In Robyn Malcolm’s gritty new drama After the Party, she wanted to create a story where the central character is a woman in her 50s who is natural.
“She’s not Botoxed, she hasn’t had a facelift, she’s not appearance obsessed,” Malcolm tells Spy.
New Zealand’s latest premium drama will launch on TVNZ 1 at the end of the month and internationally on ITV UK and ABC Australia soon after.
Malcolm, 58, whose Far North show with Temuera Morrison was a smash hit this year, not only stars in the show, but is executive producer and co-created the show with celebrated screenwriter Dianne Taylor.
Malcolm says she and Taylor were noticing that older women on screen had to be seen as incredibly likeable because there was so much about them that was deemed unpalatable.
“Hollywood would present these women wearing white and smiling a lot and laughing a lot to make them acceptable to an audience,” says Malcolm.
“But women don’t tend to be like that. There’s a lot of history, there’s a lot of fierceness.”
Malcolm stars as Penny, whose world implodes when she accuses her husband, Phil, (played by Scottish acting star Peter Mullan, 63) of a sex crime against her daughter Grace’s male teenage friend - but nobody believes her.
It is a reunion for good friends Malcom and Mullan who worked together on Top of the Lake in the South Island 10 years ago.
Co-starring in the series is Dean O’Gorman, Mia Blake, Catherine Wilkin, Elz Carrad, Ian Blackburn and newcomer Tara Canton, who plays Grace.
When Phil returns to New Zealand from Scotland, five years after the accusation, and moves in with his daughter and grandchild, Grace begs Penny to put the past behind them. But when Phil takes up a teaching position, Penny is again compelled to prove his guilt - reopening barely covered wounds in those around her and causing Grace to cut her out of her life.
“After the Party is a drama looking at some pretty dark material but within that we wanted to explore moral culpability and the notion that no one is a hero,” Malcolm says.
“We wanted to make something where all the characters have rich stories and the drama itself has a complex impact on all their lives.”
Malcolm says she loved playing Penny, who is forthright, blunt and rude.
“She’s passionate about everything.”
Like Malcolm is in real life, Penny is a one-woman environmental activist who, the actress says, is also a bit of an idiot at times but will fight to the death.
“I don’t think she’s like any other character we’ve seen on screen yet.”
Malcolm and Taylor had already begun creating the series and were pleased to see they were riding the same zeitgeist as Kate Winslet achieved in Mare of Easttown.
Mullen moved heaven and middle earth to get back to Godzone and act with Malcolm again.
“It was great that the Rings of Power moved their schedule so I could do After The Party. It was wonderful filming in New Zealand again,” Mullan tells Spy.
“Working with Robyn is my favourite kind of acting. I was especially impressed by the youngsters. Tara, Elz, Ian and Kirana were so supportive and friendly, and ridiculously talented,” he says.
The series was filmed in and around Wellington, a first time for Mullan. Impressed by the steep terrain, Mullan said the city reminded him of Glasgow, being surrounded by hills and more hills.
Canton, in her final year of Toi Whakaari drama school, is said to be a star in the making, and is lapping up working with such seasoned talent.
“Everybody worked with such an insane pace and focus, there was much to learn about conserving energy,” she says.
“I was so overwhelmingly lucky to have the privilege of learning alongside the absolute icons that are Robyn Malcolm and Peter Mullan.
“What a star-studded pair of on-screen parents! They have honestly been my greatest resource as an emerging actor, artist and human being in general,” she says.