Robyn Malcolm can get into character just about anywhere.
At a table at Odettes Eatery, she puts down her knife and fork and instructs "try it".
"You have to physically think about where the character's physical centre is," she says while breathing in.
"If you slump and you push your tummy out and you weight yourself ..."
She need not finish because she doesn't look like Robyn Malcolm anymore, she's morphed into Pam, her character in the local movie This Town, which is now in cinemas after Covid-19 delays.
It's a "bonkers comedy" about love, murder, and finding the one, that she thinks New Zealanders will love because of its dry, dark Kiwi humour and famous faces, including veteran actress Rima Te Wiata.
Charged but acquitted for a terrible crime, Sean (David White) is now the most infamous person in the small community of Thiston. But his attempt to move on with his life is made difficult by ex-cop turned petting zoo and adventure park owner (Malcolm), who's convinced Sean is a guilty man walking free.
Malcolm says Pam is: "serious, self-righteous; it's all about the cause; nothing is a laughing matter; makeup is for frivolous people; mirrors are for frivolous people; (she's about) justice; and 'make a sandwich and get on with it'."
Asked if she had to dig deep to channel Pam, Malcolm laughs.
"Um, no, not really.
"I mean, I have a sense of humour, I guess that would be the thing. Also, her look was particularly helpful," she explains of Pam's head-to-toe khaki ensemble and no makeup.
"Physically she's incredibly earthed, like really earthed.
"The minute you put that gear on and you have to walk in a certain way, it changes everything, and I just had a ball with that."
There is no place for vanity in acting, although she was thrice-voted New Zealand's sexiest female actress at the TV Guide Awards during her run on Outrageous Fortune as the now infamous Cheryl West.
Was it hard to forgo the glam as Pam?
"Don't you think she's sexy?" she jibes.
"I think she gives Cheryl a run for her money, actually. When we were shooting it, I said (to my sister) 'Pam's a bit of a dog' and Jen went 'No, you couldn't be a dog', and then I showed her a photo and she went 'Oh Jesus, yes, you are'.
"My job's to play a character, but I'd be lying if I said 'no (I'm not vain)', but if the character doesn't care how they look, like Pam, then neither do I. It's incredibly freeing."
Comfortable in her own skin
IN person, Malcolm is warm and welcoming, complemented, on this day, by a bright floral maxi skirt, and jumper, fresh face, and a dainty rose quartz necklace.
She has to eat in a hurry because she had an afternoon flight to catch to see her sister (one of three) for her 50th birthday.
At 55, acting roles are becoming less prevalent but she still refuses to do a bad script.
"There's a whole generation of Hollywood actresses, the kind of Julia Roberts of the world, who are all feeling it," she says.
"I think in the last few years since we've had the #MeToo movement, and also the Black Lives Matter movement, there's a lot of shaking up around casting. First and foremost to give non-white actors key roles, which I think has been the biggest discrepancy, but also for me, older women."
Aspirational casting can see a 50-year-old cast as a 60-year-old, which she says is "bullshit with a capital B".
'We want to watch our own age, and we also don't want it to be cleaned up," she says, referring to some "great" American actresses over 50 who get cast in "dreadful" films where they're in white shirts and giggling a lot.
I've always felt that a bad review is about as destructive as a good review because there's nothing you can do one way or another.
"I consider older women to be so much more interesting because we've had history, we've made masses of mistakes, and that's often there coming back to bite us in the arse, or we're finding a new avenue in life. It's a very wonderful, complex time in life, and yet for some reason for such a long time because it's not about youth, it was deemed less interesting."
One of the things that hits older women, she says, is a sense of shame.
"'I'm no longer the person I used to be'. It's like, f*** that, you're better than you used to be, you're older."
It's that confidence that's never stopped her pushing forward.
Right now, she has several other movie projects on the go, including a dark comedy with writer Natalie Medlock, and a six-part television drama with writer Dianne Taylor and Australian company Lingo Pictures, that she hopes will be set in Dunedin.
She's never felt more comfortable in her own skin and doesn't read reviews.
"I've always felt that a bad review is about as destructive as a good review because there's nothing you can do one way or another.
"I know someone who read a bad review of a performance and they literally passed out, and I totally get it. It can be brutal."
