It has two stories; one's about war and the other's about love. My character is an Auckland kindergarten teacher who falls in love with an American. He then reveals something about himself that forces her to reassess her morality. The other story's set in the Middle East and will get people thinking about New Zealand's involvement in a war that sometimes seems far removed from our lives.
2 Do you ever get stage fright?
I always have at least one 'freak out moment' that my mother-in-law calls 'an attack of the vapers' right before a show's about to open where I think, 'Oh no, this is terrible, it's not going to work out, I can't do it'. I was pregnant with my eldest son Ted when I did Anne Boleyn. I remember waiting in the wings thinking, 'Sorry baby' as my heart whirred and the adrenaline pumped. I'm sure that's why he's dynamite now. But you need at least one of those moments where you're forced to confront your fears. Otherwise it's too easy and you get complacent.
3 The third season of 800 Words is back on screen next month. Has it been hard juggling acting and motherhood?
I've been through the whole spectrum on 800 Words. Ted was a toddler when I first started; I fell pregnant with Jude in the second series and breastfed in the third. I had to express milk in the campervan you share with other actors, so quite a few have seen my bosoms in all their glory. Usually we'd split it so women were in one half and men in the other. One day I was in there with Johnny Leigh, who has no children. I was behind the curtain and all he could hear was this urggh-ahh, urggh-ahh. He said, 'What are you doing now?' and I was like, 'I'm doing the other one'. It was so funny.
4 How do you look after yourself physically and mentally?
Exercise is important to me for my mental health. As a mum, your 'me time' decreases hugely. All my childcare credits go to work so if mum's looked after my sons for eight hours I don't feel like I can ask her if I can go for a run as well. My sister and I go to what we call 'booty camp' up the road three mornings a week. We meet at 5.40am which can be a bit daunting if you've been up with kids in the night. I've noticed my body has changed much more after my second child than my first. You've got no core strength.
5 As an actress, did you feel any pressure to lose your baby weight fast?
It can be hard in those first few months. I found the costume fitting confronting because Jude was only 9 weeks when I started back but the wardrobe staff were lovely. I said, 'Can we please cover this bit of juicy arm back here until I've had a few months to get my shit together?' But thank goodness for the wonders of ample cleavage when breastfeeding! You have to work with what you've got.
6 What's the most fun you've had on stage or on set?
I worked with a great bunch of people on 800 Words. You get so close it becomes like family and we shot in such beautiful places — Huia, Piha and Bethells. Towards the end I was working mostly with Erik Thomson. He is a lovely man. He works really hard, never loses his cool and treats everyone with respect. When you work with someone day in and day out you become a bit like an old married couple with your routines.
7 Do you ever find acting in romance scenes weird?
Being intimate with someone is usually a bit nerve-wracking at the start. You have to find what it is in your character that falls for their character and a place where you can sit comfortably in that. Then once you've found it, you then have to switch it on and off — and remember that it's not real. You get used to it.
8 What was your childhood in Auckland like?
I was raised in a house with four generations of women. Mum had me when she was a teenager. She needed support while she studied so we moved in with my grandma and great-grandma. There was never a dull moment. I was really happy and secure. I grew up in such a strong matriarchy so it's funny that I've ended up having two sons. We're all enjoying all the fart and poo jokes that come with boys.
9 Was getting a starring role on Shortland St at 20 life changing?
Yes. I'd just got back from a gap year and started uni. It was only on a six month contract to start with but it kept getting renegotiated every year so I spent the best part of my 20s on the show. It has one of the fastest turnarounds in the world so it's a great way to learn television.
10 Was it hard becoming a public face so young?
It can be a bit tiring when everyone wants to talk to you about your job but people are normally also lovely about it. Some people think you are your character; even smart people. It's like, 'Come on. This isn't a documentary'. Being part of the first televised civil union was lovely. We got a huge amount of fan mail, mainly from young women feeling so happy they were being represented on screen.
11 Do you find it hard to leave some characters behind?
It's always a little bit sad right before your show's about to close. You think, 'I'm going to miss all these people'. I wasn't sad to leave Maia, my character on Shortland St. I was ready to say goodbye to her. Although I would've quite liked to go out in a big explosion, guns a-blazing. Instead I just went to Sydney.
12 Will Maia ever return to Shortland St?
Everyone asks me that. You never leave a job thinking you're going to go back. I don't imagine I will but you should never say never. It was fun visiting for the 20th anniversary and seeing the group of women I worked with again. The Jeffries family were a strong matriarchy too. That's a common theme in my life.
• Anna Julienne stars in Auckland Theatre Company's Rendered at ASB Waterfront Theatre 18 Sept to 3 Oct. www.atc.co.nz
She also stars in the Comedy Pilot Week show Mean Mums on Three on 23 Sept at 8:30pm and in 800 Words on TVNZ1 from late October