As local comedy-drama series The Almighty Johnsons sets out on its second season, Lydia Jenkin talks to stars - and on-screen couple - Keisha Castle-Hughes and Emmett Skilton about their tricky relationship, and getting to grips with godliness
Though he plays a young 20-something with the potential for godlike powers of superhuman strength, Emmett Skilton sure is a charmingly down-to-earth chap in real life. And those unassuming qualities often emerge in his Almighty Johnsons' character Axl (aka Odin, the big kahuna of Norse mythology).
No wonder the staunch but kindhearted Gaia, played by the irrepressible Keisha Castle-Hughes, falls for him.
Having just finished filming the second series of The Almighty Johnsons, Skilton and Castle-Hughes are still recovering from the wrap party at our interview. But they're both surprisingly bright and cheerful. Castle-Hughes is an electric ball of energy while Skilton is a more relaxed presence, but they have an have an easy chemistry, which is undoubtedly useful when it comes to their on-screen performances.
The pair play two flatmates in love (as they finally admitted at the end of series one), but they've got that old problem of 'he's a god and he can't tell her'. Plus, he's destined to marry Frigg, the as-yet unidentified female goddess who will help him become Odin and realise all his powers.
At least, that's how it's meant to happen. So being with Gaia isn't really part of the master plan.
But love knows no bounds and throughout the course of this series it sounds as though these reluctant romantics might finally get it on.
"I think they're going to come across quite playful towards the end of the season," says Skilton. "We run away together, I can say that much. And awesome, cool stuff happens."
It's a bit different to the end of last season when Gaia had taken off to Waiheke Island, confused by the vibes Axl was giving off.
"But," smiles Castle-Hughes, "Gaia comes back with a bang, with a big story to tell from her time on Waiheke and there's a big reason why she's had to rush back to the mainland."
Skilton: "Which she won't tell Axl for a very long time which leaves him wondering why she's acting so strange, and he's confused, and eventually he thinks she might be pregnant, or [something]."
There's still a great deal of misunderstandings, lots of secrets and awkwardness, but despite it all the pair stumble their way through a murky relationship.
"It's a bit uncomfortable at first but I think they realise in those moments that their friendship is a lot stronger than anything else, and for Gaia especially it's much more important that she has Axl in her life in some capacity rather than not at all," says Castle-Hughes.
"And," adds Skilton, "it gets to a point where Axl is willing to leave all the god stuff behind so he can be with her."
Castle-Hughes: "Because the thing is, he was in love with her before he found out about being a god, right at the beginning, and so even though all that god stuff is happening around him and to him, his love for her becomes much more important."
To quickly recap this show's hilarious premise, Axl, along with his troublesome three Norse god brothers are on a quest to find the perfect woman (like goddess Frigg, for instance), and set the god realm to rights. But they have a few enemies to contend with along the way in the form of other gods and goddesses who would prefer the natural order not to be restored.
When series two picks up, it unravels a whole bunch of revelations and twists which occurred in the final few episodes.
Having discovered that the goddess bosswoman Agnetha (aka Freya) is actually the Johnson boys' mum, and was the one trying to kill Axl the whole time, we see the repercussions when the rest of the boys find out. Plus Ty (aka Hodor), is getting deeper into his volatile marriage with Eva, Anders has headed off to Norway to stir up some mischief, and Mike is embracing his gaming powers in an effort to get over his failed marriage.
Compared to the focus on the everyday life of Odin and his brothers, and the often meandering pace of season one, this time round the show takes a more bold and action-packed approach as they continue their quest to get to grips with their godliness.
Or, as Skilton puts it: "There's a lot more godly stuff, thrilling, dangerous, deadly stuff. But it hasn't gone into the realm of fantasy and weird shit, it's gone, 'how much can we push the idea that maybe gods are living in New Zealand?"'
Castle-Hughes: "It took a while to come into itself last season. And it had to, because it is interesting content to be putting out there, and it had to ease its way into people's psyches, and let people grasp it and understand it.
"But this time," she continues, "it's really lovely because episode one kicks off with a bang, you know, gets right in there, and lots of the humdrum daily life stuff has been eliminated and the god-meter has been cranked up by a huge percentage."
The relationship between Axl, Gaia and their flatmate Zeb also becomes more pivotal in this series. Zeb, who found out about Axl's potential god status in series one, is particularly excited about helping Axl on his quest, and even adopts the name Freki (aka Odin's wolf).
"Zeb's really done his research and he wants Axl to become Odin, and so between the two of them they start to do things in a much more fun, untraditional way. Axl and Zeb feel like they're really getting down to doing some proper god training" Skilton laughs.
The pair, particularly Castle-Hughes, have enjoyed returning to their character and developing their story with the show's writers, who include James Griffin and Rachel Lang (the team behind Outrageous Fortune) and actor Tim Balme, who plays Mike.
"It's really nice to be able to go back in and grow from the character you've already set up," she says. "And with all the writers, James in particular, once you're in these characters, he sort of bases them around how you perform them. You have to be very careful about things that you tell James, because he'll find a way to write them in.
"If he finds out that you have any fears, you're bound to end up in a read-through, going 'oh God, I'm about to do this on national TV'."
Though Castle-Hughes is ingrained in the collective Kiwi mind as young Paikea Apirana in Whale Rider, playing Axl is Skilton's first major role. He's looking forward to heading overseas to promote the show when series one is released internationally - and while there further his own acting career.
He's chuffed to report that The Almighty Johnsons is already screening on the sci-fi channel (Syfy) in Britain, which has introduced a whole new world of dedicated Norse mythology fans. Although, he says, he is way out of his depth when it comes to talking to this captive new audience on Twitter.
"The sci-fi channel is dedicated to those sorts of people which is great. I love that. But at the same time it's hard to have a conversation with them because they know so much more than I do, it's amazing."
To begin with he was a little nervous about carrying the weight of a starring role in a brand new show - but now he is relishing it.
"I friggin' love it, it's really cool. I love to know that people are watching the show, and the more people recognise the more you go, 'awesome, people are watching the show I make'."
Odin, it seems, has spoken.
Watch the trailer for season two of The Almighty Johnsons:
Who: Emmett Skilton and Keisha Castle-Hughes
What: Series two of The Almighty Johnsons
Where and when: Wednesday February 29, TV3, 8.30pm
-TimeOutBy Lydia Jenkin Email Lydia