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Interviews > Julie Mullins

It's been almost 20 years since Julie Martin fell to her death, now the actress behind her second incarnation, Julie Mullins tells all about her time on Neighbours and where her career has taken her since...

Can you tell us a little about your acting career before you joined Neighbours in 1992?
I always knew I wanted to be an actress so I went straight to drama school after school. I then did a lot of theatre, musicals and plays, cabaret and a little radio. Occasionally I did guest roles on television but it wasn't a particular ambition.

How did the role of Julie Martin come about? Was it just a typical audition for you?
I was in Melbourne performing the role of Miranda in a rock 'n roll musical called Return To The Forbidden Planet. I did some 'go sees' and a casting director at Crawfords recommended I visit Grundys. Next thing you know I was having a screen test with the Martin family and the offer of a two-year-contract came through several weeks later while standing in a friend's apartment in London. When I put down the phone the plumber working under the sink was more excited than I was! (Ok, not really, but I remember sitting down with him while he told me who the Robinson family were and all about the storylines with which, then, I was totally unfamiliar.)

Are you anything like Julie in real life? How would you describe the character?
I think I look a little like Vikki Blanche, the actress who originally played Julie Robinson, so that probably helped me get the role. In terms of similar characteristics… not really. I can lose my temper or get wound up, but I'm far more honest, frank and flexible than Julie Martin. I'm not manipulative. And I'm a lot more fun! She was a good character to play though for, if you can get past the melodramatic aspect, there was always something to get your teeth into. I get bored with bland characters.

What was it like to take over the role previously played by Vikki Blanche? Did you watch any of her episodes before you started filming?
No, I didn't watch any of Vikki's episodes. I don't know why. I guess I presumed the producers had made their choice and were stuck with me. What I did do though, was read about the character's journey up until she went away… so that I could make sense of Julie returning to Erinsborough with her family.

Someone commented in a magazine or review once that I had physical movements similar to Vikki, pointing or some habit like that. If so, it was random, not planned. I have to admit, though, that my mum rang after the first episode went to air in fits of laughter. She said "oh Julie, when you opened the front door and called out 'I'm home', as if to announce the importance of your entrance, I thought 'well that is exactly what she always does' when she arrives home after being away". So maybe I have more characteristics in common than I like to admit. Just joking.

Were there any of Julie's stories that you particularly enjoyed filming?
I like OBs actually (outside broadcasts) as the technique is more similar to film, and the lighting more forgiving. It's hard to recall the storylines now, but I do remember laughing a lot when Julie went back to school… and when she and Phillip were having sexual problems and she tried all sorts of things to arouse him. I had a great relationship with Ian Rawlings so we used to ham it up. And one of those episodes was banned in the UK - the only episode apparently that has ever been banned. It was the one where I dressed in suspenders and a school uniform… hmm… no comment.

I did have a big laugh, though, when I was in Paris once watching my brother play Rugby League… and a guy from Newcastle upon Tyne called out to me in the stands: "I've got that episode of you in your underwear on VHS and I play it over and over". Too funny. I bet his wife or girlfriend wasn't happy.

Julie was occasionally portrayed in quite a negative light - particularly during the racism storyline in 1993 - did you ever receive any hate mail or abuse from the public?
Yes, I really struggled with that storyline when Julie was racist and accused the Asian neighbours of eating her dog. I mean for goodness sake, Australia was sufficiently multi-cultural at the time to have welcomed an Asian family into the street and make no comment on the fact. It was too cliché for my liking… and then of course there was quite a bit of back-lash from viewers. One taxi driver threw me out of his cab in the middle of a freeway when he realised who I was. He simply would not keep driving until I got out.

TV is not like cinema. Actors working on soap-operas are in people's lounge-rooms every day and in that sense the relationships, the impressions are normalised, more familiar. So actually producers have a responsibility, in my view, to create drama and conflict which makes people think, without falling so easily on the reinforcement of negative stereotypes.

