Friday, December 8, 2023

Mean As: Mean Mum’s Anna Jullienne On The Power of Female-Centric Workplaces and Getting Paid to Be Bitchy

For someone who is sunshine in human form, Anna Jullienne gets cast in a lot of mean roles – a fact that truly delights her. She talks to Capsule about how her female-dominated professional life contrasts hugely to the “sausage fest” of her home life and why working on season two of Mean Mums was such a treat.

Like all parents who have stared down a year filled with lockdowns and at-home learning, Anna Jullienne is even more grateful to teachers than she was before 2020. “You really get a newfound appreciation for school and kindergarten,” she laughs down the phone. “I love those places. I really love them a lot.”

With two children – Ted, six, and Jude, three – being shut in the house over lockdown, with her husband James Kermode working from the bedroom, Anna describes the entire experience as full on. “I found home schooling….” She pauses, then laughs. “So we have one in home school and then one who was desperate to be doing home schooling, but as a pre-schooler, didn’t actually have any. So that dynamic was quite a struggle.”

Anna Jullienne with her two children on the beach
With her two children and her much-adored mum

Living in a household of boys differs is both full noise and a very different environment to her professional life, working on all-female casts like Mean Mums. “It’s a real sausage-fest around here,” Anna laughs. “I’ve got boys coming out of my ears.” But it’s also a dynamic that’s very different to her own upbringing; Anna was raised by her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother.

“Four generations of women and one dog – the man of the house, Kimber. He wasn’t very manly,” she laughs. She also has a step mother and a sister. “I have a life of many women, which is great. And then I’ve had sons,” she laughs. “My mum is super into it – she loves her little fart-and-poo-poo obsessed grandsons, she thinks it’s wild.”

As a human, Anna is a ball of joy and laughter. As an actress, she is often playing up-tight or could-we-even-say-bitchy characters, like her role as Heather in Mean Mums, which she absolutely adores. “It is really fun, everyone always asks me, ‘You’re such a nice person…’ BLAH BLAH,” she cackles. “It’s nice playing such a bitchy character. And it isn’t hard at all,” she laughs. “It’s really fun. When do you ever get a chance to do that in your real life – be  a bit mean and a bit openly judgemental and get away with it.”

Anna Jullienne as judgy mum Heather
Pitch perfect as the slightly judgy mum Heather

It must be freeing to have a job where you can channel your first-day-period-rage into something productive, I say. “100%,” she laughs. “You never get it in real life, apart from when you’re driving in your car without your children and someone really annoys you and you get to yell it out immediately… but you can’t even do that when your kids are in the car! I was quite a good road rager in terms of yelling privately in my car before I had children. This is my only space to do it now – and I get paid for it! Brilliant!”

On its second season, Mean Mums has become a home-grown favourite, thanks to its sharp writing and wonderful performances by the cast, including lead mums Aroha Rawson and Morgana O’Reily. Anna has starred in numerous productions for Australasian TV shows, including 800 Words, The Blue Rose and Shortland Street. Mean Mums is the most female-centric show Anna has worked on and even though she’s loved all her previous working experiences, she does say there is a palpable difference to set.

“I think it’s due to the female-orientated vibe on set, but in the first season, Morgana was breastfeeding her baby – and I’ve done jobs where I was breastfeeding, and maybe it was Morgana, or maybe it’s the environment, or maybe it’s the times, I don’t know, but the organic process of Morgana doing a read-through or block-through on set with a baby on her boob it was just… it was just totally fine. And I think back to my time of doing that and it was just a totally different ball game.”

“It’s also hilarious when you think about it – lining up the shot with a woman with a breast pump on either one of her breasts… and that distinct breast pump noise [she imitates the whoosh]. It’s wonderful being in this really female, family-friendly, totally safe space.”

The second season of Mean Mums was due to start just before New Zealand shifted into Level 4, and then was filmed in the brief bubble of Level 1, before Auckland moved back into Level 3. Recently, Anna has been filming a US series for Netflix – a post-apocalyptic thriller called Sweet Tooth, based on a comic book about a world going through a pandemic. The irony is pretty thick, Anna laughs. “I feel like that’s happened throughout my career where the things that you’re doing in your personal life are linked to your artistic life. I used to find it all the time on Shortland Street.”

I can only think of your more batshit story lines when you say that, I joke down the phone to her. She snorts immediately. “Yes, I mean admittedly I’ve never shot anyone in real life and had to go to the loony bin. So that WAS lucky. Nor did inseminate myself with a turkey baster,” she laughs. “Perhaps it was the more subtle storylines that were more familiar?”

Mean Mums screens Tuesdays at 8.30pm on THREE

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