We're used to seeing Antonia Prebble on the wrong side of the law, as Loretta and, latterly, Rita West in TV3 series Outrageous Fortune and Westside. But for her next small-screen outing, she's obeying the law as well as enforcing it, playing a rookie detective alongside fellow Kiwi and Australian acting icon Rebecca Gibney.

It's a departure for Gibney too, putting the much-loved Julie Rafter of Packed to the Rafters to bed by playing the titular role of Detective Sergeant Eve Winter in the new Australian crime-thriller series Winter, which screens on TV One from September 13.

The character of Winter first appeared in the telemovie The Killing Field, which screened here in April, but Gibney is relishing the chance the series provides to reveal more of the character's back story.

It will also explore her relationships, especially with romantic ex and fellow policeman Lachlan McKenzie (Peter O'Brien) and federal cop Jake Harris (ex-rugby league player Matt Nable).

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"One of the criticisms of The Killing Field was that we didn't really get to know Eve or Lachlan or the back story, so in this series we are able to flesh that out," Gibney says.

"We get to go home with her and we see her flaws, see what makes her tick. It's great to be able to explore that."

Winter is quite a different character from Julie Rafter, whom Gibney played for six seasons until 2013. For a start, Winter isn't anyone's mum.

"I really wanted to play a single, strong, independent woman, someone who had decided not to have children and was okay with that," Gibney says. "It doesn't mean she doesn't have flaws and weaknesses - everybody does - but it isn't because she didn't have children."

And, refreshingly for the male-dominated police-drama genre, Winter runs the show.

Despite McKenzie's growing obsession with the case and Harris' involvement from a federal perspective, the murder of a young mother in a picturesque seaside town is Winter's case to solve. However Gibney, who is also one of the show's producers, says that's not how the character started out. "In the initial idea for The Killing Field she wasn't the boss, but I said I wanted her to be.

"I admired Helen Mirren's character in Prime Suspect, and I really wanted Eve to be the woman in control."

Gibney says it helped having two talented women writers - Michaeley O'Brien and Sarah Smith - creating the show. "They've done a marvellous job with the character - I'm really happy with how she's ended up."

Combining the roles of producer and lead actor was "exhausting and all-consuming", Gibney says. "There were a number of times when I wanted to come home and curl up in a foetal position. I'm lucky to have a supportive husband picking up the slack at home and keeping the ship running.

"I was living and breathing it - when I wasn't on set I was looking at rushes and thinking about music and trying to learn my lines, but I loved it. It's not about being a control freak, but about having some control and being part of a collaborative team."

Adding another female voice to Winter's investigating team is Detective Alesia Taylor, played by Prebble. Fresh faced, straight-laced and keen to impress Winter, the character of Taylor is a long way from the calculating, manipulative Rita West, whom Prebble brought to life in the recently screened Westside.

"The character is so different from Rita," says Prebble. "Hard on the heels of Westside, it'll be interesting for people to see me in quite a different light. They really couldn't be more polar opposites.

"I usually play characters around people on the other side of the law, complex and troubled. Alesia is also complex, but she's very different from anything I've played before." Unlike most members of the fictional West family, Prebble says the young detective Taylor has a strong work ethic and is very committed to her job.

"She has a great sense of integrity and is willing to stretch herself. She is put into situations which require her to be courageous and work beyond her comfort zone, and she tackles them head-on. She has goals and works pretty doggedly towards them, which are great traits for a human to have."

Prebble worked on Winter before Westside - she finished filming in Australia the day before starting on the Kiwi series, requiring a quick switch back into crime-family mode and heavy eyeliner to play Rita West. But it's all part of the juggle for the busy actor, who also spends time each year in the US.

"I'm used to upping sticks to go where I need to go," Prebble says. "For the last couple of years I have been trying to broaden my horizons over there, so it was great to be part of an Australian production."

For Prebble, working on the show was also a chance to view one of television's seasoned professionals up close. "I have to be careful not to sound too gushy but it's hard not to," Prebble says, honestly. "Rebecca is amazing. I was just so impressed with the way she is as a human being, so warm and kind, and has a really motherly air about her.

"She genuinely cares about people, is a really good leader and sets the tone on the set at an extremely high level. Plus, she makes acting look really easy - she just turns up and is amazing."

For her part, New Zealand-born Gibney is pleased Prebble was able to join the cast.
"I'm really thrilled she came to play with us. She's phenomenal. It's always great to see great people doing great work and being successful."

Both Gibney and Prebble say New Zealand audiences will be able to relate to the series, despite its Australian setting.

"I'm hoping it's sort of universal - it's a really good whodunit," says Gibney. "Most people are armchair detectives - when they watch shows like Broadchurch and The Killing, they sit there going, is it this person, is it that person?

"I'm hoping that Kiwis will love it the way Australians did.

"I don't think we've reinvented the wheel, but we're putting a new spin on it."

Prebble agrees. "You might think it's one person, then it goes in completely another direction. The resolution is really interesting and I don't think people will see it coming."

Winter debuts on TV One next Sunday at 8.30pm.