Is Michelle Langstone New Zealand's most versatile actress?
Michelle Langstone has had many different incarnations.
Viewers might remember her as Dr Bethany Hall on Shortland Street, a city girl out of her element on McLeod's Daughters, a married woman having an affair with a much younger man on Go Girls or a Norse goddess on The Almighty Johnsons.
In her real life, Langstone is not just an actor. She is also a passionate cricket fan, a reader and a writer and has combined the latter two to review books. Playing varied roles both on screen and off is one of the reasons she loves her job.
"I like being able to change a lot," Langstone says from Australia, where she is promoting her new show, 800 Words. "I like being someone that is not immediately recognisable. I really like that. I like dipping in and out of different characters and looking different, that's part of the process for me. I like that changeling aspect of being an actor."
Langstone's latest on-screen incarnation is Fiona, a woman living in Weld and a possible love interest for newcomer George Turner (Erik Thomson) in 800 Words. While she was previously recognisable by her dark brunette locks as Michele/Norse goddess Sjofn on The Almighty Johnsons, the end of that drama led her to look at making a change.
"It's something I've done quite often with different shows," she says. "I always change my hair in some way because the way that you look feels so connected to a character... So I started lightening it, and it was considerably lighter than my brunette, but when we did 800 Words we lightened it even more and chopped it off a bit. It's a funny thing actually because so often you feel that your appearance is not your own, like it belongs to other people, but now I feel like my hair belongs to me."
Like Langstone, Fiona plays many different roles in her community. She owns the Weld Boat Club restaurant, is the local volunteer ambulance driver and runs the book club, just to name a few. Langstone shares at least one of Fiona's pastimes. "I'm a really big reader so that was very familiar to me and I'm actually part of a book club," she says. "I'm familiar with the way a book club works which is realistically an excuse to get together and eat cheese and crackers and drink a lot of wine. Often you end up talking about so many things apart from the book... You find out so many interesting things about people's lives."
Heading Weld's book club and letting George address the town in episode two was also one of Langstone's favourite scenes to film. "I got in so much trouble on this job for giggling, I really did," she says. "I really enjoyed the meeting of the Weld book club at the point where it swelled from four people to the entire town in the town hall. It was a really great day of shooting and really captures, I think, the tone of the show and the kind of people that live in the town of Weld. I really felt it was an episode that brought the show into focus about what it really is – which is really warm and slightly mad."
Giggling wasn't the only reason Langstone was told off during filming. Shooting for 800 Words took place last summer during the Cricket World Cup and Langstone was a little distracted at times. "I am an absolute cricket lunatic," she says. "One of the other reasons I got in trouble on the show was that it was the World Cup and I was listening via an app to the cricket and I would often not hear them say 'Action' because, for example, I'd be in the back of the ambulance waiting to open the doors and I'd have my ear buds in listening to the commentary and they'd go 'Langstone' and someone would be banging on the side of the ambulance. Then I got in trouble because we were standing in the street filming at night and I was listening and I let out this great 'whoop' because somebody hit a six. I was shrieking with excitement because it was a really close game – it was the semifinal."
Langstone's love of cricket is about to come out again, she says, now the season has started. "I started watching cricket with my mum when I was a kid and she and I really love the game," Langstone continues. "When cricket season comes I'm a very happy human being. I was out of control during the World Cup. I was just so excited. It's definitely a slightly mad side to me but that's fine. I love cricket. I love it with an undying passion."
800 Words, TV One, Thursday
- TV Guide