Kerry Fox returns to New Zealand to shoot The Rehearsal
You can thank our Trans Tasman neighbours for bringing Kerry Fox back to film on our shores.
London-based for the past two decades, the 49-year-old Lower Hutt-born actress is currently filming The Rehearsal, an adaptation of Booker Prize-winning Kiwi author Eleanor Catton's first novel. It's her first New Zealand film since 2012's Mr Pip.
But she wouldn't have been here, suffering from a barking spring cold last week, were not for being lured down under by a triple-bill of Australian projects – Downriver, The Dressmaker and Holding the Man.
"It really was great fortune to be offered all three simultaneously," she says. "I wouldn't have been able to do any one of them by themselves. And that's when I caught up with Rehearsal producer Bridget Ikin."
Starring Kate Winslet as a refined woman hellbent on revenge on those in the small rural Australian town she grew up in, black comedy The Dressmaker is due in New Zealand cinemas on October 29 and has its "galah" (as Fox jokingly calls it) world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on Tuesday morning New Zealand time, while the similarly-themed, but vastly tonally different Downriver has its Toronto debut the following day.
The third film is Holding the Man, an adaptation of the much-admired 1995 memoir of the same name by Australian writer and actor Timothy Conigrave, about his life and 15 year same-sex relationship with schoolmate John Caleo.
After a good performance at the recent New Zealand International Film Festival, it is currently doing the rounds of our country's art house cinemas. Fox plays Timothy's mother Mary. "I didn't actually know the story and the novel came out the year I left Australia for London, but I certainly related to it," she says. "I remember, during the late 1980s and early 90s, there was this incredible fear of Aids, confusion and a sense of being overwhelmed. I had a lot of actor friends in Australia who had know Tim and John."
Fox says she was drawn to the project by the story's underlying theme of love and the chance to work with veteran Australian director Neil Armfield.
"A lot of people would give their right arm to be in one of his productions," Fox says, a bold statement borne out by the presence of Australian acting royalty like Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia and Guy Pearce in the Holding cast. "He's incredibly experienced, he's really smart, astute and inquisitive. He's also really skilled at pushing you in directions you might not have thought of."
And while basing her character on what was in the script, Fox says it was an advantage to meet the real Mary-Gert Conigrave. "I found she was very engaging – lively and fun, and in meeting her I found there were certain aspects of her nature, physicality that I could draw on as a leaping-off point. And, of course, it helped that she was right behind the project."
Taking on that role also made her reflect on her own changing relationship with her sons Eric, 14, and Hugh, 10 (she is married to British journalist Alexander Linklater).
"I'm finding that out right now with my youngest. He wants to earn real money, rather than 50p for taking out the rubbish, so I thought he could do that by cleaning the barbecue or the car. But he doesn't know how to do those jobs, so I have to teach him."
Fox says she has also learned that, no matter what the subject matter of her current project, she can't "take her work home with her". "I have to do my other 'job' the moment I step through the door. I can't afford to let it affect my home life. Working is never a straightforward process for me. The kids were both in school in Melbourne for four months and they've just been here in New Zealand for three weeks. Even when we're at home, I almost never work in London."
So have the boys seen any of her work? "Not really, Bob the Builder maybe? [she played Australian hotel owner Charlene in a 2004 episode]. They don't have much interest in it. A friend of mine who directs just did Doctor Who for his kids."
A graduate of Wellington's Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School, Fox first came to prominence playing author Janet Frame in the 1990 film An Angel at My Table.
She says the most striking thing about returning to work in New Zealand this time is how much, in real terms, budgets have been reduced. "I get the impression that New Zealand isn't making films like this at the moment – it seems quite a struggle. Most of the workers say they are working on pretty fast TV where they haven't got time to really deliver what they are capable of. So they are really enjoying being able to do that with Alison (Maclean, another ex-expatriate Kiwi and old friend of Fox's) on The Rehearsal."
However, she says she has been impressed with the next generation of New Zealand actors she is working alongside, including James Rolleston, Ella Edward and Campion's daughter Alice Englert.
"They are wonderful, but it's also very weird that there are so many friends' daughters working on it. It's bizarre. You can see their mothers in their faces and their actions."
Holding the Man (R16) is now screening.