Darling of the Musicals, Sweetheart of the Screen, hardworking mum and all round Good Witch, Lucy Durack, shows the value in seeking the support of family, friends and the odd stranger on social media.
Words ANN MARIE BRADSTREET
When Lucy Durack got her childhood dog, her outnumbered dad, on learning it was a girl had one demand a tough name. Born and raised in an unashamedly girly girl house in Perth with her two sisters and a bitch named Bandit, this Fairy Princess was, as every good tale goes, destined for the stage.
With a wicked talent and spellbinding mix of resilience and charm, Lucy chats to Offspring from her home in Melbourne about family and her magically crafted career on both stage and screen.
“Polly wants to be The Fairy Queen of the Theater when she grows up,” Lucy laughs of her daughter. Clearly keen to follow in Mum’s footsteps, Polly must have been taking note of Lucy’s Glinda during last year’s GFO’s production of The Wizard of Oz, her four year old being no stranger to The Good Witch.
Polly, imbued in show business from the womb, (she was in utero during her mother’s reprisal of a fleshed out Glinda, in the smash hit musical, Wicked) will likely be understudying in the wings in January when Lucy treads the boards as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical.
Although Lucy held similar childhood dreams, hankering for the lead in school musicals, she’s mindful not to narrow down her daughter’s choices and says,
“Polly is very keen on singing and dancing, and she’s got a smart little brain, so I want her to see what other things are out there.”
Lucy, a Helpmann Award winning actress, (she won the coveted theater prize playing Elle Woods in the Australian season of Legally Blonde) has broadened her own horizons.
Not confining her talents to the stage, she has a growing number of screen credits, including cop, Tugger, on popular Nine Network series Doctor Doctor, and wayward, Roxy, in Network Ten drama Sisters.
She’ll soon return to Sydney to resume filming, as a judge on Seven’s revival of family hit, Australia’s Got Talent (AGT). Mercifully, without hyperemesis gravidarum, the debilitating morning sickness that plagued her in early production.
She’s expecting her second child, a baby boy in October and describes her recovery as a “Miracle,” after suffering from the condition throughout her entire pregnancy with Polly which she says, “Was really hard,” a believable sentiment when considering the first five months were spent on stage.
Relieved the symptoms subsided much earlier this pregnancy and grateful for the solace she sought in a Facebook group of fellow sufferers she says, “It was a really useful group to just connect with complete strangers that were also going through this really terrible time.”
“Just having people who are going through exactly the same thing is really useful. I found having a Mothers’ Group really helped. I remember once we finished our four weeks, or whatever you do with the nurse, she was like, “Right it’s now up to you girls to meet on your own”, so I started up a WhatsApp Group, but I started it in the middle of the night when I was up feeding Polly.”
“Polly was born in June, so it was winter, and it was dark and cold, that isolating time when you feel like, you’re the only one in the world awake feeding your baby,” Lucy laughs. “And so, I thought I’ll just add the mums and when they wake up in the morning, they can join, but at around 2am I kept getting this ‘ding ding’.
All the mums were up feeding their babies, it was so heartening and it still gives me warm fuzzy feelings to think about, because it was just this moment where I thought,
‘Oh my God, I’m not alone, and we’re all just trying to figure this out in the middle of the night.’”
When Polly was six weeks old, Lucy auditioned for the role of Sophie in Alison Bell and Sarah Scheller creation, The Let Down, screened on ABC & Netflix. Now in its second series and steadily gaining cult status, the wry triumph peels back child rearing to its bare bones.
Lucy, in a fluster before the audition when the babysitter called in sick, had no choice but to take her newborn with her. Luckily, the role of Sophie called for a shiny new mum, who almost has it together when encountering an eclectic mix of characters at Mothers’ Group.
Polly, not only welcome at the audition, scored her first screen credit starring as Sophie’s baby in the pilot episode. Lucy’s agent called saying, “Well, if ever there was an audition where it’s appropriate to bring your baby, this was it.”
Childcare, a tricky balance to strike for most working parents is no different for Lucy and her theater director/choreographer husband, Chris Horsey, who face their own specific challenges piecing together the irregular shapes of their showbiz schedules.
Sitting down, at least monthly, with their calendars they nut out the gaps, Lucy says, “As long as we’ve kind of organised the next month or two, and I know in my heart that Polly’s looked after in the best possible way, then I can keep going.”
Lucy says it couldn’t work without Chris and his hands-on approach to fatherhood, “Chris is absolutely brilliant, such an excellent husband and dad. We don’t live the traditional roles of how we grew up, where our mothers were the main carer. Chris and I split it pretty evenly.” At times, that means either one stepping up to care for Polly while the other works.
