Pia Miranda on the “rough” acting industry and enjoying a career renaissance at 50

‘I nearly gave up.'
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She’s one of Australia’s most recognisable faces thanks to her iconic role in coming-of-age film Looking For Alibrandi. Now, almost 25 years on, Pia Miranda is busier than ever, popping up on Australian Survivor, The Masked Singer, Dancing With The Stars and last year’s drama miniseries Heat.

“I’m having a bit of a renaissance,” Pia, 50, tells TV WEEK. “There’s a period in some people’s lives where you take a step back because you’re raising children, and I was pretty hands-on raising my kids [Lily, 13, and James, nine]. But then I started working more again, and I really enjoy being part of the industry.”

pia miranda
Pia competed on Survivor.
(Image: Supplied)

Pia’s latest role is in the Stan original film Windcatcher, a sweet family movie about a 10-year-old Indigenous youngster named Percy Boy (Lennox Monaghan), who stands up to bullies while following his dreams of being a race-winning runner. Pia plays one of Percy Boy’s teachers, who encourages his journey.

“It’s a family story, but there’s a bigger message,” she says. “The Indigenous Australian element was so seamlessly put into the story in such a beautiful way. It’s about celebrating our heritage, and all the things that are part of being Australian.”

Percy Boy’s battle is close to Pia’s heart, given her role as an ambassador for bullying awareness charity Dolly’s Dream. Pia’s son is a similar age to Percy Boy and she hopes the message of Windcatcher hits home for him.

pia miranda windcatcher
Pia’s latest role is in the Stan original film Windcatcher.
(Image: Supplied)

“My son is in grade five and the group chats have started on phones. I’m really active in checking the chat, opening conversations with other parents and making sure everything’s OK,” Pia says.

“Even though Windcatcher isn’t about technology, the message is the same: how easy it is to not realise someone’s having a hard time, and how to call out bullying. And how to see everyone as an individual and appreciate their differences.”

Pia has gone from playing the student in Looking For Alibrandi to the teacher – a role she leaned into off-camera.

“When I did Alibrandi, I had such a nice time with the older actors, in the sense that they were imparting their wisdom, helping me through a scene or telling me how to navigate the industry,” she recalls. “They were wonderful to me.

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“It’s a lovely full circle.”
(Image: Supplied)

 “It’s a lovely full circle that I can be that person to these young people.”

It’s hard to believe her breakout film is turning 25 next year, as Looking For Alibrandi (based on Melina Marchetta’s 1992 novel) hit cinemas in 2000.

“It’s scary!” Pia says with a laugh.

So is an anniversary reunion special on the cards for the cast?

“I’m good friends with Melina, and Kick [Gurry] and I are close. I caught up with Anthony [LaPaglia] a couple of months ago. I haven’t seen Leeanna [Walsmann] for a while, which I’d like to. Maybe we could all get up and present an award at the Logies next year!”

Pia recently hit a big milestone: turning 50. There was a time when roles were scarce for women over 50, but Pia says that’s changing.

“A lot of women who are older have great roles – I just watched [drama] Prosper on Stan and there’s Rebecca Gibney kicking goals.”

She’s busy now, but Pia concedes there were times she felt like giving acting away, and that changing careers was tempting.

“Often, we’ll have a year out of work and we don’t get paid huge amounts… but I didn’t know what else to do. I did go and become a yoga teacher, but never actually taught,” she laughs.

“The good thing about acting is that you have a community – other people who understand. And sometimes, you’re the person working, helping others through the hard time.

“I remember, years ago, I had an actress friend who was working at the markets. And she ended up in the newspaper, a horrible article about how she had ‘fallen hard’,” Pia recalls.

pia miranda dancing with the stars
(Image: Supplied)

“It shook me. It felt like my freedom to work in a shop had been taken away, because I didn’t want the humiliation of a story written about me. There’s nothing wrong with a job in a shop, but when you haven’t worked for a long time, your self-esteem is quite low.”

Pia says she encourages young actors to be open when it comes to work.

“As I’ve got older, I’ve realised I need to keep my career path wide. Now, I dip into other things. It gives me more freedom, and I encourage young people to think about what else they can do in the industry so they’re not relying on acting jobs to boost their self-esteem. That can be really rough.”

In this way, Pia’s competing on Australian Survivor in 2019 was pretty life-changing, as she’s been working constantly since.

Survivor definitely broke me – it was so intensely difficult,” she says of winning the Champions Vs Contenders season. “But it also healed me. It gave me confidence. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect, perhaps because of Alibrandi. In a lot of ways, Survivor freed me up.”

That said, don’t expect Pia to pop up in the jungle anytime soon.

“I don’t think I could do I’m A Celebrity,” she says. “I can’t jump out of planes and don’t want to eat snakes!”

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