Ethel's latest battle

From the shadows to the screen

Last updated 12:00 19/06/2014
Ethel Robinson
STAR: Ethel Robinson at the Wellington premiere.

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Palmerston North local hero, battler and community worker Ethel Robinson has kicked off a film career, just two years short of her 100th birthday.

The well-preserved resident of Rita Angus Retirement Village in Kilbirnie, Wellington, has made her debut in Taika Waititi's vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows.

When she lived in Palmerston North, the former school teacher, social worker and long-time supporter of the Manawatu Multiple Sclerosis Society was an active community leader.

She has advocated against rising electricity prices, protested the scaling down of the Hokowhitu and Awapuni post offices, and against gaming machines, and helped to establish the Abbeyfield concept of shared housing for the elderly.

Other organisations in which she was active included Age Concern, Samaritans, National Council of Women, Grey Power, Disabled Persons Assembly and the Widowed Friendship Club.

For the past two years, Robinson has managed to keep her new acting career a secret from fellow residents.

Though she lives independently at Rita Angus, where she is one of the most tech-savvy residents, she was afraid she might die before seeing herself on the big screen.

Rita Angus sales adviser Margot Boock was approached by the film-makers in 2012, looking for a woman of "a certain age".

"But also somebody who was mobile and lively and would be up for doing something like going in a movie, because not everyone would do that. I thought immediately of Ethel," Boock said.

Robinson has no formal acting training, other than "hundreds of years" spent acting out stories for Maori pupils who could not speak English.

She never saw a script and ad-libbed her lines with apparent ease.

In a serendipitous twist of fate, it turned out she and Waititi came from the same area in the East Cape.

"It was nice to see somebody from up there," she said.

She was to attend last night's premiere at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington with an inter-generational entourage including her Palmerston North-based grandson Andrew and great-grandson Diamond, 14.

Boock, who has a small part in the film, was planning to accompany Robinson to the event.

Robinson was having her hair streaked purple especially for the occasion, to match her purple lipstick and a corsage.

■ What We Do in the Shadows opens in cinemas today.

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- Manawatu Standard

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