Strictly speaking, a random tweet isn’t how a friendship with Paul Mercurio should start…

Phyllis Foundis and Paul Mercurio chat on the Lip Lounge

The year was 2015 and I was in Melbourne for the annual Screen Producers of Australia (SPA) conference. The event was a little bit thrilling since it capped off what had been a dream couple of years for me, creatively.

My men’s talk show had aired on a few community TV stations around Oz, I’d won two presenting awards for ‘best new talent’ at the tender age of 45 and then SPA named me one of 15 producers nationwide as a Ones To Watch – um, a producer to watch.

I was on a high. And totally in love with my industry. Everything was going my way, goddammit! Tall Poppy? What madness do you speak of?!

I attended the conference with my fellow ‘watchees’… soaked up the panel discussions, the interviews with American guests in expensive sneakers and even pricier Hollywood advice, rubbed proverbials with industry players. And Twitter. Yes, I was going nuts on Twitter. Firing off this pic and that pithy summary. Making observations. Generating Foundis wit. I was on fire, I tell ya. And then… out of the blue one morning, a man claiming to be a famous Aussie actor replied to one of my missives. His humour, dry. His responses, quick. Was this the same man who made women melt with his floppy fringe, beaded bolero and cuban heels? Surely, not.

Well, in my world, everything is possible. Even random tweets from Paul Mercurio – actually especially unexpected missives from such a celebrated dancing dude.

So, we exchanged a few notes on Twitter where we talked movies, opportunities, LA and even his passion for spicy chicken rubs, we decided to stay in touch. Paul met my family a year later in Sydney. We did the Facebook catch up thing occasionally. And then A Little Bit of Lip launched and I reached out to him in early 2019. I knew he had a story that went beyond the ballroom and when Paul sat with L and I, he delivered.

But this isn’t about painting a ridiculously perfect picture of an actor I’ve always admired. I’m bored just writing that sentence. No.

This is about shining a light on the man who did the meteoric rise to fame stuff in the early 90s, boarded the Hollywood train too, bought the t-shirt, came back down to earth, did the Aussie TV shows, shot some shorts, embarked on a cooking career and today has one of the most intimate, vulnerable and endearing takes on this beautiful mess we call life you’re likely to hear.

Who knew that one random tweet would bless me with a conversation I will never forget. And don’t even get me started on the man’s dip.

 

A chance carpark meeting inspired by fresh produce and cheesy grins.

Phyllis Foundis and Anne-Marie Cavaco chat on the Lip Lounge

The first time I met Anne-Marie, she’d been sitting in her car outside a supermarket late one night, watching me as I sat in my car. Creepy right? On the surface, sure.

But, let’s add a little bit of context.

We had both arrived at a late-night shoot for a Woolworths ad. I didn’t know this at the time, but Anne-Marie and I shared the same agent. We also didn’t know this was going to be a long night involving the regular squeezing of fresh produce and ready grins to camera. The perfect setting for a new friendship, really.

Within moments of meeting, we fell quickly into a conversation that basically lasted all night. Once again, here was another human being I felt an instant connection with. We joked in Greek as we waited to be called to set like we’d shared a bedroom as sisters for years. We complained about the cold. The wee hours. We talked openly about our dreams, our loves. And I remember very clearly that, as we fell deeper into conversation about our Greekness, our art and our lives, I realised this chick was older than me – like a few hundred years at least. Her patience with life and the industry she’d embraced far outweighed my own. I’ve always loved that about her.

When Anne-Marie shares news on auditions that lead nowhere or roles she didn’t win, her eyes are still smiling. “It’s not time, yet.” She says, like she’s in direct contact with some kinda inner knowing we should all tap into when our goals seem a little too lofty.

“How do you know?” I ask her.

“I just do,” she replies. And I believe her.

I love it how kindred spirits find each other. It just took a little bit of faux stalking in a car park to bring Anne-Marie and I together.

 

 

The gentle art of legerdemain.

Phyllis Foundis with Magician Jack Daniels

When it comes to wonder and believing in a thousand things you can’t explain, there’s nothing quite like ‘up close magic.’ Which is why when the opportunity to meet and interview a real, live, honest-to-goodness, Illusionist, came up, I couldn’t let the opportunity disappear…

Yes. Perhaps I should warn you now.

I’m writing this blog after a full day of birthday celebrations. It’s nuts late so the temptation to pepper this blog with outrageous magic puns will be irresistible…

Now. Watch me pull a blog out of this sleepy state. (I told you.)

Jack Daniels arrived on-set looking like he already had magic in his DNA. We’re talking an unmistakable air of calm, a tailored jacket (secret pockets, optional) and a super neat goatee. Not that fastidious attention to facial fur should predicate an Illusionist’s ability to make stuff disappear or levitate. And there’s the obvious L word, right?

Well, Jack – in true illusionist style – surprised and defied expectations here because Legerdemain was his word. And he said it with such a delightful French twang too.

Now, I gotta tell ya. I’m no slouch in the vocab department. I’ve made my living out of knowing more than my fair share of unexpected adjectives, nouns and the like. But this word came out of thin air. It was my personal Abracadabra moment – like an Oprah a-ha moment, only with more consonants.

So what does it mean? Well, it refers to the ‘sleight of hand’ a magic man (or woman) has to be rather adept at if they’re going to convince an audience that those red balls really did just disappear before your very eyes…

Ah yes. Them red balls. They were round, foamy and squishy. Your average tricks of the trade. But those suckers, no matter how hard I squeezed them (Jack’s instructions, not my fetish), they still managed to miraculously multiply in my right hand.

