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Q and A Rose McIver Sunday Magazine
Q: "Who's your favourite New Zealander?"
A: "Miranda Harcourt, she's my idol."
Q and A Rose McIver Icon vs Icon Mag
Who would you cite as your biggest influences as a young actor?
There is a woman in New Zealand named Miranda Harcourt, who an actor and drama coach. She is someone who I always look up to professionally and personally as a mentor. Similarly, when I came out to The States, I was looking for influences along those lines, who I respected in their personal life and their careers. A really good example is Allison Janney, who I worked with recently on both “Brightest Star” and “Masters of Sex.” I idolize her! I really love the way she handles herself. I think she creates amazing work and is really is respectful of the environment she works in and the people she works with. I think that is a really valuable combo!
Read Rose's full Icon Vs Icon interview here:
HIGH PRIESTESS OF RISK
(© Fairfax NZ News Sunday Star Times)
Some of Miranda Harcourt's most stimulating acting has been inside prisons. Not as a jailbird herself but as a performer to inmates in London, Australia and across New Zealand.
A year-long stint at London's Central School of Speech and Drama in 1990 led to an exploration of drama therapy in psychiatric institutions, with the deaf, and in prisons - the latter inspiring her collaboration with writer William Brandt for the solo play Verbatim, where Harcourt acted as inmates' families and as the families of victims. Performed in front of people convicted of violent crimes, Harcourt says Verbatim "was a reflection back at the people on the inside; what their mothers, their sisters and their children had said about them".
The show received rave reviews, not just from Harcourt's performances in New Zealand theatres and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but from the inmates themselves. "My favourite comment was from someone who said ‘this was a walk in someone else's shoes'," Harcourt says. "In the prison system they're not watching your acting, they're watching the content of the show."
Harcourt remembers returning to a prison she had performed at the year before and a man who was helping her unload a van said: "You were here last year . . . but where's everyone else? There were nine of you." Harcourt replied: "‘No, it was a solo show and it was just me.' He didn't remember having watched solo shows, he remembered [watching] nine characters, and I love that," says Harcourt.
Her work in prisons continues - since the start of the year Harcourt has been volunteering at Wellington's Arohata, a women's prison, where she helps inmates record themselves reading stories for their children.
Demonstrating the diversity of Harcourt's career, from tomorrow we'll see her in a bold new role on Shortland Street. Harcourt was thrilled when producers asked her to play Susan Rolleston, Boyd's mother (she also taught Sam Bunkall, who plays Boyd, at drama school), a role opposite Peter Hambleton (The Hobbit).
In an unabashed tribute to long-running American drama series Dallas, the episodes featuring Harcourt are brimming with melodrama. "That whole kind of big money, high drama stakes, underhand behaviour," says Harcourt. "If you thought of different kinds of wine, then you'd say this was a really big bodied red wine episode, as opposed to kind of really subtle sauvignon blanc types."
The episodes were filmed on location near a Waimauku pine forest and Harcourt got to "flit about wearing high heels and glamorous clothes in a beautiful glamorous house with a white grand piano".
Some viewers may remember Harcourt from a turn in Shortland Street 12 years ago as nurse Beanie's mother. Harcourt says she got back into the groove quickly. "I don't think [Shortland Street] changes. It's been going for 25 years so it's got a really great house style about it. The people change but the show's fast turnaround, and to be honest, everything in New Zealand is fast turnaround . . . it's really like boarding a fast-moving train." The soap, Harcourt believes, is a vital cog in New Zealand's culture. "Shortland Street took Kiwi culture and Kiwi voices and Kiwi behaviours and Kiwi racial diversity and all sorts of things which came up on screen night after night after night."
Harcourt's acting career began in the early 1970s when she played boy characters on radio. "I had my own apple box at Radio New Zealand to stand on when I was acting with the grown-ups, and hilariously, I've got three children now aged 14, 12 and 6 and they do exactly the same thing. They are very familiar with the inside of the Radio New Zealand drama studio."
Harcourt herself was immersed in an acting environment growing up - her mother is Dame Kate Harcourt. "Like a sensible mother she didn't really want me to be an actor but she was just happy for me to do whatever I wanted to do. But if you grow up in an acting family then you're likely to do some acting at some point.
"And, funnily enough, there's now three generations of us all living in the same house, all still acting . . . when you're learning your lines there's always someone to test you."
Harcourt's first big television role was as Gemma in Gloss, the late-80s drama series set in a swish magazine office. She also had a two-year stint on City Life, the drama series about a bunch of twenty-somethings living in Auckland.
Then there's Duggan: Death in Paradise and For Good, for which Harcourt received nominations in the New Zealand Television Awards and New Zealand film Awards in 1999 and 2003, respectively, plus highly acclaimed and varied stage roles.
Since her early days of acting, Harcourt has noticed significant changes in the industry. "Now you can begin a genuinely international career in New Zealand, which every now and again would happen back then . . . there's a greater professionalism about the New Zealand acting industry now than there was back when I started out. And every generation would say that."
Harcourt's comments are qualified by her experience as an acting coach, a job she has increasingly focused on over the past few years. Along with coaching New Zealand casts, Harcourt has also taken to using Skype and interacting with Australian and American actors, like AnnaSophia Robb and Carrie Underwood. She also helps to market Kiwi actors and the country to overseas film-makers through her role on the board of Film New Zealand. "I'm really a great supporter and a great fan of our industry and so I'm interested in helping New Zealand actors to reach wider audiences in a number of different ways."
Around these jobs, Harcourt is fitting in a new project adapting Margaret Mahy's young adult novel Changeover, with her husband, film-maker Stuart McKenzie. "It's always really good to make sure you keep your own game up," Harcourt says of her current acting endeavours.
Scanning her career achievements one could presume Harcourt is most definitely a go-getter, someone who takes risks and makes the most of her opportunities. "In all of that work, all of those experiences I bring back into my acting and I bring back into the coaching work that I do," she says. "I'm very pleased to be known as someone who fearlessly takes risks."
Shortland Street, weeknights, 7pm, TV2.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Verbatim touring prisons and schools: Tracing the path of its original staging with Miranda Harcourt, Last Tapes took Verbatim to schools and prisons throughout New Zealand this year. Performed with wrenching intensity by Renee Lyons, the show played to the head of the Mongrel Mob in Hastings. They played in rundown rooms to people the play was based on. They took a powerful and harrowing piece of New Zealand theatre – a docudrama based on interviews with violent offenders and their families and the families of their victims – to the communities it affected the most (including performing Portraits to the actual mother of the victim portrayed in that play). Without question the most important tour of 2014. – RT
Interview with Toi Whakaari — NZ Drama School