Greg Dixon

Greg Dixon is deputy editor of Canvas.

Aidee Walker: Daydream believer

She acts! She writes! She directs! She even biked the length of the country for charity! Greg Dixon talks to the amazingly energetic Aidee Walker about her award-winning short film, playing music with Anna Coddington and the revelation she had in London’s Shoreditch

Actress, writer and award winning film maker Aidee Walker. Photo / Richard Robinson
Actress, writer and award winning film maker Aidee Walker. Photo / Richard Robinson

Warning: Contains language that may offend some.

Some of the things Aidee Walker has done: she has played drums, keyboards and sung and won a rock band competition. She has cycled the length of the country and lived on $2.25 a day.

She's played rep hockey and studied Maori. She plays guitar. She has directed three music videos for her friend, singer Anna Coddington. She can speak Spanish. She has starred in Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune. She has lived in California, London, Spain and Hamilton. She has surfed off the beach at Del Mar in California. She been to five universities, was sports captain at her high school, has a bachelor's degree in performing arts from Unitec and has made an award-winning short film which she wrote, directed and acted in. She has "wwoofed" - that is, worked for food and board on an organic farm - in Spain and taken a one-woman show to the Edinburgh fringe festival. She is writing a feature film and another short film. She wants kids, but wants to ride a motorbike around India just as much.

She is just 32, and these are just the highlights. If this was anyone else, I expect they'd have collapsed from exhaustion, or exploded from the effort.

Instead, Walker sits calmly, almost serenely, on the couch of her Auckland flat, sips her tea and says in her 100-mile-an-hour way that she feels like she hasn't done enough.

"I sometimes wonder why I'm an actor," she says at one point. "I wonder why ... why I didn't go and do a different degree that would have given me a proper job?"

What rot. If she hadn't done her degree in performing arts, she would not be about to star in the Silo Theatre's final production for 2013, a Scottish sort-of musical called Midsummer, which opens at Q Theatre's Loft in three weeks. More to the point, nor would she have written and directed and starred in her short film Friday Tigers, which won her not one but two awards at this year's New Zealand International Film Festival.

Aidee Walker with Dan Musgrove for 'Midsummer' at the Silo Theatre. Photo / Oliver Rosser
Aidee Walker with Dan Musgrove for 'Midsummer' at the Silo Theatre. Photo / Oliver Rosser

A delightful, sad, uplifting and deeply authentic little film, it won both the jury prize and the audience award in early August. The jury prize judges called it a surprising, even thrilling, watch.

"We loved the whimsy," wrote juror and Metro editor Simon Wilson in the jury's citation, "The story moves crisply, the acting is beguiling and the ending - a vote for courage and the power of the imagination - is a surprise and a delight."

It was just a pity Walker wasn't there to hear the kind words. Instead she was in Melbourne, where the film had been included in that city's international film festival, the first of what she hopes will be a few other overseas festivals, including Sundance.

"I think we were pretty stoked to just get into the top six short films at the Auckland festival. So it was amazing that we won both awards. I didn't even know how I felt because I didn't even really celebrate it properly because I was in Melbourne. We were at this event celebrating The Turning, this massive film [at the Melbourne festival].

"It felt like really silly [saying] 'I just won a competition in New Zealand', it's like 'who cares?"' She laughs. "But I was with the New Zealand Film Commission lady, Lisa Chatfield [Friday Tigers was made with a $10,000 NZFC grant], and we were getting text messages and Facebook messages and then I had to turn my phone off and watch this three-hour film. That was how we celebrated!"

So much for not having a proper job then.

It started with daydreams. The second of two daughters for a Hamilton teacher and nurse (though the family originates from Great Barrier Island and is related to noted flower painter Fanny Osborne), Walker used to let her imagination run free as she walked to school from the family home on the edge of town.

'Friday Tigers' an award-winning short film written by, directed by and starring Aidee Walker.
'Friday Tigers' an award-winning short film written by, directed by and starring Aidee Walker.

"It wasn't very far, but when you're a child it feels like a long way, it was the outskirts of
Hamilton - there were farms on this side and houses on that side - and I used to write stories in my head. That was when I started writing these sorts of movies. I guess people do that all the time, they're the protagonist in their own movie. But mine were literally like: there's going to be a movie, I want there to be cinema.

"Back then of course I didn't tell people this, because I'm a little girl from Hamilton who plays hockey and it was better to just talk about sport, that was cooler. So I focused on sport, you talk about sport without people going 'oh you're such an idiot, you'll never do that'."

At Hamilton Girls' High School she was bookish but sporty too, playing rep hockey for Waikato and was sports captain for the school. "There was lots of blazer action and lots of school balls in the 7th form". The plan was to go on to the University of Otago and do a degree in physical education. Then the arts intervened. Not acting, as such - though Walker did perform in school productions - but music.

Walker and two friends, Anna Coddington and Janna Hawkes, formed a band called Handsome Geoffery that, while not a hit with the school's music teacher ("she liked the chamber group, the choir and the orchestra"), it was with judges of the Smokefree Rock Quest: they won the 1998 national final.

"It was kind of cute pop music. It came at a good time because Bic Runga was massive, so that was why I think we won that year, it was more interesting to hear that kind of sound and no one else was really doing it at the time. We practised a lot because we weren't very good." She laughs. "So we had to practice to at least be tight.

