Anna Jullienne on filming while pregnant and being a mum to boys

Having been raised in a multi-generational, all-female household, the 800 Words actress is determined to pass the same close-knit values onto her two sons.
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Anna Jullienne, mum to two small boys, is re-enacting what it was like to shoot publicity photos while heavily pregnant late last year. Knees splayed, her hands cupped out in front of her around an imaginary baby bump, she can distinctly remember thinking, “This is a joke! I look like a whale. I’m about as sexy as a fly.”

There was a bright side, though.

“The Lord gives you large mammaries when you’re pregnant and they save the day a lot of the time.”

Boobs feature a lot during the NEXT chat, which takes place in a trailer perched next to the west Auckland beach where the cast of TV1’s hit show 800 Words are filming their third season.

In a previous feature with NEXT, when asked about her advice to her younger self, Jullienne eschewed the standard response and went for this pearler: “Your boobs are really nice, it won’t last, show them to more people.”

When I remind her of this, she nods sagely.

“Amen to that. I have to show them to many people now, because I’m expressing, but the glory days are gone. I suggest to my sister – who’s 26 and gorgeous – that maybe she can start going to parties with no top on? ‘What have you got to lose? They’re glorious!’”

At 34, Jullienne is one of the most familiar faces on our screens, thanks to landing her role as Maia Jeffries on Shortland Street at the age of just 21. With roles in The Blue Rose, Bombshell and most recently playing sensual, earth-mother gypsy Katie on 800 Words, Jullienne has worked consistently on some of our most successful local dramas.

Dramedy 800 Words centres on the perennially charming Erik Thomson, who plays a widower who moves his kids from Sydney to small-town New Zealand for a fresh start – and finds a bevy of super-attractive local ladies to fall in love with.

The show became a runaway success both here and in Australia, where it was the No 1 drama programme for the entire year, with more than seven million Aussies tuning in for the first season.

As artist Katie in 800 Words.

Now on season three, Jullienne describes working with the close-knit cast and coming back to such a familiar character as “sort of like putting a slipper back on”. In fact, the nature of returning to the same locations with the same people has created a time warp, she laughs.

After spending almost all of filming season two pregnant with her son Jude – now four months old – she was recently standing around the cast snacks table, debating what chips to eat, when a fellow actor asked her “Well, what does baby feel like?” Jullienne, faux outraged, retorted: “I’m not pregnant anymore! What am I, an elephant? With the longest pregnancy in the world?!”

On set with 800 Words co-star Michelle Langstone, who plays Fiona.

It should be abundantly clear at this point that Jullienne is an utter delight. This is particularly impressive when you consider her energy tanks are running on low, thanks to the challenging combo of a four-month-old who wakes up twice in the night, a three-year-old who has decided to get in on this as well, moving house and then a 6am call time three days a week for filming. But she’s very chipper, despite the constant ‘stingy eye’ that comes from surviving on broken sleep.

She credits her and husband James Kermode’s extended family, as well as nannies, for helping them stay afloat since she started back at 800 Words just three months after Jude was born.

“It’s really hard to leave your babies when they’re that little – I found it really difficult. Even though he’s really contented, being with grandmums and nannies, so he’s fine. As my mum tells me when I panic, ‘Anna, I think you might be projecting. He’s actually fine… it’s just you,’” she laughs.

Having their kids grow up surrounded by extended family was important to Jullienne and James, particularly because they were such a crucial part of Jullienne’s own upbringing. Growing up in East Auckland, she lived with her mum Mary, her grand-mother and her great-grandmother.

Jullienne in The Blue Rose.

“A bit crazy, but the good kind of crazy,” she says.

A lot of different life stages – and temperaments – under one roof.

“I was five, Mum was 24, my grandma was 30 years older than that and my great grandma would have been about 85. Many, many women. It takes a village!”

Apart from obvious Gilmore Girls comparisons – “Yes, there was a lot of talking” – Jullienne says growing up in such a matriarchal household was wonderful.

“It was my great-grandmother Mary who ran the house, really. She was so patient, and gentle and even. And my grandmother, Bebe, was always working – she owned businesses, she was a nurse, a teacher, a real-estate agent. She was a true matriarch in that sense, providing for the family. There was lots of support for my mum, who was younger when she had me but then went back to studying.”

Her great-grandmother has since passed away but her mum and grandmother still share a house, and the three generations are extremely close. It was Bebe who walked Jullienne down the aisle at her 2010 wedding.

