Food: Magda Szubanski's health journey

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Once upon a time, today's photo shoot would have been pure torture for Magda Szubanski. The preening, the trying on of clothes, the posing – all anathema to someone who had long tried to hide her true self. But today, at 61 years of age, she's having the time of her life.

"As I get older I give a little bit less of a stuff," she says as she swirls and twirls for our cameras. "I've started to just be playful and have fun with it. And the stylist always brings some beautiful clothes which I snap up, so it's a replacement for schlepping around a shopping centre for me. I've really just relaxed into it a little bit more."

This attitude is something that was hard to come by for Australia's favourite funny woman. Moving to Melbourne at the age of four, she was the youngest of three. And her family, she says, "came from terrible trauma on both sides".

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That trauma trickled downwards – something that made sense when, at 36, Magda learned the truth of her father Peter's past: After Germany invaded his homeland during WWII, when he was 15 years old, he became an assassin for a counterintelligence branch of the Polish resistance movement.

At 61 years old, Magda is having the time of her life. © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd At 61 years old, Magda is having the time of her life.

Meanwhile, as a pre-teen Magda was herself nursing a secret: she wasn't swooning over the handsome men in the Golden Age of Hollywood movies she adored, it was the leading ladies who were making her heart skip a beat. And in the 1970s homosexuality was not only considered taboo, it was still a crime.

Magda wouldn't come out publicly until 2012. "I feel so free now," she says of the weight that was lifted.

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"I am so glad to have come out. It's so free. And easy. Although I still very much believe that people should come out on their own terms in their own time. Because you don't know what is going on in someone's life.

"But if I could have said to myself at 11, 12 or 13 that one day it would not only be okay to be gay but that I would be a prominent face of a campaign which allowed gay people to marry the people that they loved, and the Australian community would accept that, I think that would have changed just about everything for me.

Magda felt © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd Magda felt

"If only I could have known that. But, you know, maybe it was going through that which enabled me to be an advocate as well."

It's a fact that isn't lost on Magda today as she awaits the launch of her latest television project, Nine's dramedy After the Verdict, which she likens to "12 Angry Men meets Miss Marple". Magda plays Margie, one of 12 jurors who have just sat through a high-profile murder case. But did they make the right call?

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In the aftermath of the trial, Margie bands together with a few fellow jurors to try to get to the truth while also dealing with the after-effects of what they have experienced together – and the impact it has had on their personal relationships. For Margie, that is her impending marriage to Trish, played by Virginia Gay. Yet in her quest to understand what really happened on the day of the murder, Margie stands to lose the one that she loves most.

"I loved that [screenwriters and executive producers] Ellie Beaumont and Drew Proffitt wrote it with me in mind," Magda explains of why the show has a special resonance to her. "It's not that often that a chance to play a lesbian Polish butcher comes up. So I do feel uniquely qualified. Of course, I'm not a butcher, but I have played one previously!"

And with that, we sit down to chat about everything from love to legacy – and what Magda hopes to do next.

  Magda Szubanski's health journey © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd

What drew you to After the Verdict?

I just love the whole premise of it. The justice system is really complicated and you don't see much about what it's like for jurors. You certainly don't see what it's like for them after the event – it can be quite traumatic.

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Morally, you feel a huge responsibility. And the court system has very specific rules that you have to play by, so you are not always necessarily getting to the truth, you are getting to what is allowable in the rules of that game.

And also, there's the fact that as far as we can figure out it's the first time that a steady lesbian relationship has been portrayed on prime-time, mainstream TV. So that's great.

Is marriage something that has ever been on your personal agenda?

I dreamed of being a surgeon or an astronaut. I was never the girl with the dress-up dolls or thinking about marriage or anything like that. I've had beautiful love in my life, but it just hasn't panned out that way for me. I'm not saying no. I'm quite romantic; if it happened I would love that.

But also, I'm very happy, you know? I have great friends, I'm doing really satisfying work, it is a great period of life, I think, this age.

It's a really good time when you have got to a certain level where you can aahhh [lets out a deep breath] enjoy the scenery for a bit. I feel like I'm in a really great stage of my life.

Madga tells us that while she's romantic, she's never dreamt about marriage. © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd Madga tells us that while she's romantic, she's never dreamt about marriage.

That's wonderful to hear.

You make the best of what life presents to you. And I think some of it is a number crunch. I had one friend who dated 137 people in three months. She just went, "Right, I'm doing this." Bang! And off she went. And I thought, "That's a really smart way to do it." She's actually still with one of the people she met through that. I love projects, but at the same time I'm a very homey person. And I get to play at being married with Virginia Gay.

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Someone's got big shoes to fill …

I know, right? I'll have Virginia there judging them, making notes, helping them out.

Do you entertain much at home?

It depends how much I'm working. Filming is long, long days, so I'm not averse to getting takeaway. There's a terrific chicken shop around the corner which does chicken and salads and things like that. And to me, you should never let that get in the way of conversation and the company. But I do like to cook.

Are you a good cook?

Until I was about 40 my food was inedible. Mindbogglingly bad. And then I cooked a recipe from The River Cafe Cookbook for a girlfriend at the time and she loved it and it worked.

I went, "Oh my God, this is like magic, all the things I want to eat you can do yourself." I have a few go-to things. I love fresh, quite light food when I cook myself. When I cook myself!? It sounds like I put myself in the oven!

But I love having people over, having people stay. If I never went to another big party again, I wouldn't care.


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  Magda Szubanski's health journey © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd

You were at the TV WEEK Logies last month, though. Your teal dress started speculation that you plan to run as a political independent …

I so admire what they do, but no, it's not for me. I care about society and express my views for what they are worth or whoever is interested – they can follow or not follow me – but things that really touch my soul and sustain me are friends, family, nature and the arts. I am so certain that I don't want to run.

