Nothing Trivial: Into the bonus round

Nothing Trivial Series 2 Tandi Wright and Shane Cortese.
Nothing Trivial Series 2 Tandi Wright and Shane Cortese.

With hit domestic drama Nothing Trivial returning, stars Shane Cortese and Tandi Wright meet Lydia Jenkin at their local for chat about the new season.

Wander through a set of double doors, step over a snakepit of studio cables, and suddenly you're in "The Beagle" - the Charles Darwin-themed pub where Mac, Catherine, Brian, Emma and Michelle meet for their weekly pub quiz on much-loved local drama Nothing Trivial.

Decorated with all-manner of stuffed animals, compasses, and seafaring paraphernalia, The Beagle is a convincing Auckland bar - albeit in a studio at South Pacific Pictures - complete with teams of pub quiz regulars and even half-finished drinks.

"It's really low-alcohol beer, and it's kept on ice, so at about three in the afternoon, because there's no fresh air in there and it gets quite hot, it hits the spot" laughs Shane Cortese, who plays Mac. "It's not a bad drop too."

The Beagle may be a place for competition, but it's also where the five come to share their stories, build friendships, and try to unravel the problems of their personal lives in this cosy rom-com drama.

And with season two starting next week, Cortese and co-star Tandi Wright, who plays Catherine, are excited to see team Sex On A Stick back on screen.

At the end of the first series, Mac (the single dad with a heart of gold) was dealing with turbulent times. His son Noah was in hospital after a major accident, his ex-wife Jo was threatening a custody battle, and Catherine, who's been such a great friend but who's really stolen his heart, decided to give her relationship with her ex (Tim Balme) another go - for her daughter's sake.

So while others in the group are facing the new challenges of coupledom, Mac is still "unlucky in love".

"The others are learning how to be in a couple, but Mac is learning how to be single again" Cortese continues. "His marriage has collapsed, and he's out there in the big old dating world at 40, so he gets to make all the cock-ups and mistakes that that brings. Particularly when he's so obviously in love with someone else, but it's not an option for him."

And though Catherine has equally acknowledged her attraction to Mac, as this series begins, she's very much focused on trying to "do the right thing", particularly by her daughter Celeste.

"That means really giving it a go with Jules, Celeste's dad, but I think there's always that interesting tension between what is best for your children and family, and what is best for you" Wright nods.

"And at some point you have to be honest about what's really going on in your heart, there's only so long you can delay that. So for Catherine it's about finding at what point that scale shifts."

So fans of the show shouldn't lose hope - Catherine and Mac may find a way back to each other yet.

"It's hard for them to be friends because it's dangerous, but then they get frustrated because they're not as close as they were. If you're really attracted to someone but you're trying desperately not to be, the last thing you're going to do is go and hang out with them all the time, that's just asking for trouble," Wright explains.

"Also, I think they both have the understanding that if they were to enter into a relationship, it would be a very serious move, so they want to be 100 per cent sure. It's easier to have a fling with someone you like but you're not that into, rather than potentially making a huge commitment that will involve your whole family, and involve your heart to an enormous degree."

Cortese keeps it simple though: "The time will come ..."

While Catherine and Mac are trying to balance their needs with the needs of their families, inveterate "root rat" Brian, and sweet, whimsical Emma have gone from being flatmates to being a couple - both of them trying to trust each other, which is hard enough even before Brian's past catches up with them and threatens to overwhelm the relationship.

Meanwhile Michelle has resolved to be less bitter, throwing herself into the competitive nature of the quiz, but her issues of anger and loneliness still bubble strongly under the surface, which could be a problem when a new man presents himself.

"They're everyday situations that people deal with" Cortese points out - a reason why the show has such broad appeal.

"The rejoining of a family, with a daughter who wants her parents to be together, a husband and wife who separate after years of marriage, people getting together who've been single for a long time, all of those situations happen out there, and they've all been written in a very real way."

"That's the joy of playing it" Wright smiles. "This could easily happen to us, and it happens to people who watch the show. And I think there's a cleverness in the domesticity of the setting. It's actually hard to write well in a domestic scene because you can't be having amazing car crashes, you can't have a punch-up in the pub, you can't use cheap tricks and flashiness, because they're not available to you, so the writing has to be really strong."

The show was co-created by veteran scribes Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, and is co-written by Kate McDermott all of whom have Go Girls in common among their extensive credits.

In the forthcoming season of Nothing Trivial, each character's storyline has become more separate as they focus on their own families, which the actors say has given greater importance to the pub scenes. No matter how tricky things are getting at home, there is always quiz night at The Beagle, an opportunity to regroup and focus on themselves for a change.

"Pub quiz night is kind of like time to draw breath, and reinvigorate, and find out what everyone is up to. I mean we know what everyone is up to, of course, because we read the script, but there's a subconcious feeling of coming together at home base," Cortese muses.

Wright: "You get a sense that they actually need each other now, where in the first series they were getting to that point, but now they need that friendship."

The friendship between the five actors, and the rest of the cast and crew has become equally strong, Wright commenting that they all enjoy each other's company, which makes the long days of filming much easier.

"Even after spending 12 hours around a table, we want to go out and have a drink together, so we're really lucky."

The high quality of the show and the great response to the first season has led TVNZ to give the series a prime time Sunday night slot on One - usually the spot for its Sunday Theatre shows - a vote of confidence that the cast are hugely appreciative of.

"We're all stoked" Cortese smiles. "When we heard that, that's a real pat on the back. We're very happy. It's pretty much the number one spot in the week."

"It's wonderful that they're behind the show" Wright adds. "All the characters, they might be a bit of a f*** up in some respect, or messing up their personal life, but they are good people, and that's really nice material to work on. Because it's romantic comedy, you're laughing on and off all day long when you're filming, and I hope that translates on screen too - that it's a warm and hopeful show."

Where and when: Second season starts on One, Sunday August 26, 8.30pm.

What's up with the rest of the team?

Brian played by Blair Strang

Specialist topics: Sport, 80s music, geography

What's new this season: His relationship with Emma becomes top priority.

"A close second priority is quiz night, which he is absolutely passionate about, and it incorporates his mateship with Mac. Thirdly, his work and his ability to earn money becomes more of a focus."

What he's learned from the pub quiz scenes: "The first animals in space were fruit flies."


Emma played by Debbie Newby-Ward

Specialist topics: Cooking and animals

What's new this season: Emma is learning how to stand up for herself and be less of a pushover.

"She is forced to deal with some great challenges in her personal life, and sometimes that spills into her work life. This comes to a head when an opinionated relief teacher arrives on the scene."

What she's learned from the pub quiz scenes: "A fear of birds is called ornithophobia. My best friend is terrified of birds - if we go to the park I have to be on bird watch."


Michelle played by Nicole Whippy

Specialist topics: Celebrity gossip, women who kill, flags of the world

What's new this season: Michelle's relationship with her family gets more attention.

"She fell out with her family at a young age, and after being labelled 'selfish shellfish' she just never felt adequate in their eyes, especially compared to her annoying older sister, who can do no wrong."

What she's learned from the pub quiz scenes:"The collective noun episode was fun - a 'curse' of painters! Love it!"

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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