When schedules collide, they arrange day care, a nanny or call on family. Once, when Chris was choreographing in Paris while Lucy filmed Sisters, they got a live-in au pair. Lucy’s mum is booked in for August. “Mum’s super helpful. She flies in and saves the day multiple times a year. She’s brilliant.” Lucy says.
With the long-term future often difficult to predict, Lucy relies on her and Chris talking things through, “Chris and I try to keep really open about communicating how we’re feeling because we’ve both had stints as the main carer.”
“It’s great because we both know how isolating that can be and so we can be a little more open about that. It’s constant negotiation, a jigsaw puzzle that we’re trying to sort out.”
Connecting industry parents who share tips and contacts for juggling parenthood and career through Facebook Group Actor/Singer/Dancer/Mother also helps Lucy piece the puzzle together.
“It has been an invaluable source, very, very useful. It’s a really great support network and for those really specific questions that come with being a mum, that are coupled with the uncertainty of performing life.”
“That Facebook Group, on a weekly basis, gives me such help and support, and just makes me feel happy that we’re all there looking after each other.”
"Oh, The worst thing that is going to happen is, I’m not going to do a very good job, but I’m not going to die"
Being open to support and asking for help has perhaps enhanced the bold and brave life of Lucy Durack. Suffering stage fright while studying Musical Theatre at WAAPA (Western Australian Academy for Performing Arts), she sought guidance from teachers and read books on the fight or flight response.
On realising her worst fears would not result in being eaten by a wildebeest, she overcame the anxiety. Laughing, she remembers, “Once I discovered ‘Oh, the worst thing that is going to happen is, I’m not going to do a very good job, but I’m not going to die.’ That really helped me.”
Accepting the possibility that, not doing a very good job, needn’t equal disaster has undoubtedly allowed Lucy’s talents to flourish and fostered her connections with others through the admirable mix of humility and optimism.
Discussing the bravery of vulnerability, Lucy says, “Even to just reach out and say, ‘I feel like I’m failing,’ and everyone says, ‘Yep, we all do. Don’t worry,’ can help to know you’re not the only one.
I don’t think anyone escapes that feeling, at some point. I love Brene Brown, and I read a quote from her the other day where she says, ‘If we all operate from the perspective that we’re all trying our hardest, then everyone’s life’s better.’
“You know, it’s true. Everyone is trying their hardest, it’s just sometimes things are hard.”
"Even to just reach out and say, ‘I feel like I’m failing,’ and everyone says,‘Yep, we all do. Don’t worry,’ can help to know you’re not the only one."
Moments of vulnerability abound in the current season of AGT. Judging for the first time, Lucy has found the experience more emotionally fulfilling than expected and explains, “You’re watching people bare their souls and try things they, maybe, don’t do in their normal lives. It’s their big chance in the spotlight. It can be emotionally draining because you want to give them all your attention, but it’s also emotionally fulfilling and beautiful to watch.”
“Every single filming day, probably because I’m pregnant as well, I cried at least once at something beautiful that happened on stage. Some of the acts are heart wrenching, some hilarious and others are just ridiculous. So you have this roller coaster of emotions throughout your filming day. I’m really enjoying it and I’ve learnt a lot.”
Lucy’s next big act will be welcoming her son and brother for Polly in October.
She says, “Polly is super girly. Everything has to be pink and purple, rainbow and sparkles. I think having a boy will be really good for our household, to balance us all out. It will be interesting to see what personality this little guy will have and who he’ll take after.”
The little guy will be around four weeks old when Lucy starts rehearsals for Shrek the Musical, opening at Sydney Lyric Theatre in January 2020.
She says, “Knowing that Shrek is coming up, and we as a family will be in Sydney for a few months with a newborn baby, we’ve got some beautiful nanny contacts from when we lived there, so I’ve put them in place. I’m pretty excited because I love Shrek.”
“Now my life is so much about my family, a whole new part of my career that is really family-friendly, that I can bring my family to, has all of sudden become such a high priority. Knowing that can happen with Shrek, I’m looking forward to it. It’s a really funny, well-written show.”
Another well-written show, however, comes first. Lucy needs to prepare for Bonnie Lythgoe’s panto spectacular, Jack and the Beanstalk, and this Fairy Princess doesn’t fit into any of her clothes.
She’s off to buy maternity leggings from Westfield, she’ll probably drive. But perhaps, with a click of the heel or a wave of a wand, she might just fly in a pair of glittering wings, making every day fairy tales (like only Lucy Durack can) come true.