Female empowerment – and being self-sustainable – were hugely important to the women of the household, and has continued to be so. The irony of the fact Jullienne has gone on to have two sons, she laughs, is not lost on anyone.

When I was pregnant with Ted, Mum was like “Well… what will we do with a boy?”

“Ted’s first word was ‘Brmm’. I bought him a tea set and he threw it across the room like a ball.”

Jude seems – so far – to be more chilled out, in that second child way.

“He’s fat and happy. It’s glorious,” Jullienne laughs. “If you can’t have a dimply butt when you’re four months old, when can you have a dimply butt?!”

With a strong emphasis on family growing up, Jullienne always knew she wanted children. She says she’s a slightly “less patient” version of the mother she’d assumed she’d be, acknowledging that kids can press your buttons a lot more than she had anticipated.

“Motherhood is a combination of [she mimes throttling someone] and then [makes a series of smooching noises],” she laughs. “But they’re pretty delicious.”

Having kids of her own has given her even more of an appreciation for what it was like for her mother, a single parent at the age of 19. But from her perspective, she says, it was a wonderful dynamic.

“It makes me realise Mum and I did, in a way, grow up together. She’s just cool – she’s my favourite friend. It was all probably a bit of a whirlwind for her at the time, but now she’s got grandchildren quite young. She’s only 52 now. She gets a lot of joy from them.”

As nurse Maia Jeffries on Shortland Street.

The ‘takes a village’ mentality is not only for the children, Jullienne believes, but helpful for the mums as well. She credits her closest friends, who got married and had their children around the same time, for creating the kind of safe space where they can commiserate on the various indignities that come with having children.

Jullienne’s current “great distress”, as she calls it, is that her hair has started falling out as her breast feeding has gone down a notch, and the level of shared experience with her girlfriends is invaluable.

“I’ll complain I’m losing all my hair and they’re like, ‘Oh you poor bitch. It happens.’ Imagine if you didn’t have anyone who was going through the same thing as you? You’d go mad.

“A problem shared is a problem halved – I think my husband would agree too.”

While James is very supportive, having someone tell you ‘well, just don’t worry about it’ is not always the solution a new mum needs to hear.

“’Don’t worry about it?’” she exclaims, re-enacting this latest exchange. “’You’ve got two children and YOU didn’t do anything! You’re exactly the same! I did it all!”

It’s during parts of the NEXT chat like this where Jullienne’s performing skills are on display, as well as her sly comedic timing. When the conversation reverts back to some boob talk, she demonstrates what her breast-pumping routine is like while on set – whirring noises included.

“I sit here with the other women from the cast, and I’m topless – both boobs out – because I can’t wear my costume because I can’t drip breast milk on it.”

I joke that it sounds super-glamorous and she nods, faux primly.

“I was hoping you would use the word ‘glamour’ because yes, my life is very glamorous. Filming TV is glamorous anyway [she sweeps her arm around her surroundings: a 1980s trailer with off-brown seating and one lone fruit bowl] but it’s extra impressive when you’re expressing milk.”

As nurse Maia Jeffries on Shortland Street.

Topless pumping aside, she has found returning to work a chance to get her old self back. The world of two small boys is noisy, dirty, fun and involves a wide knowledge of “trucks, trailers, motorbikes, all-purpose terrain vehicles”.

She hasn’t read a book, watched television or seen a movie in as long as she can remember, and admits her world knowledge is cursory at best – “I know Donald Trump got in but that’s really the extent of it” – so she’s considering printing out fun facts to tell people in lieu of current events info. But three days a week she gets to leave boy world behind, sit down in a makeup chair and have “a team of trained professionals bring my sass back.”

“You get a little bit of your ‘hey sister, go sister’ back,” she says. “Someone puts your makeup on and you’re like ‘There I am! I’m not just big under-eye bags and spews and feeding bras’. And you chat with people who are doing other things than burping or wiping bottoms. You do – as a person – take a bit of a hit when you have a baby. You get pushed down the pecking order. I first got the role in 800 Words when Ted was one and a bit, which was perfect because I was ready to get myself back on for a bit.”

Soon the show will wrap and the cast will go on hiatus, which Jullienne is also looking forward to.

“You know how some people are active relaxers and they always have to do a million things? I’m not one of those people. I’m really, really good at doing nothing.”

The reality of getting to enjoy her favourite leisure activity – “lying on the couch, not having a thing to do” – isn’t possible at the moment. But she’s hoping that in, oh, about another 10 months or so, she might get around to reading a book.

“Or – at the very least – watch something on Netflix. I don’t have to aim high.”

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