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Career

Kiwi actress Anna Jullienne has us in stitches over some of the roles she has played

I was more like… 'Do you have any high-necked, long sexy negligées? Anything with a long sleeve or a corset?'

By Emma Clifton
Actress Anna Jullienne – known for her work on Shortland Street, 800 Words and TV3's Mean Mums – is busy explaining all the bits and pieces of random knowledge she's acquired from her 16 years in acting.
"You go so deeply into one script and learn so much about a little, strange niche," she laughs.
"Like, I'm a real expert on the invention of the vibrator, which is handy, isn't it? When don't I talk about that?!"
Having a conversation with the 36-year-old is like having a front-row seat at a comedy show and it's at this point during our interview that I can't help but get the giggles, particularly when Anna expands on what it's like having to make, erm, sex noises in front of a live audience.
Luckily In the Next Room – the vibrator stage show – was a comedy, which made things a little easier on her.
"We did a lot of 'orgasming' noises, but it was funny and fun. I've had to do 'orgasmy' things when it was supposed to be sexy on stage and on telly and I found that really hard. If you're trying to be sexy, you're not really sexy. Sexiness is something you can't really try to do because as soon as you do try, you're like" – she puts on a small, scared voice – "'Oh, I just want to be at home in my dressing gown and my slippers.'
"I did have to do a sexy striptease for 800 Words and I had just – in my defence – had my second baby, so I wasn't really feeling like, 'YES! I'll take ALL my clothes off now!'" she yells in a boisterous voice.
"I was more like… 'Do you have any high-necked, long sexy negligées? Anything with a long sleeve or a corset?'"
It was way back in the early days of her role on Shortland Street when Anna first experienced the strange world of sex scenes.
"I was just a young whippersnapper," she laughs, referring to the role she would end up having for eight years.
There was one scene in particular where her character Maia had a dream about sleeping with her sister's husband and Anna had to play both herself having said dream, as well as the dream sequence itself.
"Could it be any worse?" she recalls, laughing.
"It's good for getting rid of all kind of ego and just bringing you back to base. The funny things you do on Shortland Street. You're like, 'That's right – I impregnated myself with a turkey baster on the couch! I forgot. I killed a guy! That's right.'"
There wasn't a turkey baster and/or murder in sight on Anna's most recent show, Mean Mums, in which she played Heather Maloney, an "alpha mum" and "every teacher's worst nightmare".
In her real life, Anna is the mum of two small boys with her husband James Kermode: Theodore "Ted", five, and Jude, two. This means that in a case of life imitating art, Anna is now doing the school run just like her character – only without a mean mum to speak of.
"Because we're all Year One mums, we sort of pull together and try and work out what we're doing," Anna says.
"Cos I do love me a mum chat. I go from one extreme to another – where I'm working on set with lots of people and I'm chatting non-stop or I'm a full-time mum and exclusively chatting with preschoolers, which is good but" – she laughs – "has its limits."
She cites one example: when Ted first started school, she tried to find out how it was going.
"Trying to get facts from a five-year-old boy is pretty much like trying to get information from a drunk person. I can't get any kind of chronological order of events, or basic information, from him."
Because Ted turned five just before the new school year started, there were no preschool visits to get both him – and Anna – ready for his new school life.
"He was totally fine about it, because he had friends from kindy, whereas I was like, 'Ah… who is this woman? Where are we? Let's pull the pin on this – I'll home school you. I'll lose my mind, but I'll home school you.'"
Growing up, Anna always knew she wanted to have children.
"It's harder than I thought it was going to be, but it's lovely. It's like the best and the hardest thing that I've done."
She just didn't expect that it would be quite the current situation it is – and how much it would differ from her own upbringing. Now, Anna is married and the mother of two small boys. But for much of her life, she was surrounded by a world of only women.
She grew up in a household that included four generations of females: her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her mother and herself.
"My great-grandma ran the house, and my grandma was the matriarch, the head of the house," Anna recalls.
"My mum had me young… she was 19 and was really lucky to have that support so she could study and work. We lived with them until I was a teenager, and then we got our own place. It definitely made things more achievable for Mum."
While the complexities of being a young mum can't be underestimated, Anna says it's the most perfect situation now.
"I can't imagine having kids at 19 but it does free you up at a different time of your life. Mum is 55 now and I'm 36 and that's nothing, age-gap wise. I've always had that relationship with Mum where she's kind of a chum – I can tell her anything and she loves my kids so much. All grandparents do, of course, but because her parenting happened at such a different time in her life, she has really, really enjoyed it, which is super nice. She's a good soft touch, my mum, which my kids worked out pretty quickly," Anna laughs.
"I think from when they were about three months old, they were like, 'Oh this woman… I can pull some s**t with her. Maybe I just won't sleep!' She's such a softie."
After growing up in such an oestrogen-fuelled environment – "lots of female energy: big arguments but also lots of support" – Anna now exists in the opposite. She has had two boys, her sister-in-law has two sons of her own, and another close family member has three boys.
"We create many men!" Anna jokes.
"It's funny how it all works out. We didn't have a man to speak of for the longest time, like decades! Now, suddenly, we have all these boys!"

