Weekend speaks to three of the female powerhouses behind The Changeover.
Miranda Harcourt is a force in theatre and film. An award-winning actress, director and writer of the screen and stage, she has also coached actors on several international and local feature films, such as Bridge to Terabithia, The Lovely Bones and Top of the Lake. Her clientele includes Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and Juliette Binoche.
But her most recent role is co-director on The Changeover, a supernatural romance based on the acclaimed young adult novel by the late Margaret Mahy.
Harcourt's husband, Stuart Mackenzie, co-directs and also wrote the screenplay. Mahy gave Mackenzie approval to make the film before she died in 2012 and her story is strangely prescient.
The book (published in 1984) is set in a post-earthquake-stricken Christchurch. Sixteen-year-old Laura comes from a broken family, in a broken suburb in a broken city. Harcourt references a Leonard Cohen song at this point. "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in. Mahy wrote a lot of cracks in her novel."
The film adaptation is female-driven, with a strong cast of women on and off screen, from producer Emma Slade to the main protagonist Laura, played by newcomer Erana James (Ngati Whatua Orakei, Waikato Tainui).
Harcourt discovered James while teaching drama at Rata Studios, a performing-arts centre based at Scots College, in Wellington. James is wise beyond her 17 years and is both humble and charming. "What this film does is turn on its head characteristics in women that are often portrayed as negative, such as being assertive and outspoken," says Harcourt.
"Laura is staunch and contemporary," says James, describing the evolution of her character as one of "self-growth and discovery. From girlhood to womanhood." Laura is extremely assertive and grounded, adds James. "She is an everyday hero."
Melanie Lynskey, one of our national treasures, plays the role of Kate, who is solo mum to Laura. Lynskey grabbed the attention of the nation in 1994 playing the part of Pauline Parker in the film Heavenly Creatures and has since gone on to enjoy international success. The Changeover, which was shot in Christchurch, also stars Lucy Lawless and Dame Kate Harcourt.
The lead character, says Slade, is strong and relevant. "It is a female perspective. When you're reading scripts with female protagonists there needs to be a lot of work done to make sure they are a three dimensional character - a big shout-out to Laura here. It's okay to be a flawed, female character. Women see the world differently from men and they bring something new to the table."
Mackenzie wrote the screenplay in a way that "celebrates the way real people really speak," says Harcourt.
The Changeover is in cinemas September 28.
The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy (Hachette NZ, $20)