The Real Housewives of Melbourne (L-R) Andrea Moss, Jackie Gillies, Lydia Schiavello, Chyka Keebaugh, Gina Liano and Janet Roach: the show will premiere on Sunday on Arena. Photo: Tamara DeanDon’t be fooled by the big hair, spangly dresses and killer heels.
There is evidently more brain than brawn among this group of alpha Melbourne “housewives”, who are about to explode on screens on Foxtel on Sunday night in the latest chapter of the reality juggernaut.
The colourful sextet who arrived in Sydney on Tuesday morning and are taking to the Harbour on Wednesday, are about to launch onto television screens as part of the global franchise The Real Housewives, which is also filmed in New York, Orange County, Vancouver, Beverly Hills and Miami, among other US post codes.
For the uninitiated, the format typically sees a handful of gazillionaire wives, who argue about who said what to who, socialise and attend functions. They are pursued by cameras which eavesdrop on their every move. The over-the-top results are traditionally wildly disturbing yet utterly fascinating.
In what appears to be a world first, Fairfax Media has learned that these wise-cracking, fast-talking, Louboutin-wearing women of the up-market postcodes of 3141-3144 (or “Planet Toorak” as Housewives outsider Jackie Gillies likes to say) asserted their authority on the show’s producers, Matchbox Pictures, before they had even filmed their first scene.
Gathered at The Darling Hotel in Pyrmont the perfumed posse reveal that after much discussions with the production company’s lawyers, the group negotiated to have things removed from the standard contracts issued to Housewives across the globe – which they were not comfortable with.
No bitch-slaps and poolside wig-tugging for this lot, as is the standard pre-requisite and what we’ve come to expect from flash-and-trash Real Housewives series.
Barrister Gina Liano, 47, a divorced mum-of-two who has been fighting battles in the courtroom for 14 years (not to mention creating a range of sequinned stilettos on the side), leads the charge to have certain clauses removed after reading the contract.
The main sticking point was the clause in the contract which said the Housewives were allowed to be physically harmed in the line of duty and would not be able to sue the production company if they were hurt.
Traditionally cast members around the world get pushed into pools, shoved from their towering heels or involved in catfights with no recourse. Think Jerry Springer but with Gucci, false lashes and hair extensions.
“Even in the contracts in the US, I understand they are actually allowed to assault each other. It’s part of the contract. When we got our contracts that was one of the conditions. It said that we consented to being assaulted. But I got rid of it,” legal eagle Liano reveals.
“I said, apart from anything I’m not about to embark on anything like that and nor are the rest of the cast – or the three girls that I knew [before the show started taping] – and I said to them ‘you can’t bind yourself into anything like that’.”
Despite being a likely first for the franchise, all of the women read their contracts and agreed it had to be removed.
“I think we all had a discussion about what we were comfortable with – all the girls read it, we are all business women,” Liano says, with Janet Roach, 55, the solo blonde of the pack adding: “I was going through mine with a tooth comb but Gina explained it really well. She said ‘we’re not doing that, we’re not doing that or that’.”
Brunette mum and extravagant shopaholic Lydia Schiavello, 45, said the only part she agreed with on her contract was the name and date.
“The only part of the original contract I was going to actually sign was the date and my name, they were the only things that were fine until we all attacked it.”
Liano, with her background, then approached the show’s legal department.
“I went and sat with the solicitor face to face for about 30 hours actually. There were about five things we changed.
“We the signed uniform contracts, with special conditions attached to each contract and particular to all of us.”
Clearly the leader of the pack, the no-holds-barred Liano even calms the youngest member of the pack, rock star wife Jackie Gillies, 33, (she’s married to Silverchair’s Ben Gillies) when she asks if we should be discussing contracts at all.
“Yeh, yeh it’s fine,” Liano settles her. “Trust me, I know what’s in that contact! It’s fine.”
Even after fixing their contracts the women agree they didn’t really know what they were signing up for.
A little like lambs to the slaughter, the group admit they were naieve when it came to the editing process and dealing with the media. Both Roach and Moss hadn’t even seen the other Real Housewives shows when they were approached.
“It’s all new to us. We are all raw. I think they chose us for that reason,” says the most level-headed of the group Chyka Keebaugh, 45, who along with her husband Bruce runs one of Australia’s biggest and most successful privately-owned catering companies, The Big Group.
“We knew this was going to happen – but we didn’t know the level to which it would happen,” Keebaugh says.
Property developer Roach, a singleton who dumped her husband last year after an internet dating scandal, says she’s nervously awaiting episode four and seven when she goes on a date with a younger bloke.