What led to your departure from the series in 1994?
I resigned. They weren't happy, which is why they decided to kill me off. Nevertheless I'd promised myself I would do no more than two years in the series and that I wouldn't be seduced by the regular income. I felt I would be letting myself down to have gone back on that promise when, essentially, I think of myself as more of a theatre actress, and when I had many other ambitions I wanted to fulfil. It wasn't an easy decision, and when I found myself type-cast for some time after I wondered if I'd been wise to quit before I'd saved more money… but hey, you can't turn the clock back. And I don't regret all the other experiences I've had since.

What did you think of Julie's dramatic departure storyline?
I wasn't very happy with the final storyline. They told me it was going to be a suicide, that Julie's mental health was going to deteriorate rapidly and so that was how we played it. We were setting things up, as it were, for the jump. But on the day of the shoot the network turned up and demanded it be changed. It was that close to the wire. And so we scrambled around on set looking for a way out and thus why there was always mystery and confusion surrounding Julie's death… thus why it was made to look more like a fall… an accident. I had no issue with the network making a decision as to what was suitable for the time-slot, but the rushed handling of it confirmed all the reasons I'd decided to leave… which was that I wanted to work on something with higher writing and production values. I don't mean to sound negative, but you simply can not maintain the same standards of performance on soap operas as you can on a mini-series or in theatre, for example, for you are shooting more than a feature film a week and consequently things are extremely rushed. It's just the nature of the beast. There are skills, of course, in this environment which one will never regret learning - and the lifestyle was fabulous - the key is to know when to leave.

What was it like working with the late Anne Haddy?
I adored Anne. As I did Alan Dale, Ian Rawlings, Rebecca Ritters, Marnie Reece Wilmore and Troy Beckwith. My immediate family were all wonderful. And in two years (and two months as it turned out) we did not have a single disagreement. We bonded and enjoyed each other, whatever the challenges. It was a real bonus, and I was very grateful for that natural dynamic. As for Anne, you only had to shut your mouth and open your ears and you would learn something from her, so you were a fool if you didn't. She was one classy, accomplished lady (on stage, radio and TV). She was particular. Sometimes fussy. But she had reason to be, and it was such a privilege to know her. She also made me laugh - both at work or when sharing a bottle of wine outside work on occasion. And I was very sad to not be in Australia for her funeral.

Was there anyone (else) in the cast who you particularly enjoyed working with?
Oh, I kind of answered this question above. But I will add I also had warm relationships with people such as Caroline Gillmer, Terence Donovan, Tom Oliver, Dan Falzon, George Spartels and Felice Arena.

Are you still in touch with any of your former Neighbours castmates?
Felice Arena, in particular, is one of dearest friends. And for that reason alone I will always thank Neighbours for bringing us together. Indeed we have even published together, for Felice has a very successful career as a children's author and when he created a series called GirlzRock (a new reader for girls aged 5 to 7 years), he gave me the opportunity to write School Play Stars and The Sleepover.
He's coming to London soon to visit and I can't wait to see him.

How do you find working on stage to a television production? Do you have a preference?
Yes, I prefer the stage. It's the rehearsal process which is so satisfying in the theatre, because you really get to work your craft, make discoveries and choices with time to review them, polish, and dig deep into a character, allowing the scenes to develop. This enhanced depth fulfils the creative need to chase perfection. (Not that you can get perfection, of course, but that must always be an artist's goal.) I like the camaraderie too of the theatre, and the adrenalin of preparing for curtain up and then going out and doing it no matter how you feel or whatever else is going on in your life. It demands focus and commitment and I like that, however challenging.

Having said that, I do like working in television because of the speed. It keeps you on your toes, technically and mentally. And actually it's far more 'life friendly'… in that (apart from the early morning starts) you have semi-normal hours. You don't get evenings or weekends free in the theatre once the show has opened. And that can be tough if you are locked into a long run and are never eating dinner with your loved ones. So the ideal is to mix it up and do both. If you're lucky!

