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I'm 66 and I'm heading for Hollywood to chase an acting career!

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly logo New Zealand Woman’s Weekly 4/09/2019 Fleur Guthrie
a person and a dog posing for the camera: While other pensioners may be contemplating life in a retirement home, for Kiwi actress Julie Collis it's time to pack up and try her luck in Hollywood. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd While other pensioners may be contemplating life in a retirement home, for Kiwi actress Julie Collis it's time to pack up and try her luck in Hollywood.

While other pensioners may be contemplating life in a retirement home, veteran Kiwi actress Julie Collis has found it's the right time to pack up and try her luck in Hollywood.

In a surprising turn of events, the 66-year-old and her ceramicist husband Peter (67) are saying goodbye to their two adult children, closing their arts studio and taking advantage of a shortage of older actors in Tinseltown.

"How many people my age get to chase their dream?" smiles Julie.

"They've either retired or given up. But in LA, they actually want actors with wrinkles and grey hair now!"

When the Weekly arrives for a chat, the couple are in the midst of wrapping pottery pieces from their gallery underneath the Birkenhead home they've lived in, over-looking Auckland's Waitemata Harbour.

The excitement of the move outweighs any stress ("the visa hasn't arrived yet but the plane tickets are booked for Tuesday!") and Julie reckons the whole thing has been nothing short of serendipitous.

a person smiling for the camera: Julie and husband Peter are excited about their next big step. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Julie and husband Peter are excited about their next big step.

It was a year ago, when Julie was invited to perform a one-woman stage monologue called Slow Dating at the Short and Sweet Festival in Hollywood, that she caught the eye of a US acting manager.

Julie played the role of Ester, an elderly woman overcoming guilt and loneliness in a search for love, and took out the festival award for Best Actress (English-speaking).

"It was a huge honour for a very personal and special piece of theatre to be seen on an international stage," explains Julie, who has appeared on Shortland Street and Mercy Peak.

"And I thought this would be my only chance to perform in Hollywood.

"In fact, when telling friends I was going to LA to do this play, they joked, 'Oh, you'll get signed by a Hollywood agent and may never come back.'"

After performing the piece for a week at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre, Julie and Peter were enjoying a celebratory drink when American acting agent Michele Large approached her at the bar and asked if she had representation there.

"My first thought was, 'As if!' But I sort of chortled and explained we were only visiting," recalls Julie.

"Michele said she'd like to represent me and to have a think about it. She told us, 'I don't have anybody in your age group, but I have work on my books sitting there that I can't slot anyone into.'"

The pair returned home and asked Julie's Kiwi agent Graham Dunster if he thought it was for real.

"He was going to LA the next week, so he met with Michele and said to me, 'I love her – it's a fantastic idea. Why don't you go for it?' So we did."

a person wearing a dress: Her career has spanned decades, but it was Julie's award-winning role of Ester (above right) that caught Hollywood's attention. © Provided by Bauer Media Pty Ltd Her career has spanned decades, but it was Julie's award-winning role of Ester (above right) that caught Hollywood's attention.

After employing an LA attorney and a business advisor to help the couple complete visa requirements, Julie began working on her US accent with a dialect coach. And she admits it's been a lot harder than she thought.

"When you're acting, one part of your brain is going, 'Are you hitting the mark? What are you feeling?' So if I'm making sure my 'r's are in the right place as well, it's working the 66-year-old brain quite hard," laughs Julie, who originally trained in jewellery design.

Her US manager has already sent her a spreadsheet of over 100 film and TV roles – guest spots on NCIS and Grey's Anatomy – that were being cast for her age group in the previous month, which Julie says in New Zealand there would be just one a year.

"I get very little work here really. When I audition for something, I'm usually in the same room with the same six women every time, up against the likes of Theresa Healey or Elizabeth Hawthorne. "

Adds Peter, "America is also a bit ahead of us in terms of diversity. The women's movement over there is really strong and now all ages, sizes and ethnicities are getting roles, rather than it just being skinny blondes under 25."

So Julie doesn't need to worry about changing her look?

"No, quite the reverse," she says.

"All my life I've been a redhead, before bleaching through my hair. But my manager told me I need to be more natural and let the greys come through! And when I went for headshots, she commented, 'Make sure the photographer doesn't edit your wrinkles out.'"

In her mid-40s when acting work dried up, Julie found herself collaborating with Peter on pottery projects and, in mock defeat, he reveals she's ended up winning more art awards than him.

However, he got his turn to have a taste of the acting world when casting agents had clients wanting a real-life husband and wife to star in TV commercials, and they scored the gigs.

With the couple, who have just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary, soon shifting into their small furnished apartment in West Hollywood, Peter jokes he's going to become a 'gym bunny' or perhaps get his eyelids done.

"Well, I'm listed on Julie's visa as a spouse, so I'm not allowed to work there myself. The other thing that's going to be weird is to leave behind our children, Sophie (35) and Elliot (30).

"However, as I said to Julie, I think we're allowed to be selfish now. We'll probably end up being mum and dad to other young actors there who might need a couch to sleep on."

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