Funny, gutsy, and timeless, Looking for Alibrandi not only thrust Pia Miranda into the limelight but is famous for being one of Australia’s most successful films to date.
The accomplished adaptation of Melina Marchetta’s 1992 novel rapidly became a cultural touchstone for many young Australians in the 2000s, who, like 17-year-old Josie Alibrandi (Miranda), were also dealing with high school bullies, family drama and the dreaded final exams. Discussing multiculturalism in a way Australia had never seen before, the movie mirrored the harsh reality of being a teenager and explored valuable lessons about dealing with death, grief and overcoming societal pressures.
Now, nearly two decades on from its release, Miranda tells WHO how she managed to snag the role, and the interesting impact landing the part had on the future of her career as an actress.
“I was walking down the street with my friend Kick [Gurry] and he was talking about a film he was auditioning for and how they needed someone to play the lead role,” recalls Miranda, who was 26 when filming began. “They called me that day and told me I needed to fly up to Sydney to audition. So I went and as the day went on, it was just me and Kick left. They kept calling me, telling me how great I was but I had to wait three months until they told me I got the role.”
Even though dozens of industry critics praised her performance and she won the AACTA for Best Lead Actress in 2000, the now 45-year-old admits she struggled to find work after Looking for Alibrandi. Desperate for a fresh start, the star moved to New York where she studied speech, drama and movement at the Atlantic Theatre Company Acting School.
“It’s difficult when your first job is big and successful,” she says, conceding she couldn’t find work for two years. “I didn’t feel like
I had the opportunity to grow my craft in smaller roles and I felt like I was given these bigger roles and I didn’t have the skills to support them. I wanted to study in a classroom and be in a safe space where I could learn and make mistakes. I needed to figure out who I was as an actor.”
Following her stint in the Big Apple, Miranda married singer Luke Hannigan in a Las Vegas wedding, and has gone on to feature in films such as Garage Days (2002), Travelling Light (2003) and The Tender Hook (2008). More recently, Miranda has starred in the Australian prison drama Wentworth (2015) and then landed a part in the ABC series Mustangs FC in 2017, which she says her two children Lily, 8, and James, 5, think is very cool!
“I am the daggy mum in the series but kids at their school come up and say they see me on TV and I can telly Lily is pretty chuffed about that.”
But will she let her children watch Looking for Alibrandi? Not until they’re older. “My friend told me they were sitting down with the kids to watch it and I was like, ‘Oh my God what is wrong with your brain, don’t you remember that sex bit?’ ” she laughs. “I think I’ll do an edit and cut that bit out!”
You can read the rest of this article in this week's WHO MAGAZINE.