A Wellington schoolgirl has got a big break into the American film industry by nabbing a lead role in indie movie My Abandonment.

Thomasin McKenzie, 16, will fly out to Portland, Oregon on March 28, only about six weeks after finding out she got the part.

After two weeks of rehearsals, she'll spend another six to seven filming with i>My Abandonment's star-studded cast and crew. The film is expected to be released in New Zealand cinemas in 2018.

Director Debra Granik previously worked on the acclaimed independent film Winter's Bone, which starred Hunger Games actor Jennifer Lawrence.


Co-star Ben Foster's claim to fame was his role Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand. He recently also acted in a lead role in Oscar-nominated film Hell or High Water, alongside Chris Pine.

Based on the novel of the same name, My Abandonment follows the lives of a father (played by Foster) and his 13-year-old daughter Caroline who, after being evicted from their home in the temperate Forest Park rainforest, embark on a journey to find a place to call their own.

Thomasin auditioned for the part of Caroline in mid-2016 by recording a tape of her acting and sending it through to her US agent.

She impressed the director Debra Granik who asked her to send through a second tape.

Months later, in February this year, Granik got in touch with Thomasin again over Skype.

"We thought she just wanted to check in... It was weird though because she started talking to me as if I already had the part."

Her agent called the next day to tell Thomasin she was right - she'd been chosen for the role.

"It was just so unexpected and kind of surreal," Thomasin said.


The past six weeks have been a whirlwind for the teen, who has been preparing for her role by practising climbing trees, keeping a journal like her character does in the film and mastering her American accent while also sorting out her US visa.

"We'll do a lot of filming in the forest and there's some scenes in the snow, which is really cool because I love tramping."

She may still be a teenager, but the Year 12 pupil at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Karori already has an impressive CV.

Wellington teen Thomasin McKenzie has scored a role in a US film. Photo / Supplied
Wellington teen Thomasin McKenzie has scored a role in a US film. Photo / Supplied

Daughter of actor and Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit Miranda Harcourt and award-winning playwright and film director Stuart McKenzie, Thomasin grew up on film sets.

Her maternal grandmother Kate Harcourt is also an actress and was appointed a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1996 for her contribution to New Zealand theatre.

Thomasin was cast as Astrid in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in 2014 and the following year scored a six-month gig on Shortland Street, playing Pixie Hannah.

But My Abandonment will be her first American film.

"I'm really excited and honoured."

She told the Herald she was "intrigued" to find out how Foster, who has been acting for more than 20 years, approached his character.

Family friend Claire Van Beek will go to the US with Thomasin as her chaperon. The pair will return to New Zealand on June 1.

While she'd like to pursue acting as a career for now Thomasin is keeping her options open.

"I would absolutely love to do acting because that's my passion but I'd also like to go to university. I'm thinking of maybe studying psychology or criminology or taking a gap a year," she said.

Her family, friends and school all support her acting career.

"It's a bit nerve wracking. I think there will definitely be some very sad faces at the airport because it's a big thing to send your 16-year-old off for two months. But it's an absolutely amazing opportunity," Miranda Harcourt said.

Stuart McKenzie added that Thomasin was "well prepared" and independent for a 16-year-old.

"I think she's in a really great place. We're really excited for her and really proud."

Marsden School principal Jenny Williams said she was "thrilled" for the teen.

"[I] know she will be absolutely amazing in the role."