Noni Hazlehurst has had a full and fabulous career in film and on stage and television.
She’s currently filming as matriarch, Elizabeth Bligh in season five of A Place To Call Home.
Sold to broadcasters in more than 140 countries, Noni describes the series as an “absolute godsend”, as it means five months’ secure work every year. Inducted into the Hall of Fame at the TV Week Logies this year, her acceptance speech went viral when she shared her deep concerns about the way we are getting things wrong. Today Noni shares with YourLifeChoices her views on an actor’s life, younger generations and L.A.W. – or ‘Life after Work’
I love my character in A Place to Call Home. She’s such an onion, with so many layers. She started out as an old bitch – a product of her environment, upbringing and time. But her ways of being aren’t necessarily serving her very well anymore. It’s a fascinating process to follow this character’s evolution and her renewed understanding of life lessons.
There’s so much energy involved in the creative process and I get to collaborate with people of different ages, race, religion, and sexuality. I also really enjoy the mentoring side and to be able to share knowledge and give reality checks to the younger people.
When they start whingeing about how hard life is, I usually suggest they give it up and go and work in a factory. (laughs). Our work places are like a family; if there is tension then it is difficult for the creative process to take place. I try to foster a calm atmosphere.
Our task is to be story tellers and to serve the great writers. We need to bring their words to flesh by using our imagination to create a third dimension which is true to how that character might have lived their life. We continually must ask, ‘how do we best serve that message?’
At any given time, 95 per cent of actors are out of work so it’s very rare to be working more than five months. If you’re lucky then occasionally a royalty cheque may even cover a couple of bills. Who can deal with uncertainty like that? I guess I can, as six months is the longest I’ve ever been out of work.
You really do need to go out and make it happen. I consider myself fortunate to be reasonably well known. But theatre is a very hard medium in which to make money. You need a run of at least eight to 10 weeks. And when it’s over, it’s over.
I personally don’t see retirement as an option. I love what I do! And I don’t separate my work from my life. I’m incredibly lucky to make a living doing something I love so much that it doesn’t feel like work. It’s an absolute joy to experience the constant variety and to work with remarkable people. I’m sure that if I had to do more repetitive work I would find it stultifying.
On age discrimination:
How does our society deal with older people?
It really depends upon the power that the older person wields. Some have too much in general. We make vast assumptions about people of any age. I’m so tired of hearing how baby boomers let this, that and the other happen, making them responsible for things like food additives and nuclear war. But not all boomers are deeply conservative. And we can all be guilty of ridiculous judgements. Sneering dismissals of younger or older people is really damaging to the psyche of all. If we ignore each person’s uniqueness, we are in deep trouble.
Older people are so often treated as invisible. One of the last remaining ANZACs, aged 104, was asked, “What’s the best thing about ANZAC Day?” His answer was, “For a week or two people don’t talk to me like I’m an idiot.”
The rise of technology is a real challenge, with our kids on their devices so often. The story telling, photo albums and links we have to each other are being stretched more and more.
On women in the media:
Do women in media have a use-by date? It depends upon the work they are doing. Many older actresses are now mobilising to reverse this trend, appearing in roles beyond those of sci-fi thrillers. You may be in trouble, however, if you’ve made a career based on looks. It’s different for character actors. If your face can do interesting things you should be okay.
I love being over 60 and not giving a rats or putting up with fools. And the freedom expressed by Helen Mirren in her famous quote, “If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words ‘f*** off’ much more frequently”.
I wouldn’t like to be a young person today.
The role models they are exposed to are so often destructive and immoral and the basest human instincts are rising to the top. Bad behaviour is becoming legitimised – ‘Real Housewives’ are not ‘real’. A 12-year-old doesn’t know it is not true, these false images and stereotypes are a plague at a young age. I think about my sons and their friends. Depression, anxiety, stress, over medication and a lack of understanding, effects the way world is on their psyches. People sense that they have a diminishing status.
When are you at your happiest?
Being in the country, particularly where I live in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Feeling peaceful when I’m woken by birds – every morning about 4.30 am. And when I’m cooking or working.