Like many other Australians in the 1980s, a young Justine Clarke settled down in front of the TV to watch The Paul Hogan Show. While many of the jokes flew over her innocent head, she recalls thinking of Hoges as a larrikin.
A few decades later and Justine is immersed in the Hogans’ world, playing the part of Paul’s wife Noelene in the two-part TV biopic, Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story.
“I really admire Noelene’s spirit and I think she’s a great family person – her family is so important to her,” Justine says. “I tried to represent her strength and the fact that she was really able to laugh at herself, and I think that’s what they were attracted to in each other when they were young; they could laugh at themselves. When you’re so young and there’s very little money… they had each other and they got through with their sense of humour.”
As the miniseries goes from Paul and Noelene’s first kiss to the throes of their life in the spotlight, viewers will get a glimpse of the strong woman who juggled the ups and downs of raising a family on mere pennies with the glamour of Hollywood.
“[Paul] had somebody who was there for him from the very beginning and without [Noelene] it wouldn’t have happened. I feel strongly about that – this story is about partnerships and there was an incredible one between those two,” Justine says.
Playing the matriarch of the closely watched Australian showbiz family was never going to be easy but Justine relished it.
“I learned a lot from playing Noelene because we don’t really know that much about her. There’s not a lot of material out there on her and she’s very, very private. I have the utmost respect for her and I think she’s been very successful,” she says.
Justine also enjoyed the lighter side of the experience: Noelene’s fashion sense.
“I loved going into the costume bus every day to see what she was going to wear! It was a lot of fun because she loved colour and had great accessories,” she says.
Unfortunately, Justine didn’t get to meet Noelene – she watched footage and read about her to prepare for the role – but an impersonation of the woman wasn’t what Justine was targeting.
“Having your life story played out over two big nights on television is strange enough, so what I really wanted to do was embody her spirit,” she explains.
And living in the spotlight is a situation Justine can identify with readily. A performer since she was seven, her unique childhood has given her a different perspective – one not too far removed from the reality Noelene would’ve faced.
“I may not have gone through those standard rites of passage at the same time or same way as others but that’s OK, I’m alright!” Justine says.
While Paul’s fame saw his and Noelene’s divorce splashed across the media, Justine doesn’t agree with the way the couple’s split was portrayed in the tabloids.
“I actually don’t think this was ‘The most humiliating break-up’ as reported. I think it was the most public showing of a marriage break-up that we’d probably ever seen up until that point, so it sounds messy and ugly, but from all the things I read it seemed very respectful from both parties, who tried to be as private as they could,” Justine explains.
“So to call it one of the ‘ugliest’ and ‘messiest’, I always thought was an overstatement. It just happened to occur at a particular time in Australia when it was still seen as this great scandal, which is understandable because divorce is always horrible, but it wouldn’t have been handled in the same way if it happened today.”
Although Justine is playing the part of an Australian icon, and in many respects is one herself, she modestly downplays her onscreen accolades and the many memorable roles she has played. Who could forget her turn as Ruth “Roo” Stewart, Alf Stewart’s (Ray Meagher) rebellious teenage daughter on soap “I don’t really think about it. I keep thinking about doing my job well, how to keep growing as an artist and keep creating work that connects with people. I try to keep doing challenging things and I feel really lucky that I’m able to do all of that and people still enjoy it,” she says.
So when asked what shines the brightest in her list of achievements, instead of listing her favourite or most prestigious roles, Justine says it’s her family (actor husband Jack Finsterer, 48, and children Josef, 15, Nina, 13, and Max, seven). No doubt mum-of-five Noelene would agree.