The woman behind Lynn of Tawa

AMY JACKMAN
Last updated 09:58 28/02/2014
Ginette McDonald
AMY JACKMAN/FAIRFAX NZ

GINETTE MCDONALD: "[Tawa] people had flat voices and were always asking like how to get snot stains out of a pink twinset."

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The Wellingtonian

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Ginette McDonald talks about nuns, acting and living by the sea.

Where did you grow up?

My father met my mother during World War II and spirited her back to Oriental Bay, which she enjoyed. I lived there first, then we moved to an enormous house in Hataitai, which is now owned by [rugby coach] Jamie Joseph. I had five brothers and one sister. The boys were all in the St Pat's first XV, but thankfully not all at once.

Where did you go to school?

I had a brief stint at St Mary's, then was sent to the more refined Erskine, or Sacre Coeur, as it was known. It was a private Catholic girls school. It wasn't in quite the state it is now. There were some very spirited girls there from very enterprising Catholic families. The nuns were small-minded harpies for the most part. I'm really not keen on nuns.

You're now in Owhiro Bay. Why there?

I need to have the scent of the sea in my nostrils at all times. I was conceived by the sea, so that probably has something to do with it. My fondest childhood memories are of roaming wild around Oriental Bay.

How so?

I don't remember it being especially moneyed. There were established families who had lived there for years and we all knew each other. It was a very safe environment to play. Oriental Tce, which leads up to the monastery, was wild undergrowth and we would roam around.

How did you get into drama?

My father's medical practice in Newtown was shared by Dr Diana Mason, who was married to Bruce Mason, the playwright and actor. He really encouraged me and got me into my first gig at Downstage, when I was 16.

You did Lynn of Tawa when you were 16. How did you dream her up?

My world was the southern suburbs and the city. Those outlying suburbs - Tawa, Taita and Wainuiomata - I'd never set foot in them. All I knew of them were the vocal representations of them on talkback radio. The people had flat, monotonous voices and were always asking things like how to get snot stains out of a pink twinset. They also always said they were of not from, "It's Brenda of Wainui here. Can you tell me how to de-pill my twinset." It tickled my fancy.

Is she still popular?

People still think I'm called Lynn and live in Tawa. I could be doing a corporate event and people will come up to me and say, "Well done, Lynn". It's irritating, flattering and amusing. The character was obviously quite organic.

You're still acting now. Why?

The theatre is a forgiving place. There's always a place for you if you can remember your lines. Also theatre people are some of the bravest people on earth. Regardless of what's happening in their lives, they have to go on stage and deliver. There used to be a sensibility that actors are doing it for themselves and are challenging the audience. It's crap. If audience members are paying $45 for a ticket, they jolly well expect to be entertained and included. The idea of challenging them often makes theatre inaccessible.

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Did you work overseas?

I went to England and worked for the BBC. People here were telling me that I was good, but I had to leave to see if I could foot it with the best overseas. It was just out of the 60s and they were looking for authentic faces. I could read most of the regional accents and I played Yorkshire miners daughters and Cockney girls.

How did that differ from New Zealand TV?

WNTV1 used to broadcast out of a small studio in Waring Taylor St. The dramas were all black and white. We used to have to take down the news set to film the dramas and then reassemble it by 6pm. In London, I was out at White City [West London] with the BBC. It was huge and totally different - marvellous. The discipline of actors was very different. Over here, if you didn't like the line you would ask to change it. In England, you made it work.

Why did you stand for council last year?

I know the shopkeepers, business owners, community leaders - I'm a part of this city. My father delivered a lot of the children in the ward. Having been a television producer, I'm used to making decisions, and getting the blame for others' mistakes. I'm no stranger to that sort of responsibility.

Would you stand again?

Never say never. It does seem a waste of the resources I developed not to do something with it. But then I don't know, because there is the regional reform, so the council will become a whole different ball game.

Have any of your family followed you into the theatre?

My daughter, Kate McGill. I didn't want her to go into a profession with such an uncertain outcome, materially and emotionally, but I'm terribly proud of her. The audience love her. They don't know she is connected to me at all. It's always gratifying to listen to an audience gurgling away.

- The Wellingtonian

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