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[Interview] Daffodils: Rose McIver aiming for redemption with movie-musical homecoming

With the upcoming release of her new movie ‘Daffodils‘ from March 21 in New Zealand, Rose McIver has been interviewed about this new movie.

Source | Rose McIver hopes starring in Daffodils will redeem one of the worst moments of her performing career.

The New Zealand actress, known globally for playing a crime-solving zombie and a Netflix princess, returned home last year to play an ordinary Kiwi woman in the cinematic version of the hit stage musical. But bringing to life another Rose, one-half of this bittersweet love story, also meant the Auckland-born 30-year-old had to master singing some of New Zealand’s most beloved pop songs.

As with the stage show, writer Rochelle Bright’s tale, inspired by her own parents’ relationship, sees the drama matched to the lyrics from tunes like The Muttonbirds’ Anchor Me, Crowded House’s Fall at Your Feet and The Swingers’ Counting the Beat.

However, there was one classic track that brought back some unhappy childhood memories for McIver.

“Bic Runga’s Drive,” she recounts to Stuff the day after Daffodils‘ world premiere in Wellington in February.

“She was my queen when I was aged 11 and 12, but I remember performing a really terrible rendition of her Sway at the Glen Eden Intermediate School talent quest. So to have the opportunity to make amends and try to do something a little bit more tasteful with one her beautiful songs truly was an honour.”

McIver grew up listening to the movie’s soundtrack on CDs and cassettes and says she felt a huge responsibility to do the best she could.

With the help of music directors Stephanie Brown and Fen Ikner​ and director David Stubbs, she attempted to re-imagine the work of some of her favourite Kiwi musicians.

“They all really helped me to think about ways to work with these songs that I had loved for so long.

“I didn’t have to try to mimic anybody else’s performance and we were able to think of ways to make the songs my own, because I don’t have Bic’s voice, I don’t have Don’s [McGlashan] voice.”

But although the singing was something McIver was worried about (“I have sung quite a bit over the years, but I’d never recorded”), there were “so many daunting challenges in this film that any fears I had about it were rather overshadowed”.

“I was more concerned about playing somebody based on a real character, created by someone who was inspired by her real parents. I really wanted to do them justice – that was the real intimidation factor. It’s funny how everything else paled in comparison.”

McIver says the woman her character is based on, writer Rochelle Bright’s mother, was “very kind about sending me material and photographs… My job was done for me, really.”

And like the rest of Daffodils cast and crew, she’s at pains to point out that the film this isn’t a “traditional movie musical”.

“We’re trying to do a film which is a dramatic – hopefully at some point funny – telling of a relationship, which just happens to be threaded through with these iconic songs. The characters are singing the things we feel, but aren’t able to say.”

McIver admits that meant this was not an easy job to let go of.

“We had some pretty full-on scenes. It took me a few weeks to decompress, but I felt spoiled to be able to come home and be a part of something I cared so much about.

“Hopefully, audiences will take away some sort of thoughts about how to talk to the people they love.

“Somebody recently said to me that ‘expression’ is the opposite of ‘depression’ and that really stood out for me: the idea that without an outlet of energy and emotions, it really does limit your ability to feel, and it numbs you a little bit.

“So I hope that if people are slightly more mindful of that aspect of their lives after seeing this film – at the same time as being entertained – we will have done something pretty special.”

If she has one regret, it’s that overseas acting commitments meant she has never seen the original stage production.

“All my friends back home were raving about it. I can only imagine being so endeared by these creations and the intimacy of the storyline. To see that on stage – to be able to be lost in that dark room and feel that passion – that would have been quite something.”

The opportunity to spend the late summer of 2018 in New Zealand was a draw for McIver, particularly after finding herself increasingly busy juggling her Vancouver-shot iZombie TV series with various movie commitments.

