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How Jodie and James set their parents up to be together

The comedian found his mother the perfect bloke on his show James Must-A-Pic His Mum A Man
James leaning his head down on top of Jodie's headPictures: Michelle Hyslop

What do Jodie Rimmer and James Mustapic have in common? They’ve both been contestants on Celebrity Treasure Island and they’re huge Taylor Swift fans. But the thing that’s really bonded the two Kiwi stars is the fact that their parents are dating!

Since both appearing on the comedian’s TV show James Must-A-Pic His Mum A Man, his mother Janet and Jodie’s dad Bill have been seeing each other for nearly a year, much to the delight of their famous adult children.

When James, 28, embarked on the show to find Janet, 61, a boyfriend, he had “pretty low” expectations. “We really struggled getting men to apply, so we were very excited when we found out Bill was going to be coming on,” he says.

“Thank me for that,” adds Friends Like Her, Sweet Tooth and former Shortland Street actress Jodie, 50, with a wink.

Bill, 75, had been single “for some time” and Jodie had heard that TV production company Kevin & Co was making a dating show. So without asking, she submitted Bill as a potential contestant, then completely forgot she’d done so.

“I think I rang him a few days later and he was like, ‘Oh, what? OK. Alright!’” she laughs.

The day that Bill filmed, it was actually just him and four background actors. However, Bill didn’t know the others were playing roles.

“He thought everybody else seemed quite good but that he’d won the challenge,” Jodie says. “That’s the thing about my dad – he’s so wholesome, so funny and is just a very kind man.”

When Jodie called him after filming and Bill described Janet as “very nice”, his daughter could tell he was smitten. “It was so freaking cute!”

Meanwhile, James didn’t think anything had come from it until Bill asked for Janet’s number. “I was quietly hopeful, but I didn’t want to get too excited,” he says.

That was nearly a year ago – and they’re still getting on really well.

“I had to coach my father on how to court – how to text-court,” jokes Jodie. “He would have texted her every single day, three times a day!”

She put down very firm rules. He could only text twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday. “I was really scared that he would scare her off if he was too keen. It was just clear that he had a big crush on her! I just didn’t want him to mess it up because it was really genuine.”

Auckland-based Bill told Jodie he’d like to take Janet out for coffee. The problem? She lives in Dunedin. “He goes, ‘Yeah, that’s all right! I’m happy to fly to take her out for coffee.’ And I said, ‘Dad, that might come off a bit strong!’”

A few weeks later, it just so happened that the FIFA Women’s World Cup was on and there was a game in Dunedin. Jodie suggested he ask Janet if she would like to go on a date to the football.

The actress recalls, “I told Dad, ‘That’ll be a massive event! It makes sense that you’re flying in to see that.’ So that was their first date.”

James quips, “It’s funny hearing the different side. I was only getting Mum’s updates. She just said, ‘Oh, Bill’s coming down.’ But you were the mastermind!”

James admits he was already a “big fan” of Jodie’s, while she was familiar with his work, having watched some of his comedy and his season of CTI.

“We’ve got quite a bit in common with performing,” Jodie says. “That’s been quite nice to have. I’ve never had a sibling who was remotely interested in the performing arts! I always love whenever he’s doing something. I’ll always share it and make sure people go along, and he’ll do the same for me.”

Practically siblings, James and Jodie are so in tune!

Following in Tay-Tay’s footsteps, both stars are exploring new “eras” of their career. James recently finished up a successful run at the New Zealand International Comedy Festival and Jodie is about to embark on a solo show called Nicola Cheeseman Is Back, in which she plays 12 characters.

It’s Jodie’s first role on stage in a while. For the past two and a half years, she’s been too unwell with rheumatoid arthritis to perform.

She explains, “Finally with the medicine and the things that I do, like swimming, my body’s actually working way better than it has been. I’ve been in pain every single day for the last two years and it’s been really hard emotionally.

“But I’m feeling more comfortable in my skin. I’ve just turned 50 and I care less about the small stuff. I do feel there’s more freedom in that for me physically. I’m really up for this experience.”

Although she plays a dozen characters in Nicola Cheeseman – including a 19-year-old gay man, who is “maybe” based on James – the main character she portrays is the titular Nicola, whom Jodie describes as “quite lonely”.

She says, “Middle age can be a lonely time as a woman, when you’re going through so many changes. Your children are growing up, the world isn’t looking at you in the same way, you don’t have the youth currency any more and you sort of fade into the background. You become less seen.

“I can relate to that in my own life as well! As soon as those numbers start ticking into late forties, everything changes – the phone’s not ringing so much for work and it’s very confronting.”

Mustapic-ed well! The performers couldn’t be more delighted that Bill and Janet have hit it off.

Jodie is having fun flexing her acting muscles again, but she was initially worried that she wouldn’t be able to remember everything.

“If I forget my lines, then I’m just going to pretend I’m having a hot flash! It’s actually perfect for the character.”

After winning CTI, James’ friends said he came back as a different person. “I’m nearly turning 30 and am feeling like I’m in a bit of a new era,” the comedian explains.

He had to keep the fact that he’d won secret for more than six months. Not even his mother knew he was going to take out the title.

“It was the final and your mother had been in Auckland, but she was going back to Dunedin on the day of the last episode,” Jodie remembers on James’ behalf.

“I asked her what time her flight was,” James recalls. “And she was like, ‘Well, 2pm, but I’ve got choir anyway.’ And I was like, ‘Are you not going to watch it?!’ She didn’t think I was going to win. I spread a lot of lies about myself. I always tried to convince people that I hadn’t won.”

Eventually, he persuaded Janet to miss choir and tune in to the show. “She must have had a heart attack watching!” says Jodie.

“We just have to get her on Celebrity Treasure Island now!” jokes James.

Nicola Cheeseman Is Back is on at Auckland’s Aotea Centre from 19 June to 7 July. For tickets, head to ticketmaster.co.nz.

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