Amanda Billing talks work-life balance, Brokenwood and her love of Computer Battleships
Two years after leaving Shortland Street, Amanda Billing is back in prime-time with a very different role on this week's episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries. She plays Brenda, a woman who finds herself drawn into the world of local detectives Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland) and Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea) after some strange events surrounding the death of local poet Declan O'Grady (Mark Mitchison).
What attracted you to the part?
It was a bit of a project, with a finite ending and it's short and fast, which I'm used to. I just had a ball, for reasons that audiences will see in the episode. I haven't gotten to play a character like this before. Usually I play people who are insecure and pretending to be something they're not. The other cool thing about this episode is that it's an ensemble piece. There's a crew of recognisable faces to me, but were getting to play together in a whole new way, which is wonderful - I had such a great time.
What were the particular challenges of the role for you?
We pretty much shot the last scene of the episode first. I was like 'thanks guys, I really appreciate that'. In a way though it added a bit of extra horsepower. You're jumping off a cliff when you're acting anyway – this made for an interesting time because it meant I really had to use my imagination and think what had happened.
It's no spoiler to say that there a lot of allusions to the classic board game Cluedo in the show. Was that a favourite of yours when you were younger?
Actually there were more – we had to pull a lot of them back for licensing reasons, but yes I think it is still pretty obvious. I loved playing Cluedo as a kid. It was my favourite, apart from Computer Battleships. God that was awesome.
What do you think is the appeal of a show like Brokenwood?
I think the fact that it manages to dramatic and charming at the same time. There's something nostalgic and naïve about it. It harkens back to a time when TV and film wasn't so raw and brutal. Sometimes that can be a bit of a relief, especially for an older demographic. It is kind of made for our parents, but I think the nice thing is because it features lots of regular Kiwi faces, it has the potential to draw in younger audience members. I know I'll be propping the cr.. out of it on Instagram to get the kids watching it. No doubt they'll be going "what's Prime". I'll say "it's the channel your grandmother watches".
So what other murder-mystery shows are you a fan of?
I'm less of a Midsomer Murders person, which I guess is the area that Brokenwood falls into. I actually find the darker stuff more interesting – it packs more of an emotional punch. I watched a lot of them when I was a kid because that's what our family watched – Taggart, Prime Suspect. More recently, I've loved Luther and Broadchurch. It just seems Americans can't do detective dramas the way the British can. However, I have just finished watching [Netflix's] Bloodline, with the beautiful Kyle Chandler in it.
Finally Amanda, what's up next for you?
You'll eventually see me in some ads and I've also got a little role on Netflix's Power Rangers which means I'll turn up there every now and then. And hopefully, Maori TV will show the second season of Find Me a Maori Bride shortly, because we shot some time ago and I'm eager for that to turn up. In the meantime, I'm just really enjoying a new found love of other artistic pursuits and portrait photography in particular. I've always done stuff like this and I think it's important for all of us to have little projects we working on, as well as our "money job", for want of a better expression. Most people underestimate how important it is having some kind of separate artistic outlet or creative thing. For me, really it's just that after finishing Shortland Street, with a bit more time on my hands, I'm finding I'm getting to explore more connections with people and creativity. I don't know exactly where it's all going to lead me, but I'm really enjoying the journey.
The Brokenwood Mysteries 8.30pm, Sunday, Prime