That Daffodils is a story about “people that I could connect to and [to] feel like I was depicting the country I grew up in” made a nice change from playing an American journalist-turned-European-Princess in the Netflix Christmas Prince movies, Tinkerbell on Once Upon A Time or voicing a cartoon dragon on animated series Dreamworks’ Dragons.

“I’ve done so many different, ‘fantastical’ projects as an actor, that it was nice to come back and strip all that away and do something that’s an exploration of home for a change.”

When I last interviewed McIver, in a quiet corner of the lavish and labyrinthine Langham Hotel in Pasadena at the start of her iZombie tenure in 2015, she was missing Whittaker’s dark chocolate and Marmite and Vogel’s bread

“That is something I have actually fantasised about. They don’t do good bread in America – or I haven’t worked out where to find it yet.”

She also yearned for the “simplicity of Kiwi fashion”.

“I really miss knowing where I can find pieces that I like. Yes, they have amazing designers out here but I find myself sifting through a whole lot of unknowns. At home, I know I like Juliette Hogan, I love Ruby and I can find things by them.”

Reflecting on that now, McIver says she is “so proud of New Zealand in so many ways”.

“I just absolutely love our country and that definitely extends to the music. I play a lot of Dave Dobbyn​ to my friends over there and more recently I’ve been blasting Broods.”

“I think it’s great to shake up where you’re from and what you’re about, and be able to thread different ideas through the characters that you play and the stories that you tell.

“So in that sense, living abroad has been really useful, and America, despite a lot of its problems, has been really welcoming to me and I’ve had some incredibly fortunate experiences.

“But it’s so nice to be home, and the people that we worked with on this job – everybody’s cut from the same cloth, it’s the same spirit and hard-working energy that I grew up around.”

The daughter of a photographer and a ceramic artist, McIver was first cast in a short film at the age of 18 months before a brief appearance in The Piano (she had one scene where she was on a stage sporting angel wings).

Stints on Shortland Street and Hercules followed, as well as a pair of Harry Sinclair movies (1997’s Topless Women Talk About Their Lives and 2002’s Toy Love), before the short-lived Kiwi kidult series Maddigan’s Quest(conceived by Margaret Mahy) catapulted her into the limelight.

McIver then found herself starring alongside the likes of Mark Wahlberg​, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones, where she played Lindsey Salmon, the younger sister of the main character Susie (Saoirse Ronan).

She was in Berlin and about to embark on a historical walking tour of the city when a friend got a text message from McIver’s mother about The Lovely Bones role.

“I didn’t have a cellphone and it cost my friends to receive calls, so my mum just sent a text message saying: ‘You’ve got it’,” McIver told The Dominion Post in 2007.

“That’s about all I knew for the next few days. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was pretty ecstatic.”

By that stage, she’d graduated from Avondale College and was studying psychology and linguistics at the University of Auckland, but that was put on hold in the aftermath of the success of The Lovely Bones and landing the role of Summer Landsdown on kids’ action series Power Rangers RPM.

More adult parts came in an adaptation of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s Predicament and the critically acclaimed television movie Tangiwai, in which she played Nerissa Love, Kiwi cricketer Bob Blair’s doomed fiancee. That was followed by the big shift to North America in August 2011.

But now, with the fifth and final season of iZombie having wrapped up production at the end of January, McIver is at a little bit of a crossroads. A third Christmas Prince is currently filming in Romania, but otherwise the year ahead is looking a little quiet.

“I am still in a little bit of a spin head-wise,” she admits. “The five-year gig that I love and had such a good time on has come to a close and, coupled with Daffodils coming out, it’s been kind of a whirlwind time. I’ll get back into the audition room soon, but at the moment, I’m just kind of hanging out and enjoying things.”

And yes, she would love it if her next job was in New Zealand.

“Hopefully after people see Daffodils, somebody will hire me.

“You never know what the next thing will be. I would love to work here and also I’m writing and I want to direct.

“I want to tell some stories now, so we’ll see how it all pans out.”

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