New Zealander of the Year Finalist: Robyn Malcolm

By Catherine Masters

Every day this week in news, business and sport we feature the finalists for the Herald New Zealander of the Year. Top honours will appear in the Weekend Herald on Saturday.

Robyn Malcolm. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Robyn Malcolm. Photo / Sarah Ivey

As Cheryl West, Robyn Malcolm had enough to deal with - a ratbag husband and reprobate children (including a daughter who pinched her ex-cop lover) - and still she sailed through the finale of the much-loved TV show Outrageous Fortune with chain-smoking aplomb.

In a year which should have centred on the end of the series and Malcolm's fabulous portrayal of the matriarch of a criminal family gone straight (-ish), the actress then appeared as herself in the row over actors' contracts for The Hobbit, standing up to Sir Peter Jackson and Hollywood with the gutsiness of Cheryl, though without the swearing and the cigarettes.

Malcolm took a lot of flak for sticking up for the actors, but kept her dignity. As a member of New Zealand Actors' Equity, she questioned how asking for better conditions could have derailed a multi-million-dollar movie in New Zealand, saying: "If it does go offshore it will have nothing to do with Actors' Equity."

She defended Simon Whipp of the Australian actors' union late one night when they were followed by angry film workers, stepping in and saying: "It is entirely inappropriate for anybody to speak at midnight ... this is actually harassment now."

When the dispute was settled she said she was "thrilled and relieved" that The Hobbit was staying in New Zealand and wished Sir Peter and the crew all the best, saying she hoped they had "an awesome shoot".

Fronting up was not without personal risk to Malcolm. Not only was she was threatened, but was also told, by South Pacific Pictures chief executive John Barnett, that with fellow union member actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand, she was "damaged goods" and might struggle to find work.

Malcolm said she did not mind being unpopular while fighting for a good cause. "I really believe in this stuff. I believe in workers' rights."

As well as Cheryl West, Malcolm has a string of acting credits to her name and many official awards and "most popular" awards.

This year she was voted best TV actress for the sixth time in a row - and sexiest woman for the third time in a row - in the TV Guide people's choice awards, and has won best actress in the Qantas Film and Television awards twice and twice in the Qantas Television awards.

She's also big on the environment, voicing the Green Party's election advertisements in 2008, and she supports a range of worthy causes.

Malcolm, who was a Shortland Street regular (playing nurse Ellen Crozier) is invariably described as one of New Zealand's best-loved actresses.

The Hobbit fuss is unlikely to get in the way of that.

- NZ Herald

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