Rose McIver: Her own fairy tale

By Leena Tailor

Former Kiwi child actor Rose McIver has grabbed the much-hyped role of Tinker Bell in Once Upon a Time. She talks to Leena Tailor.

New Zealand actress Rose McIver.
New Zealand actress Rose McIver.

There was a roar of applause through Anaheim when Once Upon A Time creators Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz uttered the name "Tinker Bell" at Disney convention D23.

"We may be meeting a certain fairy in Neverland this season ..." teased Kitsis. "But you have to clap if you believe in her."

At a gathering of the most die-hard Disney fanatics in the world, the words "Tinker Bell" are a big deal. Just weeks earlier at San Diego convention Comic-Con, both fans and media were abuzz when Kitsis and Horowitz made the big announcement, that the loved fairy was about to make her debut on the popular TV2 series.

The hype continued, leading up to her first appearance on the show, with ABC launching a huge social media campaign which saw "Oncers" around the US tweeting #TinkerBell in the week before her grand, glittery entrance.

On-screen, it was the highly-anticipated introduction of an iconic Disney character, but behind-the-scenes, the role marked a significant Kiwi coup in hard-to-crack Hollywood.

Not only was 25-year-old actress Rose McIver - and her New Zealand accent - the talk of one of the most popular shows in America, but two hours after her second episode went to air, she made her debut as single girl Vivian Scully on Showtime's 1950s drama Masters of Sex, marking a rare accomplishment for any actress - bagging two regular primetime gigs on one of American television's biggest nights.

For McIver, such success was a natural step, having acted since the age of 2, then working consistently on shows like Maddigan's Quest and Shortland Street.

Following her most well-known roles in Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones and Power Rangers: RPM, McIver abandoned her psychology, anthropology and linguistics studies and swapped Titirangi for Tinseltown. She has since been quietly knuckling down to become established within the key community of casting directors, networks and producers, to the point where she now cherishes walking into a room and not having to introduce herself every time.

"What's funny is sometimes it's so incremental that you don't really notice that it's all happening," she tells Canvas. "For the first couple of years here, it was like, 'Was this the right move?' 'What am I doing?'

"And now I realise that just putting one foot in front of the other is what's important - keeping on going out to auditions, getting good feedback, slowly booking roles. The projects I'm working on have gradually grown over the past couple of years and now I'm pretty proud of where I'm at and what I'm working on."

That journey hasn't come without its challenges, in a town hungry to recklessly churn through and spit out desperate actors.

Many lose themselves in striving for acceptance, fame and success, and McIver admits that in her early days a desire to "work, work, work" saw her auditioning for projects she would not have been thrilled nor proud to be involved with.

She was also told she needed to "be more Hollywood" after rocking up to one of her early auditions in a singlet, shorts and heels.

Refusing to conform, McIver rose above the crushing comment and threw herself into the audition circuit - the sheer volume of which (often a few every day during pilot season) was a shock coming from New Zealand's small and limited auditioning opportunities.

The knockbacks were taxing, although in hindsight she sees them as "part of the chase".

"There are many projects that I would have loved to be a part of, but I was not high-profile enough or I had the wrong look. That's just something you have to expect.

There's no use beating yourself up about what you can't change. I tend to feel frustrated about it for a day or two, then let it go and just hope something else comes through that I enjoy."

In between fearlessly dodging professional hurdles, McIver has thrived in the ambitious, go-getting side of Los Angeles. With its air of anything-is-possible, the dream-big town attracts an endless stream of international actors set on becoming the next big thing and while many don't survive its testing nature, McIver says the city has driven her in a way New Zealand couldn't.

"I'm very, very glad to be born in New Zealand and to have grown up with a different energy around me. I think it must be very difficult growing up in a town like this where everybody is so work-driven a lot of the time. It's nice to have roots where I just know where my heart is and what matters to me.

"But it's definitely encouraging to work with people who believe you can achieve anything. If I've written a script and I meet people here, they'll say, 'Cool, what are you going to do with it?' or 'How are you going to make it?'

"There's a real support for initiative which I'm grateful for, whereas at home it might have seemed a little less realistic to be able to do that - even though it shouldn't.

"So it's a crossover of sensibilities that I like about being here. I love having the laid-back, easy-going, family-priority nature of New Zealand, but I'm certainly enjoying the States in terms of the career opportunities and the enthusiasm I get to find work."

That work has included a stint on crime favourite CSI and upcoming film The Brightest Star with Allison Janney, as well as Masters of Sex and Once Upon A Time.

Having been living somewhat of a "gypsy life", McIver wasn't familiar with Once Upon A Time until her audition.

Heading in to try out for a "spunky girl with attitude", she had no idea she was auditioning for Tinker Bell.

"They're clever like that. They want you to bring your own ideas to it before they tell you exactly who you're playing, so I just had this take on a girl with attitude and they liked it.

I got a call from my agent the following week saying I'd booked Tinker Bell. I was like,

'When did I go in for Tinker Bell?'

"And what's cool about the show is because the stories are so global and everyone growing up in New Zealand, the UK or anywhere else knows the story, people are allowed to keep their accents because it helps show that international appeal. It's refreshing in this town to be able to do something where you don't have to hide where you're from.

