How Pia Miranda Made Peace With Her Instant Fame After ‘Looking For Alibrandi’

"Not surprisingly, though, not every LA audition was all wine and roses."
Looking For Alibrandi film
Looking For Alibrandi (2000)
Robyn Kershaw Productions

After Looking for Alibrandi, I decided I would try out Los Angeles. Not because I had much desire to work there – as I already had the feeling Hollywood wasn’t going to be for me – but because my agents were keen for me to give it a shot.

This was before smartphones and virtual auditions, so I decided I would go so that I could say I tried. Mostly I just wanted to visit Disneyland, shop at Urban Outfitters and try an In-N-Out burger, which all turned out to be excellent choices. I also found some great vintage clothes with friends, but ended up eating my burgers alone, because carbs were apparently out of fashion.

I did have some memorable film-world experiences while I was there, though. I was lucky enough to have a meeting with Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, in a vibey hotel cafe. He was kind and respectful and talented. I don’t think he was seriously considering me for the film we were meeting about, but he generously feigned interest in my life, asking me questions about myself and listening intently. He gave me some insights into how he made films.

We had a few laughs and it was such a positive experience that I walked away feeling inspired. I didn’t get the role but I didn’t really care and just felt lucky to have met him.

Amazingly, I also scored an audition with director Wes Craven, and even though I was extremely nervous because I’m a massive fan, he laughed at my jokes and was so encouraging that I managed to pull off a pretty good audition. Halfway through, though, my earring got caught in my lacy top and I had to yell out for help.


He leapt out of his chair like a superhero to save me from this hilariously humiliating event. It took two whole minutes to unravel that earring. He chatted and laughed the whole way through it, which turned my embarrassment into an anecdote I’ve dined on at parties ever since. I didn’t get the role but, again, I didn’t really care and just felt lucky to have met him.

I found it was easier not to care about booking jobs in these instances because meeting wonderfully creative people who were so warm and generous was such a thrill for me – a young actress in a world that seemed full of possibilities.

Not surprisingly, though, not every LA audition was all wine and roses. I don’t want to be rude, but in my opinion there are some real twits running that town. I went to one audition where I opened my mouth and said the first sentence of a scene only to have the man auditioning me put his hand in my face and yell, “You aren’t funny!” I thought, I am fucking funny, thanks buddy, but I didn’t say it. I just smiled and thanked him for the time as his assistant ushered me out of the room. Surprise, surprise, I didn’t get the role.

I went for another role in a vampire film and the man auditioning me berated me for not being sexy. He kept making large circular motions around his chest area and saying, “You need to find your womanly sexiness, you need to be sexier.” By that point, I was kind of jack of LA, and I sarcastically asked him what I should do to enable him to find me sexy.

“Are you telling me I need bigger tits?” I asked with a smile on my face and daggers in my eyes. “That’s your choice,” he replied smugly but I could tell that he was saying yes. OK, thanks dude. As I left, I told him I’d look into it. I didn’t.

Later that same week I went for a role in a teen film and as I was heading through the waiting area to go to my audition an older, very famous movie star strolled past me with his entourage. He stopped me, gently held my arm and said, “You are so fucking hot.” I went red and awkwardly smiled as his gang of assistants giggled encouragingly.

As I walked away, he said loudly, “Oh my God, you have a great arse too.” I entered that audition feeling a bit disconcerted but not overly alarmed because apparently my arse was great and a compliment is a compliment.

Pia Miranda
Pia at the AACTA Awards in 2019.
(Credit: Getty )

I stood at the front of the room ready to give a great read. The room was intimidating because it was huge and empty, and I was standing alone at one end while a surly-looking lady stood at the other with an uninterested look on her face. But I had worked really hard on the screen-test and I felt pretty confident I could deliver.

I gave myself an internal pep talk, “You are going to nail this, P!” I smiled and took a deep breath. “What role are you reading for?” the surly woman said in a thick New York accent. I told her the name of the role and she said, “What?” So I repeated myself. She looked at me mortified and said, “But that’s the role of the hot girl and you aren’t the hot girl! Why would they send you for this?”

I was confused. I was clearly hot enough for the old dude to hit on me in the hallway, but I wasn’t hot enough to read a few measly lines for this irritable casting woman? Should I turn around and show her my arse? A mere five minutes before I’d been told it was fabulous. Perhaps the other casting guy was right, maybe I should get a boob job?

In the end I didn’t get the role or a boob job. I just left with my tail between my legs and went out for a burger and a beer. Alone again because of the carbs.

It wasn’t all bad, but LA definitely wasn’t for me. I’m not cut out for that shit at all. In Australia, the auditioning scene is way less traumatic, as most of the major casting people are generally kind and encouraging. So I left LA and came home, where I thought I had a better chance of scoring a job and the casting people were nicer and never once mentioned my boobs.

