The Other Side of Gillian Armstrong

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Jul 07, 2015

by DI WEBSTER, Managing Editor

She’s been bagging awards since  1979’s My Brilliant Career. But here, director-producer Gillian Armstrong says her greatest achievement is not  on screen – it’s on the end of a leash.

What’s your greatest strength? 
Honesty. 

What’s your greatest weakness? 
I am too honest. It could also be called tactless and abrupt – even rude! It’s a Sagittarian fault.

What scares you? 
Oncoming traffic.

What virtue do you admire most in people?
Compassion. 

If you could do any other job, what  would it be? 
I wish I could be a fabulous singer. I do  love the power of holding a hand mic.

What’s one thing about you that would surprise people? 
I don’t drive. 

What’s your most treasured possession? 
Lyla Belle, the labrador-poodle cross known in the family as Fur Child.

What’s your idea of absolute happiness? 
Seeing my daughters and the dog  laughing together.

If you could have dinner with two famous people, living or dead, who would you choose?
Orry-Kelly and Bette Davis. After two years researching their lives, they sound like very lively dinner companions and I’ve got a few more questions! As Orry was also known for honesty, we’d have fun.

What travel experience is on your bucket list? 
Iceland and Alaska, even though I hate the cold. But [seeing] a polar bear and an iceberg are on my wish list.

How do you switch off? 
I’m a TV junkie. I turn televisions on when I walk into rooms and watch whatever –mostly news, talk shows, the weather and breakfast programs. When I actually sit down, I’m a very snobby viewer. I watch documentaries on the ABC or SBS or Apple TV, or I binge-view all the latest great cable drama – from The Killing to Game of Thrones, Mad Men and Olive Kitteridge.

What’s your guilty pleasure? 
[TV series] Border Security. I say it’s because of my professional interest in human behaviour – and the amount of time I’ve stood in lines at airports wondering who everyone else is and what their secrets are.

What quality do you most admire in men? 
Blue eyes smiling at me.

What quality do you most admire in women? 
Laughter – with me.

If you could turn back time, what would  you change? 
I’d have learned another language when the brain was more agile, say at age six. Starting French at high school was too late for my brain. Also, it seemed a bit late for maths.

What is your greatest achievement? 
Getting Lyla to walk to heel. The next challenge is to contain her new… let’s say, slightly aggressive behaviour to all those small yappy dogs that used to attack her.

Who’s your personal hero? 
My bloke [film editor John Pleffer]. He has put up with a lot over the past 40 years. He’s a great dad as well… and has blue eyes.

Where would we find you at a party? 
By the food and drink table with a glass, talking and waving my hands around and knocking over stuff.

If you were an animal what would it be? 
A dolphin. All that jumping out of the water looks fun. And I love warm blue oceans.

If you were down to your last $20, what would you spend it on? 
A good movie and a choc top, of course!  

Gillian Armstrong’s new documentary, Women He's Undressed, about Australian costume designer Orry-Kelly, is released on July 15.

Image: Damian Bennett