Moving on, and speaking out
Though her acting career has spanned more than 50 film, television and theatre roles across three decades, Malcolm is identified most strongly by the public as Westie, Cheryl West.
She says she never kept a thing of Cheryl's and never wears leopard print.
"It's a shame, really, because leopard skin always looks really great.
"When you live it for so long and it's in your bones, you kind of don't need to, and it's also time to move on."
When Outrageous Fortune finished after six seasons, she says "hell yeah" she felt she needed to remind New Zealanders of what else she could do.
"I did a bunch of theatre, and that's partly why I did (TV show) Agent Anna because I wanted to play something very different, again."
She's always been both versatile and edgy.
"I spent years in theatre and I wasn't ever cast as Juliette - I was never the ingenue. I was always going to be Rizzo rather than Sandra Dee, and actually, in a way, that's been really great for me because it's meant that I've got the fun roles. I've had a ball pretty much my entire career."
Her two sons, Charlie, 16, and Pete, 14, have gone along for the ride, of which she half-jokes: "I think they are mostly embarrassed by all of it", although she was cool when she introduced them to actor Christian Bale.
"I remember when Charlie was about 7 and we were walking into primary school, he stopped, pulled his hand away from mine, and said: "I've got three rules: No holding hands, no singing, no talking in accents."
She smiles at the memory saying apart from a fleeting fantasy of being an architect, being an actress is all she wanted to do.
I was always going to be Rizzo rather than Sandra Dee.
As a side note, she grew up a musical child in Ashburton, and then studied acting in Wellington, spending her holidays pruning kiwifruit and working in restaurants in Tauranga, where her father, Peter Malcolm, was principal of Otumoetai College.
Peter who lives in the Minden Valley, campaigns to raise awareness of economic inequality in New Zealand with the Closing the Gap group.
Malcolm too is vocal on social issues. Away from the silver screen, she has been a keen activist who has fought for change on many political, environmental, and social issues over the years.
She also spearheaded a high-profile actors' union campaign to negotiate standard contracts for actors in The Hobbit films, which earned her some backlash.
"Someone screamed across the road at me: 'You narcissistic c***'. I think that was quite shocking. I think I just put my head down and went 'no...'.
"I've been bollocked so many times and some of it's been insulting and ridiculous, and after a while, you just learn to not take any of it seriously. The people that go on social media just to make negative comments they're sad little trolls who live in basements and don't ever put real clothes on and go outside. I mean, they are. Why take them seriously?"
Those who want to approach her with niceness, are welcome.
"There are times when you're having a cry in your car at a set of lights when you see someone look across at you ... But again, it's part of the gig. There's an upside and a downside to it."
She jokingly uses words like dogged, persistence, stupidity, a sucker for punishment, or masochistic when it comes to her career, but really, she loves the lifestyle.
"I just can't imagine doing anything else," she says. "I love it. I still love it as much now as when I first started. I still get a massive buzz out of every job I do."
Carly Gibbs travelled to Auckland to meet Robyn Malcolm thanks to South Pacific Pictures.
If we're sitting here a year from now, what did you achieve?
My sons had cracker years at school; I've managed to pay a bit more of the mortgage off; This Town's done really well; my television show is up and running; work is looking a wee bit better; everybody in my family and all my friends are healthy and happy; Jacinda's got in, again; and the Green Party's wealth tax has got through; Trump's lost the election, and somehow, Boris Johnson has fallen over.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
What would the closest person in your life say is the one characteristic that they love about you? And the one that drives them nuts?
I'm really, really non-judgy. Another dear friend calls me a brilliant disaster, which I always love. And what would drive them nuts? I'm always running late.
Tell me something that's true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
That True Detective was a shit television series.
What would someone who doesn't like you, say about you?
That I'm reactive, annoying, and stroppy.
On a scale of 1-10, how weird are you?
(Laughs). I actually think I'm staggeringly average. I'd give myself a six.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
What's your spirit animal?
I don't know. Maybe a whale? Maybe a snake but that's a bit evil. Maybe a platypus? Andean condor? A cat? Polar bear! Maybe a panda. A chameleon. I'm going to text you later.
What's your favourite quote?
"It's not about you, dickhead." And, my mother used to always say "trust the process", which is a lovely one.