But here’s the best part of my conversation with Jack. It wasn’t the balls, the card tricks or even the table that floated above the ground.

It was Jack’s magical attitude to the miracles that unfold in our world, every day, without question, to serve, delight and inspire us.

Basically, real magic. No legerdemain required.

 

Learn more about Jack Daniels over at Magic to Believe.

You can light up the world. All you need are the flaps to do it. 

What I love the most about my show is how boundaries and preconceptions are detonated with every conversation I have. The impossibly beautiful, Sarah Jane Kelly is a case in point. 

She glides onto the set in an emerald green and flowing chiffon situation, blinged-up footwear and a fiery red mane… 

Old Hollywood glamour, quiet and subdued elegance, right? Well, yes… but then she opens her mouth and the sass, the verve and the sheer unapologetic energy she has when she speaks her truth is, undeniable. 

I first met SJ when she was my eldest son’s drama teacher at Sydney’s NIDA many years ago. My boy may have had more than a little bit of a crush on her at the time (!). Sorry, Dean – it’s Mama’s job to embarrass you. 

Fast forward to a few years later, and I bumped into SJ again at a Sydney theatre. We talked about acting, the trials, the tribulations, the bar work between gigs. Sarah Jane didn’t have stars in her eyes, but there was definitely fire there. I wanted to yell, ‘Get thee to a casting director in L.A, you’re gorgeous, you’re talented, they’ll love you. Won’t they?’

Yes. I’m a romantic about most things, I get it. But Sarah Jane wasn’t buying into my Hollywood version of Hollywood.

Her approach, pragmatic. Her dreams, not spun from fairy floss.

#LisForLuminous is not about rags to riches, or talent-spotting across a crowded (insert improbable location here). It’s  a real story about life on the edges of fame and fans when all you really want to do is live your purpose and – act.

In her own words, 

“You know what? Stuff it, I am an actor. I’m here and the world better get used to it.” 

I’m tellin’ ya, the woman’s got flaps the size of Oz. 

 

 

Lightning fast blog. Didn’t give it much thought – just heart.

Divine intelligence has a lovely habit of putting the right people in your path at the right time. And this is how I met Cheryl Craig. Actually – it was less of a meeting and more of a discovery.

Picture this… it was three days before our next L shoot.

My crew was booked. Studio confirmed. Make up artist locked in. Hair and wardrobe organised. And when I say organised I mean, getting my anti-frizz shampoo ready and trawling through the sequinned section of my wardrobe (yes I have a section, no shame in my shine!).

But I digress.

So. I’m at my laptop. Last minute to-dos getting ticked off – when I can ignore the rabbit-hole of social media. And then I get an email from my one of my guest’s agents.

Sorry, but she has an acting gig out of town. Can’t make your show. Um. Now, what?

It’s ok. This is what guerrilla content producing is all about. The ‘glamour’ behind the scenes, relentless. Last minute hiccups, the norm. Within ten minutes I find our Cheryl on a talent website. She’s a gorgeous African American woman who just happens to sing with the Cafe of the Gate of Salvation choir. Jackpot. But will she say, yes? Just leap, Foundis. So I send her a message. One hour later we’re talking on the phone like we haven’t caught up in 100 years.

The episode you see with Cheryl is the first time we met in person. The chemistry was instant. The connection, natural. And there are so many platitudes I could write here about alignment and when a moment is destined blah, blah, blah… but I won’t because none of what I attempt to express will do my meeting with this gifted, heartful lady justice.

Suffice to say (who uses suffice anymore? Me – when I’m rushing to finish this blog for you!)…

All I will say is that, I’m so grateful Cheryl said yes when some random woman reached out to her out of the blue one day with the words…

“Will you tell your story on my show?”

 

 

Why me, why now, why this show?

Phyllis' father Dino Foundis

Every day, you and I, walk around with roughly one trillion stories inside us. This turns me on like you wouldn’t believe. Why? ’Cause our stories have untold power. They decimate barriers and prejudice and connect us like nothing else in life.

My late father, Dino Foundis knew this. Instinctively. So that’s why I love that today, the day that I launch my show, just happens to be Father’s Day, 2019.

Dad was the first man I loved. I was the quintessential Daddy’s Little Girl. And he made an enormous impact on the woman I am today. Dad was always curious about people and their stories. I think that’s why he loved driving a taxi. His passengers were his (captive) audience and he had an innate talent for making everyone feel at home with him from the businessman in the $3,000 suit to the junkie who shot up in the back seat as he drove.

Dad adored all their stories; ugly, beautiful, tragic, inspiring. And he absolutely revelled in sharing them at our big, noisy Greek gatherings on the weekend. As a little girl I remember Dad holding court sharing what he’d learnt during the week – giving us all a slice of the world he met every day in his taxi. He was animated, charismatic and very, very funny. His appeal magnetic.

I took Dad’s gifts for granted. But decades later, my father’s relentless love for people and their stories is mine too. I seek them out all day, every day – even when I don’t know I’m doing it. If I meet someone new – or even if I’m with someone I’ve known forever, I need to know who they are, what’s going on, what’s their story?

And I’ll be honest with you, the profound joy I feel when we’re sharing stories, is totally selfish. I just want to be closer to you – if only for a few minutes because when you tell me about you, no matter how dark or bright your life is, suddenly I don’t feel so alone, vulnerable or powerless. And you know what, neither do you.

At the heart of it all, we’re more alike, than not and stories prove this over and over again.

Ultimately, my show is less about storytelling and more about storysharing. The episodes aren’t very long. My time with my guests isn’t forever.

But just like Dad taught me, a little bit of love for people can go a long, long way.