Natalie Imbruglia came to prominence on Neighbours in the early ’90s and went on to have her 1997 debut album, Left In The Middle, sell 7 million copies. She was married to Silverchair frontman Daniel Johns for five years from 2003. Now 39, Imbruglia has spent the past two years studying acting in Los Angeles. She talked to me about returning to the recording studio, staying out of gossip headlines and this month’s launch of her new skincare line, Iluka.
You have an album coming out. Can you tell me about it?
Yes – it’s not until March. It is a covers album of male artists, but then I’m also going to be songwriting and I’ll be releasing an original-material album a bit later.
What is the writing process for you?
It can be quite difficult because there had been a big gap. It was just a case of me doing a lot of lyric writing myself and just getting back into that mode. It’s this bizarre trapdoor that needs to be reopened. I find it very emotional and very confronting. It’s like a therapy. So I need to kind of just start the process by just writing on my own and then I work with collaborators. Usually they’ll have some riffs and I come in and pick the one that I want to start on and then we jam and I start singing.
You’ve been studying acting for the last two years. What was that like?
Yes in LA with [acting coach] Ivana Chubbuck. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I never gave myself the chance to do.
But you started your career as an actor.
Yes but I wasn’t really learned. I mean, I did amateur talent-school acting classes, but I’ve never studied. I didn’t go to drama college, so I didn’t really throw myself into any kind of study. So all the acting I’ve done is purely winging it … There is a confidence missing when you haven’t studied.
What’s the biggest thing you learnt while studying?
Probably: let go. Because [of] all that stuff that you do by the time you get to work, you have to be free and in the moment. So that’s a preparation that you have to just let go, and I’m such a control freak, it’s very hard for me to do that.
Do you prefer acting or singing?
I love them both. There is songwriting and then there is singing. Singing is something I’ve always naturally been able to do. But acting is a little more challenging for me. I find it harder. So that spikes my interest more, but it’s like having two favourite foods and saying, “Pick one”. I actually really love them both.
You recently starred in a revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1997 play Things We Do For Love. Have you done a lot of theatre work before?
None. This was my first-ever play. It was absolutely terrifying; like the hardest I’ve ever set myself to do. I just remember the first night about to go on stage thinking, “What am I doing? How is this going to actually happen? Am I going to remember the lines?” It was just so overwhelming to me that I don’t know how I got through the first few shows. It’s just a completely different medium; you’re having to deal with your nerves and your adrenaline. Singing is a little bit easier to cope with that.
Do you still get stage fright?
I’m a nervous performer, but I think that’s part of what can make you better because if you’re not nervous there is something wrong. I think that the nerves are part of the adrenaline that you feed on and that goes into the performance. So it’s really exciting. It’s fun.
How did you get into making your own skin-care line?
I remember, when I was a little girl, looking at pictures of [Lancome model] Isabella Rossellini and saying, “I’m going to do that”. It was always something I wanted to do.
Were you involved in the process of creating the line?
Yes, I’m a control freak so I was very involved. I’ve got problem skin. I get breakouts like acne. So for me, I’m the best test. I’m conscious about what I’m putting on my body and what I’m eating, so I wanted to do something that sits in the natural realm.
Will you ever move back to Australia?
I definitely see myself retiring here. I’m actually going to be looking for a place soon because I’ve never had my own place here. When I was married, I stayed in my husband’s house here, and I had my place in London. When I come home I stay with mum and dad.
You seem to stay out of gossip headlines. Do you intentionally try and stay under the radar?
[Yes] there is a reluctance about the whole being-in-the-public-eye thing. I accept it and I understand it but there is a part of me that’s shy, which might be hard to believe. But there is a shy person in me … And so thrusting yourself back out into that takes a minute. I’ve never understood the concept of promoting yourself just for the sake of promoting yourself.
What do you do for fun when you’re not working?
I like to run through Kensington Gardens [in London] with my dog, Mr Wilson. He is a rescue [dog]. I don’t have children, so I have to be obsessed with my dog [laughs].
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I desperately want babies. So married with children, doing my product line, still touring. I’d love to be doing the odd independent film. That would be great. I’ve never been someone who is like, “I want to get to the top of charts, I want to win an Oscar.” That’s not what motivates me. I would be happy to be a working actor.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No, I’m still single. I’m not even hiding any [laughs]. I wish I was hiding a secret lover, but I’m not.
WE WENT TO The Park Hyatt, The Rocks.
WE ATE a high tea with a selection of cakes and sandwiches.
WE DRANK herbal tea.
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