Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Filthy Rich: In a rich man's world

The breakout stars of the ambitious new local TV drama Filthy Rich talk beards, boxing and pole dancing with Lydia Jenkin.
The cast of the television series, Filthy Rich.
The cast of the television series, Filthy Rich.

Fast cars, martinis for breakfast, palatial residences, sleek suits, plus plenty of bling, blow, and blazing rows. The world of the wealthy is something we're used to seeing in American TV shows, but now producer Steven Zanoski, and writers Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan have created a New Zealand series that taps into that lifestyle: Filthy Rich.

A drama driven by secrets, family feuds, greed, and desperation, it retains a distinctly Kiwi flavour (think Outrageous Fortune in its blend of dark humour and sass), and a highly relatable beating heart in the form of three key characters.

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Savannah is a pole dancer in a K Rd strip club, Joe runs a South Auckland boxing gym, and Vader is a laid-back Southlander - and yes, you guessed it, none of them are filthy rich when the show begins.

They're three average twenty-somethings who have no idea that their biological father is John Trubridge Senior, one of the richest men in New Zealand. When he dies, mysteriously falling (or jumping) from an inner city office building, his will reveals the existence of these three unexpected children, and he leaves them each 17 per cent of his billion dollar company each, much to the chagrin of his current wife Brady (a steely Miriama Smith) and firstborn son John Junior (Josh McKenzie). Needless to say some nasty business ensues.

"It's the kind of role you hope for.

"It'll take some getting used to, being in a, well, I was going to say raunchy, but that's not quite right, it's sexy and a little bit dark and dirty, and it's the kind of show that gets me out of my comfort zone" laughs Alex Tarrant, who plays Joe after recent roles in When We Go to War and 800 Words.

"It's not necessarily something I'm going to tell my parents to watch, but I'm excited for my friends to see it."

"That's so funny" Emma Fenton (Savannah) responds. "My family love that kind of stuff, Scandal, Game of Thrones, all that sort of naughty business. And if my Gran was still around she'd love it, it would be right up her alley. I'm sure my uncle and my dad might need a bit of prep for some scenes, or I might need to tell them to turn away, but all the women in my family will love it."

Filthy Rich features on the cover of this week's TimeOut:

Both Fenton and Taylor Hall (who plays Vader) were just as thrilled as Tarrant to get the roles, which will see them in our living rooms twice a week, in one of New Zealand's most expensive TV shows yet - the show received $8.25 million in NZ On Air funding for 20 episodes.

"I remember getting an email from my agent saying, 'Hey we're trying to get you an audition for Filthy Rich, but it's for a character from down country, and they reckon you look too Ponsonby for it'," Hall recalls. "I emailed back as furiously fast as I could, saying 'Please, please get me an audition, I promise I can do country!' I didn't know I could grow a beard at that stage, but it worked out pretty well."

The show centres around the theme of what people will do for large sums of money. It's not really about a bunch of rich folk living the high life, more about a family uncovering secrets and lies, trying to figure out how to protect what's important to them, and work out who they can trust in this new suspicious high stakes world.

"Yes there are cars and drugs and strippers and Champagne, but that's not really what the story is about. There's a whole bunch of characters in the show who are just average Kiwis and people will connect with them" Tarrant nods.

"The three half-siblings all come from much less well-off backgrounds, quite contrasting lives really, and it's really interesting to see how the money changes them or doesn't change them over the course of the series" Hall explains.

It forced the three of them to think about what they might do if they found themselves in a similar situation.

"I keep thinking about [comedian] Dave Chappelle," Tarrant smiles, "and how his father always told him, if he was ever offered more money than he knew he was worth, he should quit. And at one point Dave got offered $50 million to do a show, so he quit. And I think both Joe and I have some of that perspective, that if someone wants to give you that much money, there must be something else going on, some strings attached, you know, more money more problems."

They've all found plenty of similarities between themselves and their characters, but there have been a few special skills they've acquired up for their roles: Hall picking up a more rural southern accent, Tarrant learning some boxing skills, and Fenton tackling the biggest task by learning to pole dance.

"At the audition they asked, 'Can you dance?' and I was all 'Yeah sure', acting all confident, and then when I got the role, I went, 'Oh god, I need some help'. So I watched a few films, and I ended up going to Viva Dance studio, and I went to a pole dancing class, and I pulled the teacher aside afterwards and said 'Look I just need to get really good, really quickly, and she was like, 'You want to become a stripper?' and I was like, 'Weeelll, kind of, but not really'" Fenton laughs.

"It was a lot about strength training. People look at pole dancers and think it's easy, but when you try it yourself, it requires a huge amount of strength. So I just hired the studio out, and practiced by myself, and then I could use their mirrors and see how I actually looked, and basically was just driven by the fact that I didn't want to look like a fool when it came to filming those scenes."

All three are graduates of Toi Whakaari drama school, and were studying there at the same time in different years.

"It was great because we have that connection we just gelled really well on set, and I think that translates on screen," says Hall. "We've got quite strong chemistry with one another, and the longer we work together the more we feel like family."

That camaraderie also made it easier or more fun to really rip into each other, or give each other hell when the script called for it.

"It's great when you have that relationship with other actors, because you can go, 'Let's have a bit of fun today!'" Tarrant smiles.

Who: Emma Fenton, Taylor Hall, Alex Tarrant
What: New local TV drama Filthy Rich
Where and when: Screening Monday and Tuesday nights on TV2 at 8.30pm from February 15

- TimeOut

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