For One Lane Bridge's leading actors, their roles in the murder mystery series is a chance to go against the grain and bring a point of difference to the genre's tropes.

The six-part series, screening from April 20 on TVNZ 1 combines the suspense of a series like Broadchurch with the Kiwi lens of a tight-knit Queenstown community. A farmer is found dead, sparking an investigation the rattles the tight-knit community.

Dominic Ona-Ariki, who viewers may recognise from roles in Filthy Rich and last year's series Jonah, plays the newcomer in the town named Ariki. He's a new detective, an outsider plucked from life in Auckland and becomes witness to the trauma of his new town. Together with fellow detective Stephen, played by Joel Tobeck, they work to solve the case and the secret behind the infamous one lane bridge, the heart of the town's tragic events.


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For Ona-Ariki, it was an opportunity to star alongside Kiwi acting greats such as Tobeck, whose roles include Donny in Sons of Anarchy and a part in the soon-to-be-released miniseries adapation of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries.

It was also an opportunity to play a character that combines quick-thinking detective work with Māori spirituality. His character has Matakite or a "second sight" - a gift that means he has visions of the dead. He's coming to terms with the crime he is trying to solve and also his spiritual gifts.

"When we were [filming the show], I was trying to think of a show that had done that before, because you could take away that whole spiritual aspect and you'd still have this murder mystery drama," Ona-Ariki tells TimeOut.

"You wouldn't feel like you're missing anything, but it's quite cool [to have it]," he says.

"I thought it was such a wicked element that they were able to bring in...I just thought that it was kind of cool to bridge the gap between the two worlds.

"I was brought up by my Mum who had quite a spiritual side, and then going out into the corporate world when I was in university . . . you don't normally get to have those two conversations at the same time, and in this show, we get to bring those ideas together."

Tobeck agrees and says it creates an interesting relationship between the two characters. Stephen is a detective set in his old-school ways, and Ariki is a newcomer grappling with the cultural differences.

"For me [as an actor] it was about exploring what I wanted to convey to this young cop in my teachings and learnings, my experience, but also trying to deal with what he [Ariki] was going through, which Stephen doesn't really understand," he tells TimeOut.

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Even in the show's first few scenes, it's evident Ariki is the outsider in the town, a Cook Island Māori in a rural community with mostly Pākehā residents.

"He really is an outsider, one because he's from Auckland, and also being an outsider to the family grieving, and also just being an outsider, almost like a fly on the wall . . . to how everyone is going through their grief period," Ona-Ariki says.

Similar to other small-town murder miniseries, the shared grief of the community is an important trope in One Lane Bridge. In the first episode, viewers are witness to a hard-knock rural family coming to terms with the death, and trauma bleeds through the tough exterior.

"For us as a cast, we had to find the right way of playing that trauma," says Tobeck.

"We're playing real New Zealanders, real people, and especially for people in the South Island who probably deal with these emotions differently . . . it's just a different environment down there.

The backdrop of Queenstown becomes a character in and of itself, explains Tobeck.

"The location and the place plays us, we don't play the location," says Tobeck. "You feel tiny compared to the environment, the mountains, and the manner of the place. So you can only respect that and just let that guide you."

There are several recognisable actors in One Lane Bridge, including Almighty Johnson stars Dean O'Gorman, Michelle Langstone, and Alison Bruce.

"You grow up and watch these people on TV," says Ona-Ariki.

He had starred alongside Tobeck in Jonah and says getting to work with him as a lead was a "surreal" experience.

"Being able to act next to him, that was cool," he says.

"I'm still in awe of working with that guy and I have mad respect for him."

LOWDOWN
Who: Joel Tobeck and Dominic Ona-Ariki
What: Stars of new miniseries One Lane Bridge
Where: Premieres Monday 20th April, 8:30PM on TVNZ 1.