Where has your career taken you since you left Neighbours?
I could of course take pages to answer this question… but the short version is that I lived in the UK for a few years and did mostly theatre. My friends joke I played the North, South and East End but not the West End - so, still have that goal on the list. But I particularly enjoyed being a part of the opening festivities for Shakespeare's Globe and doing a couple of tours of Neil Simon and Marvin Hamlisch's They're Playing Our Song. I returned to Australia when I was ready to change direction for a while, and completed a Masters of Commerce in management. Making the leap across the footlights I then worked my way up in arts management and business consulting until I'd done quite a bit of professional fundraising, theatre producing, and arts, events and venue management. My last position in Australia was as General Manager of the Seymour Centre (the second biggest performing arts centre in Sydney). After thirty years in operation we rebranded the centre and launched an inaugural subscription season of which I am very proud. It had been a long held goal of mine to 'help make things happen', to be on the driving side rather than the reactive side of the arts, and it was good to use all my creative and business skills in the one role.

My life took a turn then when I moved to Italy to live. Part relationship break-up, part early mid-life-crisis, I had always loved Renaissance Art and wanted to immerse myself in the kind of beauty which renews an artist's creativity. So, six months turned to one year, turned to two years, then nearly three… during which I sang and played piano, formed a jazz band, taught English, managed tourist properties, researched and wrote, and indulged my love-affair with all things Italian. Only three factors forced me to leave for the time-being: a) some pressing family needs back in Australia during 2011; b) the financial crisis such that it got harder to find work; and c) a desire to further develop my writing and get back on the stage. To London therefore (via Australia) I came in 2012.

I kicked off with an event management job on the Olympics and Paralympics (where I was stationed at Greenwich Park). I am pursuing publication of two books I wrote while living in Tuscany, and writing a regular blog which I'd love you to visit. The post at www.blogjulie.com called 'Here's the Thing' tells you about my books, which I hope one day you can buy and read!

Are you a Neighbours viewer yourself? If so, what do you think of the show these days?
I have never actually watched a soap opera regularly - other than in the first weeks or months while I was on Neighbours - as I simply go out to theatre and music too much to be able to guarantee I'm at home for it. I manage to organise my diary for something like Downton Abbey or Doc Martin (to name the first that come to mind) as the seasons aren't very long and I hate missing episodes. Hmm, maybe that means I'm potentially addictive, so I guess it's lucky I'm not still watching Neighbours every day! But it's about routine isn't it? It's amazing the amount of people, especially in the UK, who still come up to me and can tell me exactly which years they watched me on Neighbours and why; ie when they were at school, or university, or making dinner for their children etc. Not long ago I was in a pub in north London (where I was rehearsing a musical I did on the fringe) and a group of lads between about 28 and 38 were throwing back some pints prior to an Arsenal match. I was amazed how quickly they picked me out of the crowd, and how sure they were about when I was in the series. I'm now forever associated with that chapter of their lives. That's kind of cool when you think about it; especially when people are lovely, which mostly they are.

Finally, what do you think are the reasons for Neighbours' enduring success?
I think it's popular because of the sunshine, and the optimism which sunshine and summer clothes evoke. Many of us simply feel lighter, more positive, when we're wearing casual clothes, or getting fresh air on the beach or in a garden. There's also a friendliness to Neighbours which is typical of Australians - I generalise of course, but as a nation we are far less afraid to chat to strangers or open up about things. We are less suspicious I think. Is that due to the disposition of our Celtic ancestors? The long summers? Or both? But whatever the reason, I think Brits enjoy it. It's distinctive and it's light-hearted.

When I started writing my blog 'There's Always a Story' last May, my first post was actually called 'Good Neighbours', because I was thinking about different cultural styles. It's a theme you find recurring in posts like 'I need a wall', 'Volunteer Spirit' or 'Inseparable'. Though I should add a caveat, which is that I know London is not the UK and I don't for a minute think Britain's cultural style is defined by London alone.

If you'd like to check it out the easiest link is www.blogjulie.com. There's a humorous mention of Neighbours in the latest blog, 'Doers', which you may like.

Thanks! Nice talking to you x

Julie is looked after by Tim Reed Management.

Interview by Callum. Added on 6th April 2013