Mavournee Hazel played Piper Willis on Neighbours for three years, until it was time to move on to something else. For the 24-year-old, the role was not only an “honour” but a springboard for her career as an actor to watch.
The Melbourne local is playing Zoe on Channel 9’s Halifax: Retribution alongside TV veteran’s Rebecca Gibney and Claudia Karvan, which is something of a “pinch me” moment.
“I was trying to soak everything up by watching them,” Hazel said in an interview with TheLatch—. “I was having all kind of chats on and off-set with Rebecca and Claudia, and Bec was really helping me dealing with “imposter syndrome” and finding my voice and telling me ‘you deserve to be here!'”
Her new character portrays characteristics that parallel Piper, however, in this new series, “there aren’t many scenes that we don’t see Zoe struggling.”
“I had learnt on Neighbours because I was given smaller opportunities to do so, not to bring that home and leave storylines at work and not let it bleed into my real life. That’s something I had to learn because I did have some quite heavy storylines,” she said.
As for her own mental health, it’s not something that she likes to speak publicly about, however, like everyone, 2020 has been a difficult year.
“I struggle with mental health and there are highs and lows with it. I’m just taking every day as it comes. The more we speak about it and get it on screen, the better. That’s why I love acting because I want to tell stories like this.”
Here, Hazel speaks with TheLatch— about her mental health journey, what it’s like to be a role model and why it’s important to be a female in the Australian arts right now.
Anita Anabel: Hi Mavournee! It’s so wonderful to be able to chat with you. Firstly, I want to talk about your new role of Zoe in Halifax: Retribution. You’ve gone through not only a physical transformation from your days as Piper on Neighbours but also a mental one. Can you tell me about that?
Mavournee Hazel: The physical transformation really spearheaded the mental transformation that needed to come for the role.
When I left Neighbours, I cut my hair a bit shorter and it still didn’t quite fix it. I looked in the mirror and still saw Piper but then the hair transformation really put me in the right headspace for Zoe.
AA: They’re two very different roles on two very different show, but also similar right?
MH: There are lots of parallels that can be drawn between Zoe and Piper and that’s not coincidental. I think they’re the sort of roles that I’m gravitating towards and roles that I do get cast in. I love to play very strong-minded women. Zoe is just a darker grittier version of Piper.
AA: You were given the opportunity to explore mental health with Zoe a lot more. How did that affect you during filming?
MH: I had learnt on Neighbours because I was given smaller opportunities to do so, not to bring that home and leave storylines at work and not let it bleed into my real life. That’s something I had to learn because I did have some quite heavy storylines.
I took that on board for Zoe because there aren’t many scenes that we don’t see Zoe struggling.
AA: Your characters are dealing with some mental health struggles. Is this something you can relate to yourself?
MH: It’s not something I publicly speak about but this has been a really hard year for everyone. I feel like anyone would. I struggle with mental health and there are highs and lows with it. I’m just taking every day as it comes.
The more we speak about it and get it on screen, the better. That’s why I love acting because I want to tell stories like this.
Growing up, there were feelings that I had that made me feel really alone and I felt like no one understood. But when you watch something and they deal with this stuff, you think, ‘Oh my gosh! They’re telling a part of my story!’ It gives you a sense of community and by seeing it on screen it becomes normalised.
AA: Thank you for sharing that with me. Now, Neighbours is such a wonderful springboard for many Australian actors and now it’s time to move on. How has it been to try and shake the Piper persona and move forward?
MH: It was an amazing four years and there is a very loyal fanbase and I was so lucky because my character was crazy and made a lot of noise, so to still have that still be creating waves is amazing because it continues to honour my time on the show.
I’m so proud of my time on that show but I’m ready to continue on and see what’s next.
AA: You’re currently working with some incredibly talented and strong female actors — Rebecca Gibney and Claudia Karvan. That’s got to be a pinch-me moment!
MH: Every single day was a pinch-me moment. I was trying to soak everything up by watching them and I feel by watching my performance, I can see myself becoming a lot more comfortable as the episodes go on.
I was having all kind of chats on and off-set with Rebecca and Claudia and Bec was really helping me dealing with “imposter syndrome” and finding my voice and telling me “you deserve to be here!”.
I feel really lucky in my career to have been mentored and guided by these really strong female actresses.
It all started with Doris Younane and Collette Mann. I’m living with Doris at the moment and it all came about in a bizarre twisted turn of events.
I have a lot of respect for them as actresses but also as women and as you just said they helped me a lot with my career, but also in my personal life.
AA: You have these amazing role models, however, you’ve got quite a following on social media. What type of role model do you wish to be?
MH: don’t think anyone sets out to be a role model. I think it comes from a place of authenticity and being yourself unapologetically and speaking the truth and honouring that. I think it’s just something that happens. There’s no way that I am striving to be in the space of that.
But I’m still figuring everything out and nobody is perfect. We see so many people in interviews being so sure of themselves and having this crystal clear image of themselves. I don’t. The way I view myself and the world changes every day. I just want to use whatever little platform I have encouraged people to celebrate every version of themselves, even the shitty ones.
AA: This is such a true statement. I completely agree with you. And what about being a female in the arts?
MH: There are so many stories that can’t be told through the male point of view and I’m watching so many things that are only a “thing” because it’s been told through the male gaze for so long.
I feel like we need to smash the glass ceiling with that and have these strong female voices and be storytellers. It’s a step forward with authenticity and we need to rewrite certain narratives that have told for too long that are outdated and oppressed.
AA: The female voice is so important! I also noticed that you advocate for Black Lives Matter on your Instagram? Can you explain why?
MH: Speaking publicly as a white woman on BLM and spreading any form of awareness or activism could be misconstrued and seen as virtue signalling, but my support and voice were driven by my nieces, my brother-in-law and for my family. I want to see change happen for them and for every person of colour. We have a duty to speak up, especially those of us who have inherited privilege in society.
Halifax: Retribution airs Tuesdays at 8.40 pm on Nine and 9Now. Stream every episode ever of Halifax: f.p. for free on 9Now.
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