Gina Liano is a barrister, TV personality, designer, author and actor who rose to national fame on the hit series Real Housewives of Melbourne. She also joined the cast of Neighbours and has featured on The Celebrity Apprentice Australia. She will make her first theatre appearance this week as the wicked stepmother in the pantomime Cinderella at the State Theatre in Sydney. Liano, 49, told me about the challenges of being on reality television, the secrets to her beauty regime, and her first foray into theatre.
How do you feel about your theatre debut?
It’s a mixed feeling. I am excited and I think it’s a great opportunity and so much fun. But you know, when you’re going into something that you have never done before? I’m learning on my feet. I know I can do it, but you have a bit of stage fright.
What drew you to the character of the wicked stepmother?
Well, I was never going to be Cinderella! [laughs]. And I was never going to be ugly stepsister. So I was left with that role … Bonnie [Lythgoe, the show’s producer] asked me which role I would be interested in. She put to me the wicked stepmother or the fairy godmother and she said, “Well, you could do both, whichever one you would like to audition for”. But the fairy godmother needs to sing …
You are a barrister, TV personality, author, designer, actor and now a stage performer. What title do you prefer the best?
I suppose entertainer.
How has your life changed since The Real Housewives of Melbourne?
It has changed dramatically. I’ve gone from having a relatively private life, to being in the public eye. I’ve got a public profile now and I’m recognised. I didn’t know the Australian audience before. Now I feel that they’re quite familiar to me. It’s really encouraging because I think we are collectively very switched-on people … [Previously] I thought … “OK, Aussies were notorious about tall poppy syndrome”, and historically there have been a lot of people who have been bullied, like Charlotte Dawson, for no particular reason. They’re successful and they get put down by, usually, a very small minority. That hasn’t actually been the case [for me]. People are very – I think they’ve become a lot more Americanised in a way. They’re very enthusiastic about success. People, with me in particular, they’ve really got behind me and supported me all the way.
What do you think it is that makes the show so popular?
It’s come off the back, obviously, of an American franchise that was very popular. So a lot of people were very keen to watch it. But in a way, that could have set us up for failure because we had some tough acts to follow … I think people can identify with all of them at some point. We’ve all got girlfriends who probably remind us of someone in the cast … We are actually a lot of fun when we’re all together … We’ve been in the thick of really intense disagreements and I would say something that wasn’t directed at [another cast member], but it would be tongue-in-cheek or I’ll be a smart[y-pants] somewhere along the line … She would just crack up laughing and laugh until she is crying. They’ve cut that out. They’ve edited those things out.
So the TV catfights are real?
None of it’s scripted. It’s all organic. Occasionally, production will say, “OK, well the viewer has seen this happen and you guys have talked about it off-camera. Now you need to have that conversation on-camera because no one understands where it has gone from there”. The thing with that is that the conversation doesn’t always go the way you think it is going anyway. Sometimes it can actually just spawn into something else.
Do you catch up with the girls outside the show?
Yes, occasionally; we all catch up at some point or another. I probably speak to Lydia [Schiavello] the most, and that’s for a whole variety of reasons. I think we’ve come out, this season, probably the closest and in terms of contact; we’ve probably spent the most time together. I speak to Pettifleur [Berenger] a lot. But what happens is that when there is tension through the show, we probably just need down times and when we stop filming, we back off, like you do naturally.
Will there be another season?
They haven’t announced it. The original girls are out of contract now. They haven’t approached us to [renegotiate contracts] yet because they’re concentrating on getting Sydney [series] up and running. It’s the same production company. Definitely there will be a season four. Who comes back, I don’t know.
What did you learn from your experience on Celebrity Apprentice?
Never to do it again! … It’s not just the challenges and the hours. They put up the airconditioning and they film you reacting to the fact that it’s midday and you’re starving and that you need a coffee, or that you need to stop because you’re freezing and they have actually chosen wardrobe for you that’s inappropriate to what you’re doing because you’re out in the cold. It actually is a threat to your health. I ended up in hospital … I said to them, “You don’t need to freeze me or starve me for me to entertain. I can be more entertaining with a warm blanket and a coffee and I’ll operate at my best”.
You are a barrister by trade. Have those skills helped you in your TV career?
Well, I think confidence-wise, public speaking [has helped]. My whole career, I used to be on my feet, public speaking, and to always be thinking about what I’m saying and making sure that I can deliver it in a very concise or precise way.
You always look so glamorous. Do you look this glam even on your days off?
I’ve always been dressed up. I was in the fashion industry for a long time. Being a European woman, I have sort of inherited it.
Do you never have a day in trackie pants and ugg boots?
I don’t know [about] trackie pants or ugg boots! [Laughs.] I try and have one day where I give my hair a rest – and my feet, because just standing up for hours in rhinestone shoes and sequin dresses filming, you end up with burns on your arms and shoulders.
How long does it take you to get ready?
I probably had it turned to a fine art before I started filming, because there is a lot more pressure obviously when you’re going to be camera-ready. So it takes me a couple of hours, usually. And I used to be able to do it in an hour, when I was in court.
When you were younger, did you ever envisage your life would be like this?
I’ve always had a lot of things and projects on the go – I had children and I was in the fashion industry. I had a clothing store. I’ve always had a lot on. So I’m not that surprised … Things happen in the time they’re meant to, I suppose.
What’s next for you?
I [recently] launched a jewellery range. And I have a second fragrance [coming out] … We’re hoping they’ll be ready for Christmas.