Being cast in the new, third series of online comedy-drama Auckward Love has been a flashback to flatting days for two of its guest stars - in a good way, writes Sarah Ell.
Impromptu parties, wannabe actors declaiming, loud music and holes in the back yard . . . oh, to have been a fly on the wall back in the 90s when Sara Wiseman and Nicole Whippy shared a flat in Auckland's Kingsland.
Sitting in the bar at Auckland's Q Theatre, in advance of the new series of Auckward Love, the pair, who met at Unitec's performing arts school, happily recall their days living together.
Whippy moved into Wiseman's flat in Kingsland - a sort of revolving "artists in residence" scene which saw actors and creatives of various kinds come and go - around the same time they first worked together, on the short-lived Rachel Lang-Gavin Strawhan drama Jackson's Wharf.
"It's still going, and there are still actors on rotation - it's still a great flat," says Wiseman.
"We were in our 20s, getting established as actors, living together - we quite liked each other," adds Whippy.
"We listened to a lot of Jewel and Sarah McLachlan - and Chris Cornell," recalls Wiseman. "We had a bit of a moment when he died - he was such a big part of our lives when we were flatting together."
When recounting what she calls the "censored version" of their time together, Wiseman remembers "a lot of games nights, a lot of dancing . . . we had a little area in the lounge that we called 'The Pit', which had a coffee table surrounded by cushions . . . there were a lot of good friends and a lot of good times. We used to go running in the Domain and to the beach, and go to Les Mills at 5.30 in the morning."
"I didn't even know Les Mills was open that early," adds Whippy. "You got me into that. It would be dark and there would be a whole lot of muscle guys and us waiting at the door to go in.
"I remember we used to have a lot of acting classes going on in our lounge," she continues. "Back then Sass [Wiseman] was already organising all these acting groups. We always had actors in our lounge, rehearsing and doing scenes or having dance-offs or something.
"And it had a great back yard. I remember getting into a bit of Wicca and doing a bit of digging up the back yard under the full moon," Whippy dissolves into laughter.
"That's where the Sarah McLachlan came in," says Wiseman, laughing just as hard. "Good times."
Auckward Love, created by Holly Shervey and co-written with Jess Sayer and Emmett Skilton of Almighty Johnsons fame, made its debut in 2016. The web-only series, which revolves around the chaotic lives of four female flatmates, is among TVNZ's highest-rating OnDemand shows.
Wiseman, currently based in Sydney with her husband Craig Hall (the pair have ongoing roles in Aussie period drama A Place to Call Home), met Shervey and Sayer through her position on the artistic board of The Actors' Program.
"Jess is producing the play I am currently directing [Danny and the Deep Blue Sea] and asked if I would be interested in becoming a character on series three. When I was in between filming A Place to Call Home I shot back and did all my scenes over a couple of weekends."
Wiseman plays Olivia, an international photographer who is the estranged sister of Vicky (played by Luci Hare). She appears back on the scene to "f*ck sh*t up", laughs Wiseman. "She's such a fun character - I haven't really had the opportunity to play someone like her before."
"Jess told me the same thing - I was there to f*ck sh*t up," says Whippy, who plays Thelma, an acerbic and ambitious real estate agent who is another thorn in Vicky's side. "She's fantastic - a real powerhouse who goes head to head with Vicky. Thelma is like Vicky but with a bit more money and she gets to really mess with her."
Whippy, well-known to Kiwi audiences as Kasey in Outrageous Fortune and Michelle in Nothing Trivial, credits Wiseman with her return to acting, after taking a break to raise her younger daughter.
"I've had two years full-time out of acting, focusing on getting my head around being a mother of two girls. At the beginning of this year I decided I was going to stop being scared and hiding away in my little suburban haven, so I decided to do a workshop with somebody I really trusted and respected as an actor, and that person was Ms Sara Wiseman."
Whippy connected with Sayer at the workshop, then later got an unexpected message. "I'd had a really bad day with the kids so I put up something on Instagram like 'Only good things will come my way'. The first comment I got was from Jess, saying 'Check your inbox.' And she wanted to offer me a part in Auckward Love."
As well as screen acting, Whippy has also recently returned to the stage - after 17 years off the boards - playing several smaller parts in the Silo production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Plus she is bringing her theatrical skills to her home suburb of Pt Chevalier, setting up a children's drama club.
"I want to give these kids a place where they feel safe enough to be who they are, so we've created this space that's their space." Whippy turns to Wiseman.
"That comes from something I did with you, a workshop on permissions. 'I give myself permission to be myself.'"
She grins. "See, it all comes back to something I did with you."
Series 1 and 2 of Auckward Love are live now on TVNZ On Demand; series 3 available from September 8.
Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, directed by Sara Wiseman, Basement Theatre, closes tonight [subs: Sept 2]
A Streetcar Named Desire, featuring Nicole Whippy, Silo Theatre (at Q), until September 16