Step Dave: The best intentions

By Nick Grant

Kiwi actress has huge aspirations, says Nick Grant.

Tania Nolan has enjoyed the challenge of playing Julia on Step Dave.
Tania Nolan has enjoyed the challenge of playing Julia on Step Dave.

Tania Nolan gives a throaty laugh when asked about the indecorous way her usually prim and proper character Julia behaved on local dramedy Step Dave last Tuesday.

"Oh, I know," she says. "When I read the script I went, 'What!?"'

Because of the way she approaches acting - "I have to think as the character in the scene, I can't be thinking as the actress, though of course there is a small, split part of me thinking about where I need to stand and all that sort of stuff" - Nolan needed to rationalise married Julia's impulsive bonk with the series' sad-sack singleton in a carpark.

"I think she's going through what's almost an early midlife crisis," Nolan explains. "She's happy with her life when she's in control, but now her biological clock has begun to tick and although she's always been very staunch about not wanting to have children, when her choice is taken away because her husband has a vasectomy without telling her, it sets her on this unexpected journey."

Empathy is an essential part of an actor's tool kit, so it's not surprising Nolan has a great affection for her character. "I know she says some horrible things but it's always with the best intentions," she says. "I love her sassiness and really enjoyed the challenge of playing her. It's allowed me to develop my comic timing, which I haven't had much chance to do before."

As such, she exhibits a sweet, protective concern about how the audience reacts to her character's infidelity.

"What's nice about Julia is she's very human and it's going to be interesting to see whether people feel sympathy for her confusion or outright blacklist her. It's funny how moralistic people get about such things, because it's probably not human nature to be monogamous, which is really more of a social construct. I think it's quite natural for humans to have connections to more than one person. "Not that I'm saying I go out and have affairs," she hurriedly adds with a laugh.

Step Dave wrapped two weeks ago, so the show was still shooting when it went to air, and Nolan found it "quite surreal to be getting an audience response while we were still making it".

Fortunately that response has been generally positive, though the Step Dave set must have been a gloomy place for several days after the show's debut, thanks to an initial error by ratings company Nielsen that underreported the audience by 40 per cent.

That experience can't help but affect how Nolan regards the measurement system. "I think it's quite archaic," she says.

"Now we've moved to digital, surely there's a more accurate way to track what's being viewed?"

She has been in two series - The Hothouse and This Is Not My Life - that didn't get the ratings they deserved and therefore ended after just one season. Like everyone else involved in the show, she's hoping that's not Step Dave's fate.

"With all the thought and money and time and love that's put into a show like this, of course we wish for it to have a long life, and there are certainly a lot more stories to tell through these characters," she says.

Nolan is something of an accidental actor. After leaving school early because she "ran out of steam", she realised she couldn't sell shoes all her life and discovered a hitherto hidden passion for performance.

But even after graduating from Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School, "I didn't think I'd ever have a career until I started auditioning, got a job and thought, 'Oh gosh!' Basically I decided to do what gave me joy and didn't worry too much about the success of it."

Now, however, she's all in. She has lived in LA for the past three years - she recorded her audition for Step Dave there) and refuses to have a back-up plan.

Her career aspirations include "an Oscar or Emmy nomination at least, because if I don't aim for that I won't get anywhere near it. It's like the old saying, 'Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars'."

Step Dave screens Tuesdays, 8.30pm, on TV2.

- Herald on Sunday

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