"I get to be a proud Kiwi!"

Thrilled at landing a Disney classic, within a few days McIver was racing up to Vancouver for costume fittings and on-set alongside Lana Parilla, Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison.

Rose McIver playing the role of Tinker Bell in 'Once Upon A Time'. Photo / ABC
Rose McIver playing the role of Tinker Bell in 'Once Upon A Time'. Photo / ABC

"Turning up on that first day with the costume and a whole lot of new faces was definitely a little overwhelming, but luckily everybody was welcoming and it's a very easy and drama-free set.

"The show is in its third season, so it's a very well-oiled machine and the work flow is so impressive. They have wonderful studios, the crew are at the top of the game and the cast get along really well, so it's nice to be able to arrive and have none of the boring hiccups you often have to deal with on a new show.

"Instead, it's more about what creativity you bring to the table. They're all very collaborative and interested in new ideas."

She likens filming in Vancouver to filming in New Zealand "on a bigger scale" and while leads Morrison and Goodwin have become good friends, it's Parilla (Regina/ Evil Queen) who McIver has been working most closely with.

The American actress spent extra time off-set running through lines with the Kiwi and helping her prepare for Tinker Bell's story arc, which revolves around the characters of Regina and Hook.

Playing a mischievous fairy was a far cry from the racy role she had just come off filming on acclaimed cable drama Masters of Sex. Baring her breasts and shooting raunchy sex scenes were all in a day's work on the Golden Globe-nominated series.

While many young women would be petrified about stripping off for a global audience, McIver was drawn to the character for its diversity.

"What appeals to me about being an actor is having the chance to live a whole bunch of lives squeezed into the one that we each have.

"When I look at jobs, one of the most relevant questions I ask is, 'Is this something I've done before or is it a chance to experience a new context, tone and relationship?' I also ask if it's a story worth telling and a character with a reason to exist ... someone who reflects the human condition.

"Nudity is the least of my concerns. Luckily everyone I worked with on Masters of Sex was professional, seasoned and comfortable in the environment we had created.

"And with Once, what I've enjoyed about Tinker Bell is that she is so three-dimensional - she's very mischievous, she's jealous and she has her heart in the right place, but you're able to see some of her flaws as well."It's nice to be able to step in as an actor and already have that texture to play with. I've enjoyed finding ways to make her somebody people can relate to and that I can relate to."

Despite comfortably baring all for Masters of Sex, McIver was anxious about what her fairy outfit would entail, her agent joking she was doing sit-ups to squeeze into the costume after landing the part.

Happy with the look of what she describes as a "glittery green dress-tard", her usual running and hiking regime turned to focusing on being strong and capable enough to deal with the substantial harness work involved in Tinker Bell's flying scenes.

Rose McIver insists she's still a Kiwi girl despite her star wattage.
Rose McIver insists she's still a Kiwi girl despite her star wattage.

Her screen looks aside, McIver has made an impression on the image-obsessed Hollywood scene.

Fashion blogs saluted her for "bringing the glamour" to the recent red carpet premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and months earlier she turned heads wearing a black and white Holly Fulton frock at a British Fashion Council event in Beverly Hills.

Such nights are still a buzz for the young Kiwi.

"They're a lot of fun. I'm incredibly-grateful to work with a good hairdresser, make-up artist and stylist for those kind of nights because if left to my own devices I would be an absolute disaster!

"There's an incredible fashion culture that goes hand-in-hand with entertainment and it's exciting to think that I could wear some New Zealand labels out here and be proud of the labels that are from where I'm from."

Those Kiwi roots remain strong for McIver, who says settling into "big and daunting" Los Angeles away from her tight-knit family, including photographer dad Mac and artist mum Annie, was a struggle in the beginning.

These days, she has a strong circle of Kiwi friends - flatting with close friend and former Shortland Street star Fleur Saville and hanging with fellow acting expats including Madeleine Sami, Olivia Tennet and Claire Chitham.

Like Rose, many of the group are based in West Hollywood, which they have dubbed the equivalent of the city's New Zealand embassy.

The New Zealand ties have been crucial in a town where many struggle to find their place.

"I think it takes a good couple of years to find your feet and find the people you like to spend your time with - and have the longevity of those friendships.

"But I've got that now and I'm really lucky and grateful.

"We have the equivalent of family dinners. Every week or two we'll get a bunch of friends together and keep that energy around which is nice."

It's also a town where many her age get caught up in the temptations and darker side of the industry.

For McIver, the closest she comes to showing touches of Tinseltown is shooting with controversial celebrity photographer Tyler Shields and declining to comment on her love life. Aside from spending the little free time she gets hiking, hitting the markets and Skyping family, she remains firmly focused on work, rather than the social scene.

"I wouldn't have left Auckland if it weren't for work. I love New Zealand as a place to live, but I'm here for work. So I will absolutely make it feel like home and I will enjoy it, but my priorities are pretty clear on being here to help myself careerwise - otherwise I'd still be in Auckland."

Once Upon A Time starts on February 12, 9.30pm, TV2.

- NZ Herald

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