You have lots of children in your life, including your goddaughter Betty, the child of David and Lisa Campbell, to whom you dedicated your debut kids' book Timmy The Ticked-Off Pony.

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Mini-me? Everyone says that. Isn't she fabulous? All those Campbell kids are. And I've got my great nephews and other beautiful young people.

What do you enjoy most about those relationships?

I just love young people and the way that they are. They are so switched on and so funny. As they get older they are more self-conscious, but I love the way they are just themselves. The openness. The affection.

I feel in some way that my soul is more aligned with young people than people of my own age. When I look at my great nephew, I think about those years that I actually lost with family because I was hiding myself away. It makes me so sad.

Now there is much more possibility to be who you are and to be loved and accepted by your family.

In After the Verdict, Madga plays Margie alongside Virginia Gay as Trish, her on-screen fiancée, and ex Home and Away star Lincoln Younes. © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd In After the Verdict, Madga plays Margie alongside Virginia Gay as Trish, her on-screen fiancée, and ex Home and Away star Lincoln Younes.

Kids are so non-judgemental.

Yes. I can completely be myself with my nephews and nieces of all varying ages. I feel completely accepted. All the young people, including my goddaughter, make me feel really hopeful because they are so switched on. And the common thread is kindness. That's not something I possibly would have said in my youth about younger people.

How did you feel at that age?

I felt so completely isolated. Thank God for my beautiful older sister Barb, who I was able to talk to when I was 17. I am lucky with my siblings. We are really close. We are very fair with one another, which I love, and you really discover that when you come to the will!

Your next project, Magda's Big Health Check, will see you take an immersive journey into how we as a nation can improve our health. Why this show?

I always wanted to be a doctor, and I suppose this is my way of going about it! I get a lot of very nasty comments made about my weight and the state of my health – people make a lot of assumptions. So I think it's really good that it's someone like me doing a program like this, because I am exactly the sort of person who needs to watch it.

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We have a very good health system. But there are things that work against you when you are trying to be healthy. So it's looking at what the problems are, but also looking at solutions.

One of the stats the show will uncover is that 50 per cent of Australians are dealing with chronic health issues. And I am one of those. I have autoimmune arthritis and I get migraines, so I know what it is like.

Luckily, mine are able to be extremely well-managed with medication and various other things.

Magda in After the Verdict. © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd Magda in After the Verdict.

You've also been open about suffering from anxiety.

I have had to take my own anxiety much more seriously than I used to.

I used to ignore it and white-knuckle through. Now I can clock it much more, which means that I can hopefully go towards healthy rather than unhealthy behaviour and deal with it – through yoga, breathing techniques and just being gentle with myself.

We should all treat ourselves like we would our best friends.

Yes. And doing kind things for others is also good. That inclination to volunteer is a very strong one. I think that's part of why people love Sharon Strzelecki. She is the ultimate volunteer.

Speaking of Sharon, Kath & Kim turned 20 this year. Do you have a particularly fond memory from the show?

Obviously there is the Warnie stuff, which is fresh in my mind because of recent events. But just the constant laughing on set. I feel like I've spent the better part of my life being paid to p-ss myself laughing! Not to say that it's not very, very hard work.

Oh, of course.

But that camaraderie. The opening of that stupid squeaking sliding door. Kylie Minogue. The deliciousness of seeing Glenn Robbins and Jane Turner dance, and Gina Riley with that Kim head flick and Bretty [Peter Rowsthorn] playing netball.

What's also great is that it's the gift that keeps on giving. So many people come up to me, often who have been through a hard time.

What do they say?

I was at the dentist and the receptionist was this beautiful young woman. I was having one of those days where I was looking at her and thinking, "Oh God, she's one of those people who just don't have a care in the world."

She said, "Excuse me, I hope you don't mind me saying this. I actually had cancer last year" – and I just felt like the biggest a-sehole immediately – "I had chemo for a year and the only thing that got me through was that my boyfriend would bring me DVDs of Kath & Kim." It sounds trite [saying] that laughter is the best medicine, but I can't tell you the number of people who have said that.

There are constant rumours of a reboot. What's your verdict on that?

For my money? It's a perfect gem – leave it. It said so many things. It said everything it had to say. I really don't see the need. There's the fear that you might taint the memory somehow. You have to know when to let things go.

Well, they've knocked the original house down anyway!

People move. They might go into a tiny house. They might go to Bali!

Is there anything else on your work radar at the moment?

There are some things I can't possibly tell you about. But I'm really looking forward to people seeing After the Verdict.

I'm also in God's Favorite Idiot with Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone on Netflix. I'm playing God.

WATCH: Magda Szubanski nails argument for same-sex marriage. Article continues after video

How did that feel?

I felt like I was being typecast. I felt completely natural.

You've had quite a career and now seem to be testing different waters.

That's not to say that it's not still nerve-wracking, because it totally is, but yeah, you build on something. It's not as high stakes, which is a blessed bloody relief. But honestly, I started off doing this as a sideline. I really thought I would go from working in [a women's] refuge to doing something in social welfare and that this was a hobby.

If you had told me that at 61 I would still be putting on wigs and silly accents and that would be how I would make my living, I would never have believed it. I'm really lucky.

After the Verdict launches in August on Channel Nine and 9Now.

You can read this story and many others in the August issue of The Australian Women's Weekly - on sale now

  Magda Szubanski's health journey © Provided by Are Media Pty Ltd

New vaccines on the way as monkeypox declared an 'incident of national significance' .
Newer vaccines to tackle monkeypox are on their way to Australia to deal with the emergency, but experts warn currently there is limited supply and are calling for a comprehensive response to tackle the outbreak.Australian health authorities have designated monkeypox to be a "communicable disease of national significance".

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