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'In my prime': Kiwi actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s secret for feeling better than ever at 60

"I'm in my 60s like, ‘okay, I'm in my prime now’.”

Renowned New Zealand actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand has revealed her secret for always feeling in her prime at any age, saying it all comes down to her willingness to embrace the new.

On the latest episode of the Rova podcast Grey Areas with Petra Bagust, Ward-Lealand said she’s felt more satisfied with her life and career the older she’s got.

“I just love it [being 60],” she told Petra.

She continued: “When I was in my 30s, I went, ‘Yes, you're so in your prime’. And then I got to my 40s and I went, ‘No, now you're in your prime’. And then I got to my 50s and I was like, ‘Oh what was I thinking, now I'm in my prime’. And now I'm in my 60s like, ‘Oh yeah, okay, I'm in my prime now’.”

SOURCE: Stephanie Loh Lavemaau

Ward-Lealand said her satisfaction no matter what age she is may have something to do with the “incredible new things” that have come her way over the years.

“My mantra is I always work with great people on creative projects. I never know what they’re going to be, but that always happens. So I have great faith, I don’t have anxiety about things not turning up," she said.

“One door closes, another door will open. You don't get that job? That means that door’s open for another job.”

Part of Ward-Lealand’s journey over the years has been learning te reo Māori, which she started in 2008. By 2017, she had been gifted the name Te Atamira by Sir Tīmoti Kāretu and the late Prof Te Wharehuia Milroy – which translates to ‘the stage’.

“My heart was so full. Of course, I felt utterly not worthy, but… I see what they did there: they laid down the challenge to use my time on the stage to champion te reo Māori.

“I get a lot of time on the stage… so I take that challenge up to honour those two amazing men and to honour the language. Even though I'm often in fully Pakeha situations, my first language will be te reo Māori, so it's heard and normalised.”

SOURCE: Stephanie Loh Lavemaau

Ward-Lealand has also added another string to her bow in recent years, training to become an intimacy coordinator in 2018 to bolster her work as an actor, director, teacher and singer.

“Stunt coordinators take a moment on stage or screen and break it down into beats and components so that you create a really authentic, realistic fight that is also safe. We do that with intimate moments. It’s icky to bring our personal sexuality to something that our characters are doing, so this just takes all of the sting and heat out of that.”

“It's not just for things of a sexual nature. It could be anything from bathing a frail, elderly person or giving birth, breastfeeding… things that would normally be private.”

Despite all the awards and accolades she’s won over the years, Ward-Lealand takes great pride in being a lifelong learner. She says it would be “terrible” to stop learning now.

She said: “I'm doing some things at the moment with working with some young people, one who's disabled, one who is trans, and that's a new experience for me. So I'm going to do make sure that I do enough work around that so that I can be the best ally for them on set."

“Nobody knows everything. I'm always learning.”

Listen to the latest episode of Grey Areas with Petra Bagust on rova, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.