Returning to Australia, I was fortunate enough to have a beautiful piece of work behind me that would hopefully open doors. Sometimes, however, I felt uncomfortable to be given so much positive attention on my first big job when I was only one part of the whole package. I hope that I shone a light on others – the writer, directors, cast members, all the people who made the magic happen – as much as they deserved. I’m not sure I did enough, but I was always fully aware of how rare and magical that experience had been.

Without Josie Alibrandi, I wonder if I would have stayed on Neighbours? Would I have gotten another lucky break, or transitioned to another career? I’m not sure but I do think about it from time to time.

‘Who would I be without Josie? Would life be better or worse?’ I don’t know the answer to that question because she invaded my soul, changed my life and then we became one. Forever entwined.

Pia Miranda in 'Looking For Alibrandi'
(Credit: Supplied)

Being an actor can definitely be fun, but it can also feel kind of absurd. Sometimes people ask me how I stayed grounded and I answer, “A confusing mix of fame and poverty.”

When Looking for Alibrandi was released, many of us were thrust into the spotlight in a way that was instantly life-changing. I’d always wondered what fame would be like, but when it happened, it all happened so fast that it was hard to wrap my head around it. The Alibrandi alumni stuck together as a gang. For a while, people would have extreme emotional reactions when they saw us, so it was better to share the experience with friends.

It was, however, an exciting time to be young, in a massive hit, doing press junkets and going to fancy events. People everywhere were so inviting and supportive. I [had moved to] Sydney where I didn’t know many friends. As it goes with fame, some friendships lasted and some didn’t, but the ones that did were fantastic.

In a lucky twist, the publicists I was working with at the film company were an excellent bunch of people and I made some lifelong friends. One of my great loves was Tom, who used to pick me up in his old beaten-up Toyota Corolla and drive me around to all of my interviews and photo shoots. He was handsome, tall and skinny as a rake (mostly from anxiety, which made me love him more). We would laugh and laugh and make fun of everything, and somewhere along the journey he became my new wingman.

He had just started dating a guy called Ant and before I knew it, I was a regular on their couch eating pizza and binge watching Survivor. We stayed friends and nothing much has changed really. More than 20 years later, our gang has just gotten bigger with our kids and my husband joining the group.

To find a lasting, deep friendship in the middle of all this mayhem was a gift. The press tour for Looking for Alibrandi kicked on and even though the success was amazing and overwhelming, I was feeling a little bit in limbo. I’d managed to pick up some theatre work and some guest roles but, for the most part, I wasn’t working much.

Pia Miranda Survivor
Pia celebrating with her family after winning Australian Survivor in 2019. (Credit: Supplied)

I won an Australian Film Institute (AFI) award for Best Actress in 2000 and had received beautiful reviews for Alibrandi (besides the one guy whose review in a major newspaper said I had a face like a cat’s bum), but I was still green and trying to find my feet artistically. Having such a huge hit as my first big role was great because it could open doors, but I still felt like a work in progress and I wasn’t landing many parts. I really wanted to work.

I’d had a taste of how fulfilling an amazing acting experience could be, and I was excited to see where it was going to take me. I was happy when I finally booked an ad. Not my dream job but for the first time ever I made good money. I probably should have squirrelled away the cash, but I was determined to study acting in New York.

I’d been feeling unsure whether I had the technique to equal the quality of roles I was now auditioning for because I just didn’t have the experience, and I found that I was getting way too nervous in auditions.

I had to go back to the drawing board, develop the tools I needed to make my own way and then find my path. Ever since the Alibrandi bootcamps when I had worked with actor and drama coach Nico Lathouris, whose method had been gritty and real and easy to digest, I had wanted to study practical aesthetics. I knew I should do it while I had the chance, so I decided to go to New York.

In the end, taking time off to study was the greatest decision I’ve made. My experience at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York was challenging as well as fulfilling, and I felt myself start to settle into my own skin. I came back to Australia refreshed and clear-headed. I had finally learnt to stand on my own two feet as an actor with strength and gusto. I was given a new-found energy.

The next few years were filled with career peaks and troughs. I had many good jobs and lots of downtime in between, waiting for a call. This is completely normal in Australia – it’s not uncommon to see brilliant actors working in bookshops or bars around Sydney. I too needed the financial security of a job, but the fame from Alibrandi stuck for a long time. I briefly wondered whether people would ever see past Josie.

Eventually, I found voice-overs a good side hustle and I learnt to be versatile so, in time, I found a path that was the new normal. It took me a while to find my feet, but Josie was the reason I found love and had a family, so I could never have stayed mad at her for long.

Finding My Bella Vita Pia Miranda
Pia’s new book, Finding My Bella Vita is out now. (Credit: Supplied )

This is an edited extract from Finding My Bella Vita by Pia Miranda (Hachette,$34.99), out now.

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