A New Zealand actress starring in a new Netflix zombie film says her role is about "instinct" and "survival".

Caren Pistorius, who was born in South Africa but moved to New Zealand aged 12, stars in Cargo, which also stars Martin Freeman as a father who must save his infant daughter after he becomes infected by a zombie in the Australian Outback.

Pistorius plays Lorraine, a young survivor locked in a stifling marriage to Vic, a man who Freeman's character rescues on his journey.

"It's not a typical zombie film," says Pistorius. "There are so many other interwoven themes in there.

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"It's the survival; the idea of the world coming to an end and the few people that might be left, and an idea of indigenous cultures maybe having the answers, and potentially [that] we might have to go back to that way of living."

Caren Pistorius:
Caren Pistorius: "Getting into (Lorraine's) dress was really interesting... I felt incredibly restricted and confined." Photo / Netflix

As Lorraine, Pistorius is quiet and reserved, while her soft, conservative costuming conceals an inner fight for survival.

"The idea behind that was that [Vic] had this selection of dresses that were his mother's," says Pistorius. "He would dress her in his mum's clothing, but her shoes were her own – I always really liked her little getaway shoes.

"Getting into that dress was really interesting," she says. "I felt incredibly restricted and confined."

The film also presents a newer, darker side of Freeman, who Pistorius says is "brilliant".

"He's really giving as an actor, and really present and hilarious. [He has] this wealth of knowledge… We'd have these dinners, and we'd all just be sitting around listening to him telling stories."

Caren Pistorius in Cargo. Photo / Netflix
Caren Pistorius in Cargo. Photo / Netflix

Though she's finding work alongside Oscar winners and Hollywood greats, Pistorius is happily based in Auckland, working with her US and Australian agents from afar and using self-tapes and Skype to go for roles.

"I've never been drawn to doing the LA thing," she says. "I like LA, I've been there stopping over, going to festivals and things… but I find it a bit claustrophobic being in the industry 24/7. Every second person you bump into, or even every person sometimes, is connected to the industry, and I quite like just being a bit more removed than that."

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After scene-stealing roles in Slow West, Denial and The Light Between Oceans, Pistorius continues to make major strides in her career. On top of a role in Peter Jackson's upcoming Mortal Engines, Pistorius is also starring in Gloria, an English language remake of Oscar-winning Chilean director Sebastian Lelio's 2013 film of the same name.

The film, which stars Julianne Moore in the title role, is Pistorius' first American feature. Though unable to say much at this stage, she says working with Moore was unlike anything she'd ever done.

"I can tell you that it was probably the best experience I've had," she says. "It was just absolutely incredible. She's incredible to watch, she's just alive and really inspiring."

LOWDOWN:
Who: Caren Pistorius
What: Cargo
Where: Streaming on Netflix now
Also: Mortal Engines, due in December