“It’s nothing like what I expected, but lots and lots of fun,” says the effervescent blonde. “I think when it was sold to me it was a little bit less; it wasn’t such a big thing that we would film this little show for a few weeks.
“I had never seen an episode. We had to watch an episode before we signed, and I watched Atlanta. They had sequinned dresses on and pulled each others wigs off and pushed each other into the pool. So I did have an idea of what I was getting myself into.”
Moss says her husband told her she shouldn’t do it after he watched a Miami episode where one wife had sex.
Are they worried about how they will be portrayed?
“I went into this with a TV background, and I am a journalist, so I felt they could only portray me the way I am,” Moss says.
She, however, didn’t bank on the copious amounts of champagne supplied creating onscreen gold.
“The tricky thing is when there’s no alcohol involved you are yourself and you’re careful. But when they put the alcohol there and you have one or two glasses of champagne (for the record Liano doesn’t drink), well, after a couple of champagnes you loosen up … which is fine, I can drink a lot being a journalist. But then I don’t have such good recollections of what I said or did.
“Having said that I think I’ve pretty much stood true to who I am.”
In the first few episodes alone fat-wobbling machines have opening nights, vaginal botox is discussed (seriously) and when Gillies, a psychic, tells Liano her long distant boyfriend is having an affair she hops on a plane straight to the US.
It’s also evident several friendships have been ruined by the show – a common trait of the series, which sees best friends end up enemies.
Liano and Moss came into taping as the firmest of friends and it’s clear during our photo shoot that isn’t the case now. The tension is noticeable as Moss and Schiavello appear to be the ones cosying up together today. (A little bit Mean Girls but outside of the playground.)
“Yes, it’s true,” says Liano.
“Friendships and relationships did fall apart. I think Andrea has described it the best way. In normal life if you had a falling out with a friend you’d back off and wait a while till you saw each other and cool down, but with this you were contracted and forced to see each other the next day.
“We don’t speak that much now…”
Moss agreed she and Liano had come into the show friends. “We came together more because of the contract initially. I’m too busy anyway with work and kids. Gina said a couple of things that upset me.”
All six women then heatedly rake over what happened in most heated moment of the first episode, when Liano was given the reading by Gillies and the ensuing fallout.
“I wanted to be Switzerland,” says Schiavello. “When Jackie gave Gina a reading she was upset and I rang to see if she was upset. I then had to go to the art gallery to explain it to Jackie.”
“But you misquoted me,” Liano interjects.
The fallout was the result of chinese whispers at play, which created the typical blown-out-of-proportion hysteria expected of reality drama.
“The producers won’t manipulate the storyline by telling you actually what happened – I guess that’s why we’ve got a good show,” says Liano. “But that means you’re reacting to situations without knowing everything.”
The entire group have signed for three series and it’s up to Foxtel whether it’ll commission them. Series two is apparently in the pipeline.
“We all pushed and pushed and pushed only to do one [series] – to suck it and see – but then the fee was not negotiable,” says Moss.
“It’s uniform and I think we’re all paid the same as what the American girls are paid. You don’t want someone who does a show like this for the money, you want unfiltered real women.”
For Roach the show was “definitely an emotional rollercoaster”.
“I found lust,” she says, with a laugh, about her young romance depicted in the show, while another voice adds: “It was the young jump she had to have – which is very good for the ego.”
“So far all we’re all happy,” says Schiavello.
For tough-talker Liano, dealings with the media have actually been the hardest on her during the whole experience.
“I think what’s been challenging about it for us is the media and what’s been quoted and what’s being said.
“I said things about Lydia, like she’s a beautiful woman, she’s a beautiful mother and they just cut it – and I can see that now, so I’m much more careful about what I say.”
Roach says she too has been shocked by the publicity process.
“Before as a punter I had a different idea about what was on TV and what was written about it.”
And while Gillies had been warned of how things worked by her rocker husband, who has spent years in the spotlight, she says nothing can prepare you: “I knew they take things and write anything to sell a paper. They add things. Things are left out and taken out of context. We think now before we talk.”
Always armed with the most rounded view, Chyka chimes in: “I think the level of production has been fantastic, Melbourne looks incredible and so far the back stories have been true to us.”
Mind you, the ladies have only seen up to episode three – there’s seven more episodes to go.
“I have no regrets at this stage. Though I’ll let you know after 10 episodes,” Liano says with a wink.
With talons sharpened, no doubt that will be one reunion episode worth watching.
The Real Housewives of Melbourne premieres Sunday, February 23, at 8.30pm on Foxtel’s Arena.