It’s taken me weeks to speak to Gillian Huxley. She’s always on the move around the set with too much of a sense of purpose to be interrupted. Her flicking long black plait and formidable tool belt all add to a slightly intimidating ‘don’t get in my way, I’m busy’ attitude. When she’s still, you can’t help but notice her ramrod straight posture and the fact that her feet are always in what ballerinas recognise as first position. Her journey to the film set is unconventional, to put it mildly.
The daughter of an Australian jackaroo and a Chinese nurse who emigrated from Beijing, Gillian has her father’s nomadic spirit and work ethic. Harbouring dreams of becoming a dancer, she found herself accepted into class at the prestigious UK Royal Ballet School in London, despite her considerable height (She’s nearly 6 ft tall.) When a career as a ballerina did not materialise, Gillian formulated Plan B for how to work in the theatre, though she took a roundabout way, switching from the feminine world of the tutu to the other extreme.
In order to get work as a rigger in the theatre, at 23, she went to work on an oil rig in Bass Strait to build up her experience and her hours. There were three women in the crew with forty men. Gillian’s job saw her high up on a platform above the sea, pulling hoses out as part of an operation to remove drills from the seabed. ‘It gave me the tenacity you need to see a job through to completion’ she says.
‘In ballet, the endpoint is perfection, which is unattainable and ultimately futile, so the oil rig was curiously satisfying. I’m pretty fearless by nature, so I didn’t find the height or the conditions scary.’
Once she had her qualifications as a rigger, Gillian moved into the world of theatre and rock and roll tours, becoming part of the crew for everyone from Andre Rieu to Michael Jackson on his History tour (‘He had bouncers the size of heavy oak doors’) and Robbie Williams, a personal favourite ‘ because he came downstairs and shouted us all drinks at his hotel one night’.
From stage shows to film was just one easy step. Her first film was Mission Impossible 2 in Sydney and she was soon established as the only female Best Boy in the country, working on Moulin Rouge and Wolverine and fulfilling a personal ambition to work at the UK’s hallowed Pinewood Studios on one of the Star Wars movies.
Her favourite experience on BH60 has been rigging the so-called Moonbox, creating the moonlight effect by which many of the night time trench sequences were shot. ‘Eighty feet up in that cage of light, you get so elated by the view, you are the eye in the sky.’
And the most indispensable item in that tool belt ? ‘My Leatherman ‘ she says, without hesitation, ‘although I call it my Leatherwoman.’
Sporting a tattoo of a gecko on her leg, Gillian explains him as her climbing companion and talisman. Even when she’s relaxing, it’s with a sense of risk and height. She’s currently taking flying lessons, having mastered skydiving. Rock climbing is another pursuit. ‘Being in control of where you are heading matters to me. I like fighting gravity.’ The feminine side of her nature is apparent below the surface. ‘My toenails are always painted and my underwear always matches, that’s all you need to know!’
After Hill 60, Gillian’s projects include work on another independent film, The Tree, in Queensland before building an eighty foot Christmas tree at Darling Harbour. Next year, her plans are to crack the Chinese film industry as a fluent Mandarin speaker, while working on World Expo in Shanghai. Crouching tigers, hidden dragons, watch out.