When Angela Bloomfield first read the script of her new project, in which she plays a lesbian woman searching for love, she had to take a big, deep breath. With its opening scene involving a very racy Zoom call, the former Shortland Street star was forced to muster all her courage.
"But I was so excited, I practically said yes before I'd even finished reading the script," laughs Angela as she sits down to chat about Joey's Heart, a romantic short film in which she plays Joey, a self-described "gay Bridget Jones".
The character couldn't be more different from her iconic role as Shorty's Rachel McKenna, but Angela relished the chance to challenge herself.
"Some aspects did take bravery on my part, but that's what made me think, 'You've got to do this,' because I knew it would stretch me, teach me and get me engaged," she says. "The intimacy with females was something I had very little experience with, so that was a win as well. There are times in your life when you have to put yourself out there. And there are not enough films that portray queer love stories, so it was a real privilege to be involved."
It's a sunny Sunday afternoon when Woman's Day visits Angela at home on Auckland's North Shore, where she lives with her children, Max, 18, and Maya, 17. It's been a big few months for the actress, who celebrated her 50th birthday in December and recently started a new job in the building industry.
While some people approach a milestone with trepidation, not so Angela, who is embracing the new decade with positivity and enthusiasm.
"I walked towards 40 with far more angst, yet the second it happened, I was like, 'That was a waste of energy!' So with 50, I had no angst at all. It was a celebration."
In fact, with many of her mates turning 50 recently, Angela says it's been a time of parties and joy. "If any of our friends have tried to opt out of celebrating, we're like, 'No way – it's happening!'"
For Angela's big birthday, she and a group of her closest friends and family rented a luxury bach in Taupō and spent a fabulous weekend together. She tells, "It was beautiful – there was a spa and great views. We had catering brought in and it was wonderful."
One of the things about getting older, the Celebrity Treasure Island favourite says, is the necessity to be open to change, both personally and professionally.
It's seven years since she left Shorty, on which she'd worked as an actor and director for almost 25 years. Since then, she's continued to act, direct, and teach at drama and film schools, while also throwing herself into a new career as a real estate agent.
"I love learning," she says. "I found that being a woman and having that maturity is an asset in real estate, and there are not many jobs that are like that."
Now she's pivoted again. This time, into a sales position at house-building business Byrne Homes, a role she's loving.
"I started my journey in architecture and design – that's what I wanted to do when I was young – so to be part of designing and building homes feels great. It's that creativity thing."
While Angela is positive about her new direction, she points out that it's necessity that has driven most of her decision-making. Being a single parent means she's solely responsible for paying the bills.
"I don't think it's about me not being scared of change. I would love for my life to have less change, but it was a circumstance. A global pandemic forces you to have to pivot.
"But after a couple of years of being out there, I have also shown myself I can be an actor, a director and a teacher at the same time. It doesn't have to be one or the other, which is great."
Accepting change is also necessary when it comes to parenting teens, she tells, admitting that being a mum to older children is much harder than raising babies.
"Teenagers are confident, but they're wobbly," she says. "They'll either profess to needing you or go, 'I absolutely don't need you,' so you have to let go of stuff."
And she wonders if that's complicated by the fact her kids share their time with their dad, Angela's ex-husband Chris Houston.
"I guess the fact I don't see them all the time means I've had a head start on letting go, but the separation means there's a tendency to cling on when you have them. It's an intense connection too because I don't have another person, like a partner, to distract me from them."
But for Angela, navigating Max and Maya's teenage years has been about having a "strong strategy" with open communication at its heart. She's mindful of not being judgemental, even if she doesn't always agree with their decisions.
"I just talk to my kids. I try to explain my crazy parental choices to them. If I feel like they're rolling their eyes at my behaviour in the same way I'm rolling my eyes at their behaviour, I'll try to explain that I'm not trying to be a dick – I'm just trying to engage with this moment with them. It's not even hard stuff; it's just getting used to their new rhythms and their new lives."
But it's clear that motherhood has always been and still is Angela's greatest joy, and she's incredibly proud of both her children. A born performer like his mother, Max started university this year, while Maya is "a little smarty pants" who teaches her mum so much.
"I love having children and I've always wanted children. I'm lucky because I got a couple of really good ones. I often have people in my life comment on them – they'll come and say something quietly or compliment me on their behaviour. That's really great because it gives me pause to go, 'My kid is good. My kid's OK!' I just want the best for them and I can't control that any more, so it's about making sure they have the tools and strategies to control that themselves."
And now with Joey's Heart hitting screens on the international film festival circuit, Angela is excited about the project being out in the world. But with its eye-popping opening scene, Max and Maya are unlikely to be in the front row.
"I warned them what was in it and, needless to say, they don't want anything to do with this film," laughs Angela.
And while she's loving her foray into the design and building world, acting still gives her the biggest buzz.
Smiling, she tells us, "As soon as my agent emails to say there's an opportunity, it's like, 'Ooh, I want it!' It's built into me. I have said since I was 19 that I want to do it till I'm grey and old."
Joey's Heart recently screened at the BFI Flare London LGBTQIA+ Festival in the UK and the Roze Filmdagen Amsterdam LGBTQ+ Film Festival in the Netherlands. Director Louise Lever says, "I wanted to make a light-hearted love story for the LGBT+ community, where I could channel some of my own personal experiences into the script. There are limited uplifting stories and I don't see myself reflected in screen often. There aren't many lesbian stories with mature women in their thirties and forties, so I made the kind of film I would have liked to see when I was younger and growing up." To watch the trailer and for information on upcoming screenings, visit joeysheart.com.
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