Monday, 11 August 2014

Confessions of a Middle-aged 'Model'

I received an email last week. It was the catalyst for a move I should have made a while ago.  


I might be 50. But I'm not a grandmother. And I’m not size 12. (Apologies to all those sexy size 12s out there. But I’m 5 ft 4). And small.

I typed a Dear John Letter, pressed send and lent back in sweet relief as my cat sunk his claws into my thighs and reminded me of a string of humiliations. 

My hometown, has been the scenic cinematic backdrop for many classic screen adaptions. Lengthy tales of short men with enormous hairy hands and feet, living in the side of green hills. Three about a stolen gold ring, and a bald fish eating acrobat, of epic proportions. Not that you’ll find my name in the credits of those, under stunt rider or anything. 

I’m more your prop-with-stomach me. The first job I booked was spent pumping a bumper-boat around and around in circles on a man-made lake for hours in the blinding sun without a hat. I did have my ‘screen partner’to chat to. But I get sea sick looking at a dinghy listing on its moorings on a calm day. Looking back, my day was as nauseating as the thought of Kim Khardashian publishing a book of selfies of her SELF called Selfish. 

I always did it for the money. Honest. $350 sounds quite good at the start of a ten hour day, but it’s never enough after agent fee and tax. And hours waiting. Sat in chairs admittedly, but all the while getting wind burnt, dehydrated and so bored - gnawing off your big toe starts to look inviting. Plus there’s the film-set hierarchy which must be adhered to when the all-you-can-eat alfresco buffet is ready. Talk about feeling like a turd again, watching the prefects get the crusty edge of the macaroni cheese.

Extras go last. After the lead male and female, cast, crew and van drivers have had their fill, we’re guided to the leftovers. The only sound we make is chewing. 

I’ve wanted to be a lot of things, bestselling children’s author, olympic jelly wrestler, smart quick-witted screenwriter, but I’ve never wanted to be an model/actor. I’m shy. I feel like a tit. A lot. I look scary when I’m actually scared. I forget stuff when I’m nervous. I had to READ out my typewritten speech at my sister’s wedding in LA, 6 months pregnant with my third child. Everyone else ad-libbed with hands gestures, I wiped my sweaty palms on my dress and sucked-in. Regularly playing the man servant in school plays* put me right off. Joseph in Wuthering Heights was a real grumpy old sod. I still have a fear of getting stuck on Bodmin Moor. 

I went along to the local talent agent to enroll my children, hoping to reap the benefits of their cuteness. Glean some dosh from their labours under hot lights and reflector boards. I’d put their mammoth earnings towards a university fund. I was going to be a stage mum. Instead.

‘You’re just what they looking for,’ said the agent.

‘But I’m old!’ I said. (And that was ten years ago.)

‘You’ll get work,’ said the agent. ‘I get heaps of bookings for over thirty fives.’

Sucked in badly. Soon after I signed up, I paid $65 for ‘professional photos’ and was instantly upgraded to MODEL. My only previous experience ‘modelling’ was wearing Speedos with my sister, holding a polystyrene surfboard aged 7 & 8, while a creepy bearded photographer captured that vision of 70’s surf culture and other summery outfits for an Auckland Star newspaper feature. 

The ‘jobs’ I booked were minimal verses the auditions I nervously turned up for. I’ve tried to convincingly: drive a manual car, power-walk, walk with my hypertensive partner, look sporty and look relaxed. Thank my lucky stars I was away when I received the ‘Tena’ txt. Not that I would have been the face advertising incontinence pads on the telly. No way.

Nevertheless, there have been a few associated highlights. Take the day, diminutive American actress, Holly Hunter, said in her soft southern drawl, ‘I’ve just been wondering how your legs got so muscular?’ She was staying next door with her family, while filming Jane Campion’s TV drama, ‘Top of the Lake’. I was taking her two handsome young sons for a pony ride. She was walking behind, me obviously checking ME out.

‘Thank you.’ I replied, not believing her. 

I was in ‘Top of the Lake’. By accident. I had to chaperone my daughter 12, on a night shoot for ‘the wake scene’. We shot it, over and over at different angles, as the temperature dropped, beside a mountain lake on a crisp April evening. I stuffed as many layers of merino I could, under my jacket without upsetting continuity. Too much. Despite the cold it was a real experience to be a part of a scene full of swearing and fisticuffs and raw exhausting grief, with the full cast.

Another time, Peter Nolet walked out of the wardrobe bus when I was dressed in age-appropriate-apricot. Waiting. A silver fox now, he worked for Armani, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Versace for ten years alongside Naomi Campbell. He was chatty. Charming. Not at all looking at me like - how the hell did YOU get here you wrinkly old lady person. I almost started to wonder if they’d been a big mistake and he was going to be my screen husband. Hardly. 

So thanks for the opportunities. I’ve hung up my beige bra and undies. I will not go in front of the camera again. 

Not unless the lens is smeared in Vaseline, the film is black and white and the soundtrack mute.


  1. Congratulations on your retirement from the exciting world of modelling, Jane! Sounds hilarious in retrospect but perhaps not so much at the time. Now, to get on to the next fabulous part of your life!!

    1. Thanks Yvette! I didn't take it too seriously...


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