Inside The Monster of Mangatiti

TVNZ

The Monster of Mangatiti is the final Sunday Theatre production in the current series

When up and coming actress Greta Gregory didn't get an audition for a dramatised documentary she'd been keeping an eye on, she demanded a self tape – which is acting-speak for making your own audition tape and sending it in.

Roles, she explains, can disappear quickly and chances to land them are rare "so you have to fight for what you can get".

Besides, the 22-year-old hates not being seen: "I'm like 'just give me an opportunity just to show you my version of the character'."

It worked. She got recalled and landed the lead role in the final of the TV One Sunday Theatre series – The Monster of Mangatiti – a gritty and moving docu-drama that recounts the true story of Heather Walsh, who in 1985, at age 19, was lured to a remote farm by a promised live-in-tutoring job and held captive by a sexual predator for 23 weeks, before bravely making her escape.

It's a sensitive subject matter and difficult to watch, but it's an important story – the real Heather Walsh provides powerful narration throughout – and Gregory is stunning in the role.

The message of conveying the psychological torment that went along with the physical abuse and hopefully creating an understanding of what it's like for abuse survivors was one of the things that attracted Gregory to the role. After living in fear for years, Walsh made an official police complaint in 2008 and Gregory hopes her story will help others tell theirs.

Kiwi actress Greta Gregory stars in the Sunday Theatre production The Monster of Mangatiti.
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Kiwi actress Greta Gregory stars in the Sunday Theatre production The Monster of Mangatiti.

"She was inspired by Louise Nicholas, so you kind of go 'if Louise Nicholas helped Heather, then Heather can help whoever else' – you know it's a very powerful thing."

This is all heavy stuff and Gregory navigates it with admirable intelligence and maturity – two words that also apply to her career, which started with a love of performing as early as primary school. Things heated up at intermediate, where she had an inspiring drama teacher, which led to Shakespeare competitions while attending Western Springs High School in Auckland.

One of these competitions took her to Wellington where she visited Toi Whakaari – New Zealand's national drama school. She was 18 when she was accepted, the youngest in her class. In her final year, and wanting to improve her auditioning techniques, she spent a month in New York studying at the Susan Batson Studio, learning how to get into a character quickly – skills that proved invaluable with The Monster of Mangatiti.

"It was quite a whirlwind," she says.

She was cast, then a couple of days later she was doing the read through and rehearsing. "The next week (I) starting filming. It was very quick."

Since graduating in 2013, she has had roles in Girl vs Boy and the successful local series The Brokenwood Mysteries. She recently finished filming Cul de Sac – a locally produced, family friendly sci-fi where she plays central character Rose.

"She was a strong female character and a strong lead, and female-driven drama is what I'm interested in."

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She's also interested in television – she loves the HBO-style dramas such as The Sopranos and Game of Thrones and her current absolute favourite is the BBC period crime drama Peaky Blinders, starring Cillian Murphy.

"It's so slow and beautiful and he, Cillian Murphy, is just the most incredible presence I think."

This is the kind of acting work she sees herself doing – "it's amazing how that's not impossible anymore – you have Keisha Castle Hughes in Game of Thrones".

It all sounds like she has a clear idea of what she wants and how to make it happen. Is that a fair assessment?

"Yes, I do believe that's true. I'm quite an ambitious person, but also my philosophy is – if I don't get a role I'm not beating myself up about it because I know that there are so many factors..."

People, she says, can get "so worried about this job" because there aren't a lot of work opportunities.

"You do have to be kind of lucky in some ways but you've decided to take that on so there's no use complaining. You've just got to get out there and try and make it happen."

The Monster of Mangatiti, Sunday, 8.30pm, TV One.

 - Stuff

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