Robyn Malcolm: Lights, camera, unwind

By Julie Jacobson

Robyn Malcolm's had a chaotic year. So where does New Zealand's best-loved actress come to wind down? The Bay, of course.
Sexiest woman on television, best actress in a TV drama, favourite New Zealand female personality ... and right about now, law-breaker.
Robyn Malcolm's on her way to Tauranga - the place she spent summer holidays during drama school days and where she now brings her two boys to see their granddad - for a Q and A to promote her new film.
Her hands-free has packed up so she's talking on her cellphone while she's driving.
"If I suddenly disappear, it's because I've seen a policeman," she says cheerily.
There are some loud noises from the back seat. Her boys - Charlie, 6, and 5-year-old Peter - are supposed to be watching a DVD, James Cameron's sci-fi thriller, The Abyss, on mum's laptop.
"Hang on," says Malcolm, "I'll see if I can jiggle the car thingy ..."
There's more noise from the kids. Then Malcolm's back: "Right, that's it. We're all good," she says having sorting out the hands-free.
The trip from Auckland to Tauranga is one Malcolm's made many times. The Bay has been the award-winning actress' summer escape since she graduated from Wellington's Toi Whakaari in the mid-80s. Her folks and two of her three sisters moved here from Ashburton when her maths teacher father, Peter, was appointed principal at Otumoetai College.
The then-family home at Matua was Malcolm's bolthole. She recalls days spent with friends at the Mount, summer jobs at a Mexican cafe on Devonport Rd - "God, I can't remember what it was called, but it was upstairs" - and pruning kiwifruit vines.
She was, she laughs, no great shakes as a horticulturalist: "I remember one particular job, I chopped the wrong canes off - the fruit-bearing ones.

I also carved my initials into a whole bunch of unripe fruit at one stage."
Malcolm, whose career had its genesis in live theatre, is one of New Zealand's most celebrated contemporary actors. Best-known for her roles in Shortland Street (as nurse Ellen Crozier) and most recently as potty-mouthed matriarch Cheryl West in Outrageous Fortune, her latest gig sees her take on the similar, if somewhat less sweary, role of Gail Snell, mum to two boys (she's aware of the irony), and wife of Gazza, a wannabe go-karting boy-man, in Brendan Donovan's feature debut, The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell.
"It's set in Howick, but you know, it could be Tauranga, and that's because most of us come from suburban New Zealand. In a sense you could transplant Howick anywhere - Tauranga, Christchurch, Invercargill."
Still, Malcom, 45, reckons she would never have learned to sail if summers had been spent in Howick rather than Tauranga.
"Dad had this old, wooden yacht. It had two keels, and we learned to sail with him on it; there was a lot of time spent out on the ocean with Admiral Malcolm making us [girls] do this and do that."
As with any family learning "experience", there were the inevitable arguments, but there were also some unforgettable moments.
"I remember one particularly beautiful trip out to Mayor Island when we sailed out there and stopped and swam with the dolphins ...
"You know, Tauranga's not my hometown. I don't feel I can call myself a hometown Tauranga girl, but I have sort of adopted it as my holiday home; a sort of gentle, anonymous place to come to in summer."
As well as being busy with contractual promotions, Malcolm is in the throes of moving house. The upheaval comes just weeks after the very public, and at times nasty, stoush over The Hobbit movie. Malcolm, along with Actors' Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand and CTU boss Helen Kelly, spearheaded the push for better pay and working conditions.
Although the trio received considerable flak over their stance at the time, Malcolm says the new year has been, for all factions, "a time of reflection".
"There was a lot of misleading going on, and a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. And there was a lot of fear and anger because there were jobs involved, and there was a heap of hysteria.
"At one stage I just stopped reading the papers because it got so crazy. But there came a point at which we all decided it was important to move on, that we all realised no one wants it to happen again. I really think we'll look back at it quite differently to the way we viewed it at the time."
Paradoxically, given it was Sir Peter Jackson that the union was battling, Malcolm reckons she would leap at the chance of a role in The Hobbit. She had a small, supporting role in 2002's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and in The Lovely Bones.
I ask whether she thinks he would hire her again. "I dunno," she laughs. "You'd have to ask him. I would like to think so ... I think from a business perspective you should be able to have a stoush, but that you should also be able to sit down at the end of the day and have a beer with everyone."
A beer, or at least a cup of tea and a lie down, is pretty much what Malcolm needs right now, but it's not about to happen anytime soon.
She had a live-in nanny when she was working full-time - "and I haemorrhaged two-thirds of my income" - but most of the time it's Malcolm at home; a single mum juggling the demands of part-time work and kids. Most of the time she likes it that way. She describes herself as "very single", and "perhaps too much of a big ask" when it comes to having a relationship. But having a man around isn't a major, she says, very Cheryl West-like.
"I've just got so much going on - I've got two boys, I'm in my 40s, I've got a bit of a profile and I'm a little bit controversial. I think that can probably be a bit off-putting. But I tick along quite well, and I feel very fortunate in many ways. I try when I'm with the kids to slow things down a bit. There's a lot of this aspirational stuff around - pushing your kids to do this well ... My memory of childhood and of places like Tauranga is of not being raised like that ... of lying in the grass and of not going anywhere.
"I used to spend a lot of time on the roof of our house in Matua when the sun went down and when the sun came up. I love that tropical feel to the sunrise and the sunsets. It's beautiful."
Right now, though, there are two little boys in the back seat getting fidgety, there's more packing to do when she gets home, and there's rehearsals for her next professional outing - in Auckland Theatre Company's production of Mary Stewart in March.
"It's set a year before Mary [Queen of Scots] gets her head chopped off. I'm playing Mary."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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