Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

How Kiwi web series High Road scored Oscar winner Emma Thompson

A low budget Kiwi TV show landed a cameo from Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson just by asking the question.
Oscar winner Emma Thompson, left, with High Road star Mark Mitchinson and her husband, Greg Wise.
Oscar winner Emma Thompson, left, with High Road star Mark Mitchinson and her husband, Greg Wise.

Mark Mitchinson has been been asked the same thing a lot lately: how did his low budget web series land a cameo from an Oscar winner?

The Kiwi actor says Emma Thompson's appearance started with an "innocent" conversation between him and Justin Harwood, the writer and creator of their award-winning show High Road.

"I know Greg (Wise), her husband, and he loved the series, so I said, 'Hey, do you want to be in the third series? And do you think Emma would want to be in it as well?'"

Emma Thompson and Greg Wise in season three of High Road.
Emma Thompson and Greg Wise in season three of High Road.

The results of that successful pitch are unveiled today as the third series of High Road debuts online, the show that follows the antics of Mitchinson's washed-up rocker Terry Huffer.

Thompson and Wise feature in season three as Huffer's sister and brother-in-law, using their own names and playing themselves as they hassle the hungover Huffer.

When Thompson agreed to get involved, Mitchinson said he and Harwood knew they had to act fast.

"When she said yes we said, 'We've gotta go, it's Emma Thompson, we're out'. We scraped together bits and pieces and we went, filmed in a pub in Hampstead on a Monday morning before the pub opened."

He relished the chance to play alongside Thompson, who won the Academy Award for best actress for her role in Howards End in 1992, and another for best adapted screenplay for 1995's Sense and Sensibility.

"You realise what a great actress she is when you can just sit down and it just all comes out and she totally took on the role," Mitchinson said.

"She went, 'Oh look, I haven't looked at the script, guys. Can we just sit down and forget the script and just jam it?' And we totally did. It was mad ... she was magnificent."

Mark Mitchinson plays washed up rocker Terry Huffer in High Road.
Mark Mitchinson plays washed up rocker Terry Huffer in High Road.

He believes their pitch succeeded because they avoided the red tape usually involved in working with a high-profile actor.

"She watched it and she loved it. It's not through agents and all the crap that surrounds that Hollywood thing, this was just a small little thing, playing herself ... it was that lovely thing of her being up for it and wanting (to do it)."

But there's been one downside to Thompson's cameo: Mitchinson says he's also being regularly asked by fellow Kiwi film and TV producers how to get in touch with her.

"There are so many of them, all coming to me going, 'Would she mind ...?'

His reply? "Yeah she would actually, that's not going to happen. No I'm not going to introduce you."

* Watch all three seasons of High Road here.

- NZ Herald

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