This year's Sundance Film Festival features the new movies of two New Zealand stars. Helen Barlow reports.

When Sydney-based director Kieran Darcy-Smith auditioned 70 actors in Australia for a pivotal role in his film, Wish You Were Here - which opened the Sundance Film Festival last week - he couldn't go past New Zealander and former Outrageous Fortune star Antony Starr.

"Antony had the natural charisma, the effortless charm, the dark sex appeal we'd written into the script. He was Jeremy."

It's important that in the movie we are on Jeremy's side, and with his gleaming blue eyes and garrulous smile we certainly can see why the gorgeous, blond Steph (Teresa Palmer) would be attracted to him.

Jeremy's a furniture importer who invites Steph's sister Alice (Felicity Price, co-writer of the screenplay with her husband, Darcy-Smith) and her husband Dave (Joel Edgerton) to join him at a resort in Cambodia where he does a lot of trade.


During an Ecstasy-fuelled party at the resort, Jeremy disappears. Criss-crossing between past and present and largely set in a sunny seaside Sydney suburb, the film pieces together the events as they occurred in Cambodia, and their repercussions today.

"It is a good film and I am happy to be involved with it," Starr told TimeOut the day after the film's premiere, yet seeming a little reluctant to concede it might be his break into international movies. "I think it's a little early to say. I've only got a small part, even if it's an integral part. Who knows what the future holds? From my point of view it's more about being involved in a project like this with great people, who are really collaborative, really creative."

Wish You Were Here was produced by Aquarius Films in association with Blue-Tongue Films, the company founded by Darcy-Smith, Edgerton and his brother Nash and made world-famous by Animal Kingdom, which also premiered in Sundance.

"I got [the script] by fluke and happened to be in Sydney meeting casting agents and did a cold read," Starr recalls. "I'd never heard of Blue-Tongue Films but the script was a well-put-together piece of work and I said I definitely wanted to be a part of it."

Now based in Sydney and living at Bondi, Starr, who became a household name here for his twin roles in Outrageous Fortune, has been making inroads into Australian television. He had a recurring role in the series Rush last year, has appeared in the ABC comedy Low Down and is currently shooting the upcoming series Tricky Business about a family that runs a debt collection business.

"It has been a good year and a bit," admits Starr.

"There wasn't a huge amount going on for me in New Zealand, which was a little bit frustrating but probably expected after Outrageous Fortune, as it became slightly ingrained in New Zealand psyche at the time that it ran. A change is good. The world has changed slightly and I think most actors have to open up to as many markets as possible."

Interestingly, as Starr talks you can hardly hear his Kiwi accent.

"Yeah I know," he responds, breaking into one of his killer smiles. "It's working with bloody Australians day in, day out. I am copying them. I keep getting hassled by my friends and family about that because it is slopping in and out, so I have to work on that. I don't want to turn!"

Meanwhile, Melanie Lynskey of course has made herself quite a career in the United States and has been a Sundance regular. She's impressive in a rare starring role in Hello I Must be Going.

A deft comedienne known for her off-kilter portrayal as the stalker Rose in Two and a Half Men, the 34-year-old actress may have her biggest success yet in this coming-of-age dramedy directed by Todd Louiso (Love Liza) and written by Sarah Koskoff.

It follows her depressed newly divorced 33-year-old, who falls in love with an equally unhappy 19-year-old man she meets through her mother, the wonderfully acerbic Blythe Danner.

"I just loved how complex it was," Lynskey told the opening night crowd. "You know, I'm a character actress and I'm very grateful for the different parts I've gotten to do. But this was just something that was so fully realised, a complete journey that this person makes. It felt like such a gift."

As for the unexpected appearance of Lynskey's New Jersey-born husband Jimmi Simpson in the film, she says he was a last-minute fill-in when they couldn't find an actor to play a daggy would-be suitor her character ultimately rejects.

"I've been kissing him for 11 years and it was so hard not to kiss him," she says, in her inimitable manner. "That was a big moment that truly makes me cringe."