Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Stellar cast to begin filming Margaret Mahy supernatural romance in Christchurch

Harry Potter star Timothy Spall, seen here in Mr Turner, is one of a stellar line-up of actors set to star in The Changeover, which begins filming in Christchurch this month. Photo / File.
Harry Potter star Timothy Spall, seen here in Mr Turner, is one of a stellar line-up of actors set to star in The Changeover, which begins filming in Christchurch this month. Photo / File.

A stellar line-up of A-list actors including Timothy Spall and Melanie Lynskey will arrive in Christchurch this week to begin filming on The Changeover, a Margaret Mahy supernatural romance thriller.

British actor Spall, of Harry Potter fame, arrives on Tuesday followed by Lynskey, who made her first feature film - Heavenly Creatures - in the South Island city in 1994, and Lawless, who made her name as Xena: Warrior Princess.

The stellar cast also includes Dame Kate Harcourt at the grand age of 89, 17-year-old newcomer Erana James in the lead role and British up-and-coming actor Nick Galitzine, as well as 5-year-old Aucklander Benji Purchase.

The movie, with a multimillion-dollar budget and set in post-earthquake Christchurch, is described as a coming-of-age thriller directed by long-time actress Miranda Harcourt and husband Stuart McKenzie.

Acting coach Miranda Harcourt will co-direct The Changeover with husband Stuart McKenzie. Photo / file.
Acting coach Miranda Harcourt will co-direct The Changeover with husband Stuart McKenzie. Photo / file.

Harcourt told the Weekend Herald the film has been five years in the planning and is expected to take six weeks to shoot.

The 53-year-old said she fell in love with The Changeover when it was first published and narrated it on radio soon after.

"I'm passionate about the story and Stuart is too. I absolutely love the romance. It's a love story.

"But it's also a love story between Laura [the lead character] and her little brother. It's her love for him that drives the story and then the romance kind of happens by mistake."

Filming will take place in a state house moved into the earthquake-ravaged Red Zone especially for the movie, and at the iconic Ballantyne House.

Harcourt said she and McKenzie, who wrote the movie's script, drew influences from the romance of fantasy film series Twilight and a thriller aspect from Scandinavian film Let the Right One In.

She said the backdrop was post-earthquake Christchurch because the broken city reflected the lead character's struggle to find her identity.

Melanie Lynskey in Two and a Half Men. Photo / File.
Melanie Lynskey in Two and a Half Men. Photo / File.

In charge of cinematography is Andrew Stroud, the man behind Lorde's for Royals and Tennis Court music videos.

Harcourt and McKenzie, who was raised in Christchurch, have collaborated on many projects including movies and a television series.

Harcourt, who made her acting debut at the age of 2 as a baby Katherine Mansfield in a drama about the author's life, said her interest was largely in teenage movies because of her day-to-day work with teens.

Much of her acting coaching was with teenagers and it was through her acting class in Wellington that she discovered James, whom she described as having a rare quality; "an inner power that will lead an audience through a story for 90 minutes".

"She's really got an amazing quality where you just love to watch her."

Lucy Lawless is part of the stellar line-up in The Changeover. Photo / File.
Lucy Lawless is part of the stellar line-up in The Changeover. Photo / File.

Yesterday James and Galitzine bonded over a tandem bungy jump.

Wellington schoolgirl James and 22-year-old Galitzine are set to play the romantic leads in the movie, an adaptation of Mahy's award-winning young adult novel first released in 1984.

But until this week the pair had never met so Harcourt organised the tandem bungy jump over the Kawarau Gorge in Queenstown.

"They were terrified out of their wits. They were incredibly nervous so they're already sharing that experience together of being really scared."

Harcourt said there was little time for the actors to get to know each other so she decided there was no faster way for James, in her final year of high school, and Galitzine, a star of The Beat Beneath My Feet, to bond.

"Because I'm an acting coach I like to think of crazy things that work really fast and can move actors from one place to another to achieve authentic performances.

"Anyone who's done a tandem bungy knows that's an experience that you will remember and share with the other person for the rest of your life."

The pair would also go hot-air ballooning over Christchurch and James would go boating with Spall at Akaroa.

The Changeover is set for worldwide release in late 2017.

- NZ Herald

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