It’s been 10 years since Pia Miranda lived in Melbourne and she’s making the most of being back in her home town. Miranda settled in Yarraville with two-year-old daughter Lily and husband Luke Hanigan last year and she’s revelling in being surrounded by her Italian-Australian family and old school friends.
Last week Miranda and her family headed to Puffing Billy – Lily’s first trip. Lake Mountain is on the cards in the next month. “I’m just enjoying hanging out with family and friends and shopping, and it’s nice to have a winter, too,” she says.
“Having Lily brought me back home. I wanted to be near my family, to have some space – and some babysitting from the grandparents. I felt I’d been away for so long.”
The family has settled into a routine, with Miranda taking on acting and voice-over roles and Hanigan working in the music industry. Hanigan met Miranda in 2000 when he was singer and guitarist with Aussie pop-rock band Lo-Tel.
“Both industries – music and acting – are filled with highs and lows, having money, having no money and with being rejected or being lauded,” says Miranda, a youthful-looking 39.
The couple met when Miranda was in a film clip for Hanigan’s band. They eloped and married in the Elvis Chapel in Las Vegas just four months later.
“But we couldn’t afford to have the Elvis celebrant, so we had a celebrant called Juan who had ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on his knuckles. It was just Luke and I, some plastic flowers and a biker who was our witness,” recalls Miranda.
“Afterwards we had Mexican food, drank cheap Champagne and watched Jerry Springer on late-night TV. It was perfect. I’d dreamed of getting married in Vegas. Luckily, my sister had the big, white wedding so my parents were fine with me going to Vegas instead.”
Miranda was raised in East Malvern and, after graduating from Sacre Coeur, spent a year at La Trobe University majoring in drama before switching to Victoria University and a degree in performance studies. But acting wasn’t always part of the career plan as Miranda studied ballet for 15 years.
“I started ballet at two and was really serious about it until I turned 17. A friend who I trained with is in the Australian Ballet now and I think there was a level of dedication and discipline she had that I just didn’t have,” says Miranda.
“At 17, I think I burnt out. So I stopped ballet and started taking acting classes. I was, and still am, obsessed with old movies and musicals – Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca. I loved old Hollywood and when I stopped dancing I discovered acting.”
Miranda graduated in 1996 and it was three years before she got her first paid acting role in Neighbours.
“My husband laughs at me because he says every place we drive past in Melbourne, I’ll say, ‘I worked there’,” she says. “I waitressed for a few years and worked at Redheads nightclub. I also folded cardigans at Saba in Toorak Road and worked at Mount Hotham and Mount Bulla in the ski season. I had moments when I thought ‘what have I done?’ I still do, and I think every actor does. But I didn’t mind starting at the bottom.”
A role in Neighbours as Karen Oldman was the start of regular gigs, although Miranda giggles when she remembers her first day on Ramsay Street.
“The first person I met was the actor Todd MacDonald, who was sitting on the couch in the green room. I was so nervous and as I bent over to shake his hand I stumbled and a tampon fell out of my bag and into his lap. He was very cool about it,” she says.
In 2000, Miranda won an AFI award for her portrayal of Josephine Alibrandi in Looking for Alibrandi. She says working with the cast and crew remains one of her most rewarding acting experiences. “It was a little scary too,” she says. “After Alibrandi I remember people in the street looking at me and I kept thinking ‘what are they looking at? Is it my outfit?’.”
Miranda then studied acting in New York and LA. But she says LA was never going to be home. “I don’t really understand the place. I found it quite toxic and I didn’t get the people and I didn’t feel I looked the part,” she says frankly. “I didn’t want to sit there for 10 years waitressing and waiting for a gig on CSI.”
So she returned to Australia and settled in Sydney, where her older sister was then living. Not long after that, she met Hanigan and they remained in Sydney but after Lily’s arrival in March 2010, Miranda’s thoughts turned to home.
Along with the voice-over work, she has filmed a movie called Goddess, out later this year, with Magda Szubanski, Ronan Keating and Natalie Tran.
Miranda is also an ambassador for Dry July and will stay off alcohol during the month to raise funds to improve facilities for cancer patients at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“I’ve had friends and family members who’ve been through chemotherapy and I know how hard and lonely it can be,” she says. “I love a glass of red wine in winter, although I’m not one to get drunk. Three glasses of wine is a massive night for me. In July, I’ll be doing hot chocolate instead.”
Miranda says life has definitely mellowed since the arrival of Lily. “I guess you become a little less career-focused. Every time I make a decision now I have her in mind. I never thought I’d spend a whole day at home in my tracksuit or hanging around parks, but those days are really special.
“Lily’s a bit of a tomboy and she also loves music. She has a little marching band and Luke plays the guitar, I have to play her toy drums and Lily plays the harmonica and we march up and down the hallway for hours. She’s taught me to slow down, and I feel grateful every day when I wake and she’s there.”
Go to www.dryjuly.com and go to supporters and then ambassadors to sponsor Pia Miranda.