Whanganui Midtown Motors boss Raj Patel reckons Libby Hunsdale has been one of his best trainees.
"She listens and she smells much nicer than some apprentices I've worked with," he said.
Unfortunately for Patel, Hunsdale is not looking to join his team; she was at Midtown Motors to study for her role in the film Poppy which is due to open in cinemas on May 27.
Patel and partner Janine Chalk were happy to help the young actor find the authenticity she needed after director Linda Niccol cast her for the role in 2019.
This week Hunsdale visited the workshop where she had learned to do oil changes, test brakes and compression, check wheels and change tyres.
Poppy is the story of a young woman with Down syndrome who assumes she should have the same life and opportunities as others her age and is determined to become a mechanic.
Niccol cast Hunsdale, after auditioning 20 young women from around New Zealand, because she perfectly embodied the character of Poppy.
Niccol originally wrote Poppy as a short story and reworked it as a film script more than a decade ago. Financial support arrived when the New Zealand Film Commission created the 125 Fund to celebrate the anniversary of women's suffrage.
A grant from the IHC Foundation helped Hunsdale prepare with coaching from Ella Hope-Higginson and she also had sessions with renowned actor and drama lecturer Miranda Harcourt.
A talented supporting cast and crew were found and filming got under way in Kāpiti last year before the Covid-19 level 4 lockdown in March. Production resumed at the end of May 2020 under level 2 health and safety protocols.
Hunsdale has just returned from Auckland, where she has been filming a documentary as the winner of the 2020 Attitude Youth Courage Award and she spent the day at Achievement NZ, where she is studying hospitality.
"I want to have a lot of skills and hospitality training will give me more of them," she said.
"I have a lot of ideas and I would like to start an online business to support people with disabilities in achieving their goals."
Poppy producer Robin Laing said she was thrilled for Hunsdale, and for Niccol who had persevered with her goal to make a film that features an actor with Down Syndrome in the lead role.
"It is a very heartwarming story and I predict that audiences will love it," Laing said.
Laing plans to be in town for the Whanganui premiere screening of Poppy on Thursday, June 3, at Embassy 3 Cinema. Ticket price includes wine and nibbles and proceeds will support the Special Olympics Summer Games.