Ilona Rodgers on Gloss and playing a 'grumpy, old bitch' in Dirty Laundry
Ilona Rodgers knows how to make an entrance. I well remember watching her descend in full Gloss regalia from a helicopter on the lawn of Taupo's exclusive Huka Lodge during a book launch.
"That was a great gig," she says when I remind her of it, nearly 20 years later.
"I suppose you were eight years old at the time. I've been around a long time."
I wasn't and yes, while she might be in her eighth decade, she has never retired. She's back on television, playing the redoubtable Nana Pat in the New Zealand drama Dirty Laundry.
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"Being a grumpy, old bitch sort of falls into my territory, doesn't it?" Rodgers says, laughing.
"The irony is all the time I was filming Gloss, we were farming and I used to get out of bed in the morning, wade through the farm yard and get tutae on my jeans from all the sheep, get in my car and come to work and be dolled up.
"Now I'm not a farmer's wife any more, I'm playing a farmer's wife. The great thing versus Gloss compared to now is I don't have to show up at makeup two hours ahead to be glamorised.
"I just shuffle in, in my slippers, and they put a bit of powder on my face. Then I shuffle on to the set and I'm grumpy all day, and then I shuffle off home. I love it. It's just fantastic."
The British-born actress started her career in the United Kingdom with roles in The Avengers and Doctor Who before moving to New Zealand, marrying a farmer and setting up home. She starred in one of our first home-grown soaps, Close To Home, in 1973 before heading across the Tasman.
"We desperately needed a tractor so I went to Australia to get the money and joined The Sullivans," she says.
A role in the Aussie drama Prisoner followed and, from there, she went on to make more than 240 episodes of the soap, Sons And Daughters. Rodgers also appeared in several other New Zealand dramas, including Marlin Bay, City Life and Shortland Street and starred in several stage productions.
However, she is best remembered for Gloss which was launched in 1987 as New Zealand's answer to Dallas and Dynasty. Rodgers played Maxine Redfern, the glamorous head of a magazine publishing company and manipulative matriarch of a wealthy but dysfunctional family.
As Dirty Laundry's Pat Rafferty, she is again a matriarch but of a very different family. When her widowed daughter-in-law Donna (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) is sent to prison to await trial on money laundering charges, Nana Pat moves in to look after her grandchildren.
"To her, her son was a golden boy. Does she like her daughter in law? Not really – but blood is thicker than water and if push came to shove she would defend her because she's part of the Rafferty family," the actress says, of her character.
Once Pat arrives at Donna's house, she never stops working. She's either washing, ironing, cooking or knitting.
"At last I'm playing the real me – the one that was underneath the glamorous Maxine," she states, saying she used to take home-grown pumpkins into work to give to her co-stars when filming Gloss.
"Nana Pat has run a farm on her own. She's very capable. She's grumpy, her food is **** because it's all milk puddings and mince and (the grandchildren) all sit around absolutely hating her food."
It's so different behind the scenes with Rodgers welcoming the chance to work with a new generation of actors – and some former co-stars.
"One or two of them I've actually trained. I feel like their mother.
"Jennifer I've known since she was at drama school. I've done a lot of work with her over the years in the theatre. It's just fabulous. I've had a ball."
Dirty Laundry, TVNZ 1, Wednesdays.
- TV Guide