I was too young to see Muriel’s Wedding at the cinema on its initial release but I remember sitting down with my mum a year or so later when it premiered on UK TV screens and I knew instantly that I was watching something special. It would be easy to describe this movie as a typical “rom-com” but it’s so much more than that, I mean how many rom-com’s do you know where the leading lady spends the entire movie looking for love and then ditches it all when she realizes the most important person in her life is her best friend? I can’t think of any others. It was a feminist story that was way ahead of its time that has one of the greatest soundtracks ever.
I recently managed to grab a quick chat with Gabby Millgate who played Muriel’s sister, Joanie Heslop, about her memories of the movie.
MH: I heard that Muriel’s Wedding was your first ever acting gig, how did that come about?
GM: Well I was frolicking—rather than studying—at Sydney University at the time. Liz Dole was the activities coordinator for the University and I was hosting the theatre sports competition that ran in the Union bar on Thursdays. She received a fax from the casting agents inviting students to audition and she gave it to me. I auditioned, got a callback, and was offered the role over the phone there and then in Liz’s office. I remember feeling that my life had suddenly changed in a big way.
MH: Was acting what you’d always wanted to do?
GM: I could honestly never imagine how I could be an actor. I loved theatre sports like a religion and I enjoyed being in school plays but professional acting just seemed like an unimaginable profession for me. It was a fluke that I even got the audition in the first place as casting agents don’t usually recruit outside the industry.
MH: Can you believe it’s been 25 years since that movie was released?
GM: It does seem like a lifetime ago now. I was so naive and wide-eyed.
MH: Did you have any idea at the time you were starring in something that was going to be so huge?
GM: I remember at the time the casting agent telling me that the movie was going to be big but how would I have had any idea? I was in way over my head and just happy to be amongst all the exciting showbizzy stuff.
MH: Why do you think it’s stood the test of time and remained something that’s still enjoyed by so many people?
GM: As luck would have it the audiences just loved it and I think they enjoyed Muriel getting one up on those who had treated her like she was nothing. The writer/director, PJ Hogan, created great characters with unjustified confidence who got their comeuppance and then others with low self-esteem who managed to turn the tables and escape.
MH: Despite being a comedy it’s still full of important messages, about women and encouraging people to never give up on their dreams. Do you think its message inspired a lot of people?
GM: I don’t know whether it inspired people. I think it’s a fantasy about triumph over the powerful people in our lives. Muriel’s not a moral hero until she comes back to get her friend at the end. Up until that moment, she’s told a lot of lies and stolen a lot of money. Maybe in some ways, we all forgive what she did because we’ve all felt justified in our sins because we feel hard done by.
MH: Whenever I think of the movie the first thing I, and many others, think of is your line, “You’re terrible Muriel”. Is that something that people still say to you?
GM: Not as much but it still makes me feel special when people tell me how much they love the movie.
MH: How soon after the movie released did you realize that you’d spoken the one line that EVERYBODY was going to quote?
GM: I’m not really sure. I think it came a few years later when strangers were telling me that they always say the line. 25 years on and I still get a lot of love for it as people still tell me they say it all the time. I saw an interview where even Madonna said it. Will Ferrell was asked in an interview what he knew about Australian comedy and he just said, “You’re terrible Muriel”. That was pretty cool.
MH: Haha I still say it too, all the time. I’m from the UK and know so many people here who still love the movie. Is the fan base in Australia just as loving?
GM: Actually there was a Gogglebox Australia episode last year that showed me best that people still get really excited here when it comes on the telly.
MH: Did you manage to catch the recent stage musical adaptation of it? I guess it was pretty well received as it’s starting a nationwide tour this year.
GM: I saw it in Sydney and loved it. I loved how they updated Muriel and used social media to measure her escape from being unwanted and useless.
MH: That does sound like an interesting take on the story. Considering we live in an era where remakes are all the rage, how would you feel if they tried to remake the movie?
GM: I’d like to see a remake based on the musical actually.
MH: Are you still in touch with any of the other cast?
GM: Gen Nevison who played Deirdre Chambers. She actually gave me two of her silkie chicks that have now turned into roosters. I have them at my Early Education Service where I’m the Nature Pedagogy leader. They’re also the stars in my upcoming book, ‘The Book Book Book – Chickens in Early Childhood Setting’. Gen, myself and Jeanie Drynan (Betty Heslop) got together for a reflective interview on MW a couple of years ago.
MH: Do you have any favourite on-set memories you’d like to share with us?
GM: I remember PJ, the director, telling me to do the line ‘your way’. I remember thinking ‘But this is my first acting job, I don’t have a way yet!’. I also remember asking Bill Hunter for acting advice and he said to me, “You’ve either got it or you don’t”. I also remember Toni Collette scrunching her face at me when I asked her to tell me if I’d done anything wrong.
MH: Will people still be talking about Muriel’s Wedding in another 25 years?
GM: Maybe not any new young people, but all the old dancing Queen’s will be.
MH: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Do you have any parting words for our readers?
GM: Yes. I recently watched an interview with Lynda House, who was one of the producers of Muriel’s Wedding, and she revealed that “You’re terrible Muriel” was almost cut from the picture. That made me a bit anxious at how close I came to not even having that special moment exist. Oh and… You’re terrible Martin.
It was only last month that my entourage and I poured the vodka and sang along loudly to our favourite scenes from the movie, it’s something of a tradition whenever we have a party, and I can’t see us ever stopping that anytime soon. It speaks volumes for how good the movie is that, not just me, but many other people still get so much enjoyment and pleasure out of it all these years later. Watching it is a happy place for a lot of us and will be for another 25 years; I will be one of those old Dancing Queens that Gabby mentioned. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to polish up my dance moves for the next time we all recreate the Waterloo scene.