With Dame Kate Harcourt for a mother and 19-year-old Thomasin McKenzie for a daughter, Miranda Harcourt is the jam in the sandwich of an acting dynasty. An actor, playwright, producer, director and, more recently, she has become a globally renowned acting coach, teaching some of the biggest stars working in film today.
I did not aspire to be an actor. Growing up, I was a very drifty, dreamy person. I wanted to be a teacher but for School C, I got the widest disparity between top and bottom mark in the whole country with 98 per cent for English and 17 per cent for maths. My inability to do maths significantly hampered my teaching ambitions.
But I was good at acting and because mum was an actor and dad was a writer, opportunities arose. People would say, 'we need a kid' so they'd ring my parents to see if they'd lend one of us. I had my first job aged 2, playing Katherine Mansfield in a documentary about her life. I just fell into acting, much like our kids have.
I was a very good girl until I went to Canterbury University in the 1980s. I was easily led and became part of a bad scene so I completely lost focus and dropped out and returned to Wellington via Australia. I was 18 and in a bad way. My mother, quietly desperate, suggested I audition for drama school, hoping it would help me back to the straight and narrow.
It is not easy to be famous in New Zealand, especially if you play a bad character as I did on Gloss. But people loved that show. Me and my buddies, we went up north on holiday to some tiny town and because I was on Gloss, a free crate of DB was delivered to our tent in the night. In 1987, this was the height of fame's benefits. At the same time, people sometimes spat at me or shouted mean things. When we shot the final episode, when Gemma waded into the ocean, we were on the beach in Devonport, outside The Masonic Tavern. It was a sunny afternoon and about 300 people gathered on the waterfront, holding their beers and cheering me on, yelling, 'die bitch, die'.
I take great pleasure in inventing quick activities for actors to enter their character at the beginning of the day and exit at end of it. Fast deep rituals that can get you where you need to be. It's all about devising systems to help people on their acting journey and I've developed a lot of those techniques from my own experiences.
What I do is quite well known now, and film directors, produces and actors from all over the world approach me to work with them. On any given day, I might work via Skype in Canada, in America, in Europe. I just got a request to work in Macedonia in February and this Thursday I'm off to London to deliver some lectures at the National Film School.
I grew up with a life that wasn't very predictable. Dad was a writer and mum an actor. They had no idea what each year would bring, where the money would come from. They'd just say, 'oh well, if we need to sell the house, we'll get another one'. They had an unusually flexible attitude to family life, especially at that time, in the mid-1960s. They brought us up, my brother Gordon and me, to be resilient — way before that word had been repurposed. Stuart's father was a minister, so he had a similar moveable feast of a life, which means our respective experiences allow us to be very relaxed about change and to be opportunists. That has been the best training for our children, in what is an increasingly unstable world, because who knows what the future holds.
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It's important to have friends though, in an unstable life. We stayed at Four Seasons in Toronto for the Jojo Rabbit premiere and I wondered where Thom was. I went to her hotel room and found her doing a crossword puzzle with the makeup person, hours after she'd finished the gig. And I was so grateful to that woman who crossed the line from doing Thom's makeup to being a good buddy.
It is astonishing to see Thomasin as a style icon walking the red carpet, or featured in Vogue. Because she is so grounded, she can handle having her career explode like this. It's good fortune crossed with the right person. But she hates us blabbing on about it because it's her life and not ours. She's a very private person, which again is part of why she's able to deal with it. She's not distracted by the starry elements. She's just an incredibly good researcher and she understands how much hard work acting can be. She has all the qualities that would also make her a fine airline pilot or Antarctic explorer, and she's a great daughter.
We're lucky the whole team has worked really hard to keep Thom safe so she can be confident to do cool things. Early on she worked on The Louise Nicholas Story, so she's under no illusions about the imbalance for young women in a hungry world. Although things have really changed for the better in the last wee while and everyone is very alert to the danger out there. Her agents understood we were never going to throw her to the lions.
Things were different when I was a young actor, when that danger was so pervasive. I think some young women fell into that ocean of manipulative behaviour and lost the ability to tell people to f*** off. You see the film Bombshell, and see that line-up of women at the end speaking their truth, and because they spoke their truth, their careers were truncated. It's galling to realise how many talented young actresses did not make it.
It's pretty unusual to have a global career blossom in your 50s so I'm very grateful. One of the things about being an acting coach, age is valued as you grow older, your skills get stronger and richer. But I've always been the captain of my own ship and I refuse to sit around waiting for someone else's permission to do something. You can't predicate your whole self-worth on waiting for an invitation.
I've come a very circuitous route to be doing what I originally wanted to do — which is teach — and I've been enriched by some relatively mad bus stops along the way.