"[The final] was at the Bruce Mason Centre. We had half the school come up dressed like us, we had so much support. We were dressed like these dolls with with massive face paint, we were on the cover of the Tearaway magazine - that was like a big deal. We went in there with no expectation, it was like 'let's just have fun'."

They won a spot at the next year's Sweetwaters festival and a swag of other prizes.

Suddenly the daydreams were rock 'n' roll dreams and Handsome Geoffery was her future. Then, weirdly, she was offered a role in a musical based on Shakespeare's The Tempest.

"They saw me drumming and singing in the band. I literally got called up and they said 'can you audition for this musical?' It was called Return To The Forbidden Planet. Then I did a theatre paper at Waikato uni and my lecturer said 'you should go to drama school'. I had never considered that."

A slutty bitch from West Auckland changed Walker's life. Well that's an exaggeration. But being cast as the incorrigible, redoubtable Draska Doslic, one of Outrageous Fortune's more outrageous inhabitants, announced her as an actress to a wide, wide audience.

After completing her three-year bachelor of performing and screen arts degree at Auckland's Unitec in 2002, she had a bit of dream run. She was cast (actually in her last year at Unitec) as a lead in a local feature film called The Locals, was offered a role in an Auckland Theatre Company production and a part in the well-received TV drama Mercy Peak, all in her first year out of acting school.

"My agent said to me at the time 'this is going to be hard for you' and I said 'why?' thinking 'this is what it is going to be like'. He said 'well you've started with a feature film, so anything after this is going to be difficult'.

"He was right, it doesn't work like that in New Zealand. It's too small."

Being cast, after a couple of down years, as Draska in 2004 was another boost to her career, and her confidence.

"I remember going to the drinks [before shooting but after being cast as Draska] and a director said to me - I got not that many notes about my character other that she was in love with Van and was going to stalk him later in the series - and he said to me 'the thing about Draska is that she gives better head than Pascal' and then he kind of walked away from me."

She laughs. Well now. But back then it became evident that Draska was going to be getting about in push-up bras and skirts not much wider than a belt. "So I went out and bought a short skirt for the summer, otherwise I would keep pulling it down during filming. I had to be comfortable. I remember going out and buying this Wrangler short skirt, and they ended up using that short skirt later on for Draska!

"That was a big change. Draska really helped with my confidence because she is so confident, she thought she was hot shit, you know. She didn't care what anyone thought.

She knew what she wanted, whereas I was much more 'I won't wear that kind of outfit!' I wouldn't want to draw that much attention. She really helped my confidence, did Draska. Thank you Draska!"

She was still playing in the band - though it had morphed into Duchess - but by the time she'd hit her mid-20s, acting generally and Draska in particular, had become more important.

"Acting you only have to rely on yourself but with a band you have to rely on a group. It was probably good that we broke up because I did have to focus at that time."
And then she climbed on a plane.

"I had a profound moment in London when I was living there. I was walking in my neighourhood in Shoreditch - I was 28-29 - I thought 'I want the next decade to be more outward-looking'. I remember that moment."

You'd have to say her life had already been a bit outward-looking by then. After she'd done Spanish and philosophy full-time through the University of Auckland (at the same time as Outrageous Fortune; "It was mental"), she landed an exchange to the University of California, San Diego, (she lived in nearby Del Mar, which has a great surf beach) followed by another exchange in Salamanca in Spain.

In between and around these she worked on an organic farm in Spain, did some theatre in London, worked on one-woman show which went Edinburgh's fringe festival and worked at music festivals. She did find time to come to New Zealand to do the final season of Outrageous Fortune. "It was completely random," she says.

When she turned to New Zealand in December 2010, her desire to be more outward looking manifested itself in two ways. The first is in doing work for charity.

When we talk, she's not long finished living on $2.25 a day as part of Living Below The Line, a fundraising and awareness campaign around extreme poverty. Last year she helped organise, to raise awareness for the Mental Health Foundation, a 21-day Bluff to the Cape bike ride called Ride Out of the Blue.

The second step outwards has been turning the likes of those childhood daydreams of hers into stories of her own.

"I sometimes wonder why I'm still acting when it is so hard - it is so hard! - in this country [to make a living]. That's exactly why I started writing a film because you can almost know what's in the pipeline, you know there's a couple of South Pacific Pictures shows or there is an American co-productions. You can kind of know what's coming up and when there is nothing coming up, you're like 'oh my God, what do I do?' Put on a play? Can't make money from that. Not that you make any money from making short films. But it leads somewhere, you know."

Friday Tigers has certainly done that for her. The festival awards have been followed by a second grant from the NZFC (this time for $30,000) for another short film, Break In The Weather, and she's also working on a script for a feature film, among others.

"I can control the writing and directing - not that I can get funding all the time. But it is something that I produce by myself. With acting, unless you're writing for yourself, you're at the mercy of production companies. It's fine when you're young, but as you get older you need to make an income. I want to have a family.

"I won't ever stop doing what I'm doing, but I just have to think about ways I can be continually doing what I want to do and somehow pay my rent ... and travel again.

She can't do all of those things?

"You can. I'm starting to work out slowly how to ... it's by working very hard and using as much time in the day as you can."


Friday Tigers will screen in next month's Show Me Shorts film festival (see
showmeshorts.co.nz). Midsummer, featuring Aidee Walker and Dan Musgrove, is at the Q Theatre Loft from October 24 to November 23.

- NZ Herald

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