When Julia Billington was at the National Institute of Dramatic Art there was a tacit belief among sections of the screen industry that a gay actor could not come out.
“It wasn’t spoken about but it was an undercurrent, a hangover from the past decade,” she tells IF. “If you were queer, you should keep it on the down-low.”
Since she graduated from NIDA in 2008 clearly there has been growing acceptance of the LGBTQI community, although it’s far from universal.
Citing the 38.4 per cent of respondents who voted no in the same sex marriage plebiscite in 2017, she says: “We can pat ourselves on the back but there is still a long way to go.”
Currently Billington is relishing playing Tara, a lesbian who died in the 1980s and is reincarnated as a fairy godmother in Monica Zanetti’s rom-com Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt).
Adapted from Zanetti’s eponymous play which was staged at The Depot Theatre in Marrickville in 2017, the film stars Sophie Hawkshaw as Ellie, who is 18 and struggling to find the courage to ask classmate Abbie (Zoe Terakes) to the formal.
Her aunt Tara shows up to dish out advice, whether Ellie wants it or not. Marta Dusseldorp plays Ellie’s mother with Rachel House as her aunt Patty. Zanetti worked with Alison Fowler and Stephanie Pringle at Chicken & Chips Casting to find the diverse actors.
At least 50 per cent of the cast and a high proportion of the creative team including Zanetti and members of the producing team identify as LGBTQ. The producers are Cobbstar Studios’ MahVeen Shahraki and Patrick James with Brian Cobb as executive producer.
Describing her character as fabulously inventive and so proud that her niece is gay, Julia tells IF: “It’s the most fun role of my entire career. Monica’s screenplay is a mix of irreverent and light-hearted humour, empathy and an emotional punch.
(L-R) Zoe Terakes, Julia Billington, Monica Zanetti and Sophie Hawkshaw.
“It’s a remarkable lesbian rom-com, the kind all us gay girls wished were around when we were in high school, going through that awkward, hormonal phase.”
Despite the rigors of a two-week shoot, she says: “Monica is so calm she makes us feel we have all the time in the world.”
She is enjoying her third collaboration with Dusseldorp, with whom she appeared in Nigel Jamieson’s production of Gallipoli for the Sydney Theatre Company in 2008, and in Janet King.
In Screentime/ABC’s legal drama she played Karen Parker, a soldier who returned from Afghanistan suffering from PTSD and gets mixed up in a crime. Her character was identified as a lesbian but that was incidental to the storyline.
Her credits include Louise Wadley’s gay romance/thriller All About E, Julie Kalceff’s online series Starting From…Now and Catching Milat. She has twice had guest roles in Home & Away, first as Detective Geddes in 2016 and then as DC Jane Barkin last year.
The actor has no special preference for stage, TV, feature films or online series, explaining: “Satisfaction comes from juicy roles and the people I work with. That is my soul food.”