When asked about the biggest difference between a male-dominated household and a female-dominated one, Anna laughs immediately.
"I was so well-behaved and they are… so not. They are unruly and noisy and loud. There's a lot of just loud boy energy in my house now, but that's kind of a good thing, I think."
Anna started off as an only child but gained a beloved sister, Ella, from her father's second marriage. In yet another example of how wonderful the sisterhood can be, Anna's mum Mary and her stepmum Kath became good friends.
"It's just the greatness of my mum and my stepmum that they both fostered this really good relationship – and they have been friends for a long time. I never remember it being any other way."
They still all get together on Christmas Eve to celebrate as a family. "It gives me goosebumps," Anna says. "It's a really lovely situation."
Adjusting to an all-boy household with her own family was a relatively easy transition for Anna – "if you can talk about a fart, you're fine" – and her mother absolutely loves it.
"I think she sees herself as like a mafia nonna – this really cool older woman with all these big strapping blokes around her."
The stability of Anna's home life has helped balance the nature of her work life; being an actor means it's often all or nothing.
When I last interviewed Anna two years ago, she was in the middle of an exceptionally full-on time shooting the third series of 800 Words – 10 weeks after giving birth to Jude.
"When I look back now, I think 'wow' that I did that, because it was a six-month job and for the last three months of that I was working a lot, because I was 'the gal', and I wasn't getting much sleep," Anna says of the role that saw her become the main love interest for that season.
"What you do realise is that you don't die from lack of sleep. Your eyes just sting."
If anything, she laughs, it helped her with any on-set nerves, because she was too tired to be stressed out.
"It's amazing what you can just hunker down and get on with," she says.
"And it's short stints, generally. It's all hands on deck, with all our family helping with the children, and then a palpable sigh of relief when I finish the job. Mostly from everyone else – I've had a lovely time, swanning around set, getting my hair and make-up done and just having a good time. It definitely fills up my 'me tank', which I think is important. I think in motherhood you can lose track a little bit of who you are – well, I think I can – and then I do a job, and I'm like 'Oh, here I am.' Which helps me."
At this stage, her sons have only the vaguest idea of what Mum's day job is.
"Well, Jude just thinks I'm his general slave – which I am. Ted knows I'm an actor… he's seen a tiny bit of 800 Words but he's not interested, unless I was in Paw Patrol, or maybe a Transformer."
As well as Mean Mums, Anna has also worked on a rom-com called Falling Inn Love for the streaming giant Netflix.
"An American gal comes to New Zealand and buys an inn, and I am the owner of the rival inn. I keep getting cast in really bitchy roles," she laughs.
"I don't know what's going on… but I am surprisingly good at it."
There's a thrill to those roles, she says.
"It's quite fun being a bit mean to someone. When do you ever get to be mean to someone in real life? Your mum, occasionally – that's pretty much it, and then you feel bad and apologise cos she's the best person in the world," she laughs.
"I might need to play a non-mean character next, though. Note to self."

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