For most people, the idea of flying long-haul with a baby – even without a global pandemic and two weeks of managed isolation at the end of it – would be a nightmare, but for Anna Hutchison, the whole experience was "magical".
In July, the former Go Girls and Shortland Street actress jetted back to Aotearoa from her home in Los Angeles with her then-11-month-old daughter Joanie Pearl to film the upcoming Kiwi romantic-comedy A Love Yarn.
"LAX was like a ghost town, but I was so hopeful and excited to get to New Zealand, it didn't worry me," says Anna, 34. "And Joanie's just the most incredible baby – the flight was actually easier with her because I had this gorgeous little mate as a travel buddy."
And as for a fortnight trapped in an Auckland hotel room together? "We loved it!" she grins. "There's nothing in my life I've ever enjoyed as much as being a mum and I got to do that intensely for two weeks. All our food and laundry was taken care of, and time just flew by.
"We had a little schedule – we'd wake up, have brekkie, sing along to Edith Piaf, read books, go for a walk… She learnt to say 'bird' and point them out. I didn't pack enough books and got a bit sick of reading the same ones, but otherwise we just had a ball."
And wee Joanie also achieved a milestone in the hotel room, taking her very first steps! Anna laughs, "She'd been pushing the washing basket around in LA for weeks, so we figured she could possibly toddle off the plane. She was ready! We were in isolation for maybe two days when I turned around and caught her taking four or five steps."
The delighted star immediately got on a video call with her husband of two years, Boston-born talent agent and film producer Mike Gillespie, 38, who has remained in LA for work, and together they watched Joanie's next faltering few steps.
With Anna's career, the pair are used to being separated, but when Woman's Day speaks to the actress, she's been away for three months (the family are now reunited back in LA). She says, "It's the longest we've been apart and it's unfair for Mike to miss out on all these gorgeous things. Thanks goodness for FaceTime – every time she sees the phone, Joanie says, 'Dad, Dad, Dad!' and so we give Mike a call. He's just happy we've had such a good experience."
In another milestone, Joanie has also celebrated her first birthday with Anna's family in NZ. "She had a little bit of cake," Anna tells. "I thought I was going to be a strict no-sugar mum, but that's not the case – she loves cake, so she gets cake!
"She's very cheeky, and super-smart and investigative – a 50:50 mix of Mike and I. One minute, she'll be all girly, playing with her dolly in a stroller, but then she'll flip the pram over to check out the mechanics of the wheels and carry it across the room.
"Joanie's just a treat. I couldn't have asked for a more delightful daughter. She's got eight teeth now and we had a few nights of no sleep, but she's just this funny little being. I mean, I've always seen the light in everything, but I've never laughed so hard in my life as I do with her."
While filming in "picture-postcard" Auckland locations like Clevedon, Matakana, Te Henga and Waimauku, Anna has delighted in seeing her hometown through Joanie's fresh eyes. She looks forward to one day teaching her te reo Maori and educating her about her Kiwi heritage.
"Having been away from NZ for a while, especially during these strange times, I've got such an appreciation for what we've got here – the stories that have been told and the lives that have been lived."
With tears in her eyes, Anna continues, "I get emotional even talking about it all. I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but being her mum has changed me in the best way. It's all just clicked into place and everything is for Joanie now. I feel so grateful for all my experiences, but I'm even more excited about the future now because it contains her. All that matters is carving out a gorgeous future for her."
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