Megan Gale is telling me about doing her own stunts in this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller. “It was close to zero, I was nude and it was day one,” Megan says. “I was up on a tower and I had to jump on to a rope. And I had to land, dig into the ground and throw on this smock that my character wears, and do it all in one take. That was really tricky, especially when you’re in front of a good 100 crew members.”
Thing is, I’m not surprised Megan didn’t have a problem with getting down and dirty. She might have once been one of Italy’s most famous female faces but it’s not in conflict with who the real Megan is, a trooper, no-nonsense businesswoman, a sometimes tired mother of a 16-month-old boy and someone who doesn’t cancel an interview because she has the flu.
We’re in a hip café in Windsor. There was a time in Italy at the peak of her fame when she needed a bodyguard, but today Megan blends into this urban crowd and could be just another stylish Chapel Street café-dweller, if it wasn’t for those famously recognisable dark blue eyes and the dazzling smile.
Mad Max was a breakout role for her. I ask whether it’s easier or harder being called Megan Gale when she’s seeking acting roles. “Depends if it’s in Australia or the US. In the US, I’m just a new up-and-coming actress that’s just been in Mad Max. When it’s Australia it’s ‘Oh Megan Gale wants to come in’. ‘Oh. Isn’t she the one who modelled for David Jones?’ There’s that preconceived idea that I’m not an actress, I’m a celebrity or I’m a TV host or an ambassador.”
Frustrating? “Not frustrating, it’s more of a hurdle to overcome. I’ve found I’ve got to prove myself more here as an actor.
Mad Max has alleviated a bit of that. It was a bit of an unexpected role for me in people’s eyes, especially because it’s gritty and raw and undone and make-up-free with scars on my face. This kind of role is appealing to me because it can help me to be seen physically in a different light. That will help me because it’s stepping out of that skin I’m normally in.
“There is that stereotype out there that models are bad actresses,” she says. “I like the idea of trying to disprove that theory. I think it’s a really unfair preconceived notion.” There are unflattering stereotypes involving models. “Dumb, eating disorders, the whole lot,” she says. “Which clearly I don’t have, tucking into fried chicken.”
So, she’s smart and astute. And funny, too.
In case her CV isn’t impressive enough, Megan has just launched the latest of her several careers, designing homewares for Target. Her MG Australia range includes cotton quilt cover sets, sheets, cushions and throws. In designing the pieces, she drew on inspiration from some of her favourite places including Paris, London and the Greek isles, to “try to interpret them into different stories”.
She’s been toying with the idea of design for a while. “It’s knowing what my personal style is and where that can extend into homewares,” she says. “I have a very clear idea of what my own aesthetic is. I know to stay true to that. I’m a super-creative person and this is just another way to express that.”
Megan is also keen to do more acting. “I’m starting to actively put myself out there for roles,” she says. “Learning what material you connect with and what you don’t. I’m still finding all that out.”
Megan grew up in Perth as one of three and began her 15-year modelling career aged 18. In 1999 she became a sensation in Italy when she appeared in a series of ads for a telecommunications company. She looks back at the era with affection, but with some surprise that she survived so well in what can be an exploitative industry.
“I love that I got to travel, meet and work with different people on different days,” she says. “I liked that it wasn’t Monday to Friday nine to five and it was different all the time.”
She lived in Rome, Milan, Tuscany, Switzerland. “I moved around a bit. It was an amazing experience and I had so many wonderful opportunities and made some great friends. That experience changed my life. It was very intense. It was going from being completely anonymous and barely getting work here to going there and being instantly famous, having no privacy, having paparazzi follow you … a complete flip. And having to cope with that as a 23-year-old who’s barely been overseas was massive.”
Did she cope OK? “For the most part I did really well. It could have sent me bonkers. But I attribute not losing my mind to having a pretty solid upbringing, great family and friends, great support around me. “All these amazing things were happening but all these intimidating things were happening at the same time so it was a lot of ‘take in and process’. I went into a bit of an autopilot mode and just tried to stay in the moment as often as possible.
“When you reach that level of fame so instantly, it brings interesting people into your life. There are a lot of people trying to take advantage of that and want a piece of that and you’re in a country where you don’t really understand the language. There was a lot to be wary of.”
She would move between the craziness of Italy and the relative calm of Sydney. “I’d go to this completely crazy topsy-turvy world in Italy and I’d come back and it would be completely different. It was like I was living two lives, which I think psychologically could really throw someone. I look back and think, ‘My God, I kind of got through that kind of OK’. Looking back I’m proud of how I handled it all.”
I read that she loves Bond movies and would one day love to be a Bond girl. Her favourite Bond film? “
Moonraker always stuck in my mind as a kid, especially the villain, Jaws.”
In Italy, at an event, she met one of the great Bond girls, Ursula Andress, who famously emerged from the sea as Honey Ryder in
Dr No, wearing a white bikini featuring a dagger belt.
“I thought, ‘I have to say hello to her’. She was sitting at the next table to me at a function. She knew who I was because she was familiar with my work in Italy. That blew me away a bit … She said, ‘Oh Megan, how are you?’ I said, ‘I just wanted to say hi and that I’m quite a fan of Bond films’. She is from that era of Sophia Loren, those amazing women who are just so groomed and so elegant and so chic.”
I ask if she enjoys public life. “It would be great to have anonymity at times. I see my job as the thing that’s public, but when it trickles over into my private life, especially now I have my son … you’ve got strange men following you in cars and you think they’re probably a pap (paparazzi). That side of it I don’t like in having a public life.”
Megan and her partner, Richmond footballer Shaun Hampson, have a son, River. “Best thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “Hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the most rewarding thing.
“When you’ve already got such a jam-packed life and the hours in the day seem like they’re not enough when you add a baby to the mix, it’s hard to get that balancing act and to do it all, especially when it’s your first. It’s so overwhelming, it’s the first time you’ve done it. “There are times when I think all I want to do is be his mum. I don’t want to do anything else but be with him because I enjoy it so much and I want to be so present with him and I want to be hands-on. But at the end of the day … on one hand I think it’s really important to still have something for myself as an individual. I’ve heard a lot from many women of different ages who don’t regret not going back to work but they just sink so much of themselves into their kids, and when their kids grow up and move away from home they have nothing left.
“They don’t have any interests and they’ve lost touch with who they are because … they’ve given so much of themselves to their children that they lose a large portion of themselves and they find it hard to get that back. It’s such a wonderful sacrifice. I want to find that balance of still maintaining a sense of self while still nurturing my son.
“I want to continue to provide a great future and life for him. It’s important for me to still work not just for myself – and I love what I do – but for my son.”
And a word on Shaun? “He’s amazing. He’s kind, he’s thoughtful, he’s an incredible father. We’re an extremely good team. I’m really proud of us as a couple. When we started together there was a lot of criticism because of our age difference (Megan is 40 and Shaun is 27), which kind of upset me. I think if he was older than me we wouldn’t have so many people commenting on it. It seemed to be because I’m the woman and I’m older that there were labels thrown around – ‘toy boy’, ‘cougar’ – that really disappointed me. For me our ages are irrelevant. I really do feel like we’re both really on par with one another.
“I felt that was really unfair. I think people felt we were maybe a bit ‘flash in the pan’. But we both knew what we meant to one another and I guess that’s all that matters. And now we’ve got this beautiful little man that we’ve created together and he’s the centre of our universe. We communicate well and I think that’s why we’ve got such a strong relationship.”
Megan says goodbye and walks out into Chapel Street. It’s been a gutsy performance from someone with the flu; not the first gutsy performance in her life and certainly not the last.