Trooper that she is, Julia Zemiro does not so much as twitch a Gallic nostril when she’s handed a slightly sweaty string of raw beef and garlic sausages mid-photo shoot.
It was definitely a “meaty opportunity” for the French-born host of RocKwiz to land her first full-length film role in the most sizzling Australia movie scheduled for release this summer, The BBQ.
Julia plays Diane – long-suffering wife of barbecue-obsessed Dazza Cook (Shane Jacobson) – in a quintessentially Aussie family comedy which takes a disastrous turn when food-poisoning strikes.
And she says that working alongside the Kenny star, as well as Magda Szubanski and celebrity chef Manu Feildel, in his first acting role, was “really just like going to a wonderful kind of family barbecue every day.”
“It was new to me and it was great. I feel quite confident doing any of my compering stuff and comedy on TV, but when you’re in a bigger environment like that it can be overwhelming,” she says. “But everyone else was having such a ball and was so confident, you could sort of forget playing for the camera.”
Although she studied drama at the Victorian College of Arts, toured with the Bell Shakespeare Company and twice won the Tropfest best actress award (The Extra, 1999 and Muffled Love, 2001) Julia’s career segued from scripted drama and comedy into presenting roles after the live music-trivia show RocKwiz premiered on SBS in 2005.
By the second season, with better hair and big red lips, but still with her own funky vintage clothes and just the right amount of sass, Julia found herself, at age 38, with a devoted following.
A fluent French-speaker, who was born to an Australian academic and French restaurateur and spent her first few years in France, Julia was a natural choice to co-host the SBS coverage of The Eurovision Song Contest with Sam Pang in 2008. Eurovision fans were left reeling when she and Sam announced they would not be part of the 2017 coverage and were subsequently replaced by Myf Warhurst and Joel Creasey.
“We did it for eight years and Sam and I had always said we would go together,” Julia explains. “It was one of the most thrilling jobs I have ever done in my life, but I wasn’t a big fan of us (Australia) being a contestant. Once we were in it I felt like sometimes we were having to change how we commentated.”
The decision to bow out came just before Julia turned 50, but not before Eurovision delivered its most surprising result, in the shape of a new love.
“We met on a plane,” Julia recalls of her first meeting with Dane Carsten Prien four years ago. “We chatted about Eurovision and Denmark because I always do my homework and happened to be reading a book about Denmark because we were about to go there. By then I had been single so long I was like, I can’t go online, on Tinder or something, but I also didn’t really want to meet anyone in the industry either, so thank God he got the guts to just come up and chat.”
Even so, Julia wasn’t about to hand her number or email to someone she had just met on a plane. “We kind of found one another again through friends of friends and got to know each other slowly.”
The couple now divide their time between Sydney and Bowral in the NSW southern highlands, where they count Jimmy Barnes, Noelene Brown, Andrew Denton and artist Ben Quilty among their neighbours, and Julia loves nothing more than to spend time at home cooking.
“It is like I am nesting back to front. It is really nice to be part of a family. Carsten has two great sons. They are great, amazing, polite, lovely and happy. I have really lucked in, but I think I am a good influence in their lives too.”
With her continued commitment to the RocKwiz live shows (although there is no new television season this year) and her multiple award-nominated series Home Delivery back next year for its sixth series, Julia has plenty to keep her occupied.
“In the last three years I have cut back. As my parents are getting older and my friends are going through more difficult times you want to be there as a good friend, and as a good daughter. I think you can get to a point where you are so busy that you are not actually enjoying the off-time because all of a sudden your friends have drifted away because you weren’t fostering those friendships.
“I also think, and perhaps it is part of this whole thing of turning 50, if you don’t close doors sometimes you don’t know what else can open. For example when Eurovision ended, and trust me I was nervous about it, Stargazing Live with Brian Cox opened up.”
Nonetheless she can foresee a time when she will cease being Julia Zemiro/television personality. In 2012 she spent a month teaching English, French and drama as a volunteer in Romania and relished the experience.
“It was great to get up at 6am every day and walk in the snow to the tram to go to the school – to go somewhere and not be someone from television,” she says. “Is it about imagining a parallel life, or a what if? Maybe. But I know that once performing is over I will do some kind of teaching because I enjoy it and I am good at it.
“I feel more and more it is about the small things you do in your own community, family, day, that will affect what is around you rather than the high-profile things.”
THE BBQ \ opens in cinemas in February