An­to­nia Prebble:

Af­ter suc­cess across the Tas­man and chas­ing star­dom in Hol­ly­wood, West­side’s An­to­nia Prebble is home, feel­ing more set­tled and sure of her­self. The ef­fer­ves­cent ac­tress talks to Emma Clifton about the joy of her fam­ily Christ­mas, her sur­pris­ing new role a


the West­side star’s Christ­mas at home and change of pri­or­i­ties

In a per­fect, happy ac­ci­dent, An­to­nia Prebble has turned up for her Australian Women’s Weekly Christ­mas in­ter­view in an in­ad­ver­tently fes­tive out­fit. A cherry-red dress with flo­ral ap­pliqué, her short, wavy bob fram­ing that porce­lain face. She’s darted home in be­tween jobs; oth­er­wise there was a risk, she laughs, of turn­ing up in the safety-pinned vin­tage dress she was just shoot­ing in for an ad. Such is the life of one of New Zealand’s most suc­cess­ful ac­tresses; many roles, many out­fits to fit into a work­ing day.

But there has been a dis­cernible shift, An­to­nia says, in her pri­or­i­ties in the past year; a change in the air now guid­ing her de­ci­sion for what comes next. The po­tent com­bi­na­tion of rest­less­ness and am­bi­tion that has fu­elled the 33-yearold for the past decade has soft­ened, and her fo­cus has shifted from the pro­fes­sional to the per­sonal. Spend­ing time with her fam­ily, as well as the idea of start­ing her own, has gone from be­ing an in-the-dis­tant-fu­ture idea to a closer re­al­ity. And this hol­i­day pe­riod marks the be­gin­ning of not only be­ing set­tled back in New Zealand, but also her first of­fi­cial ap­point­ment as a wed­ding cel­e­brant, and her first Christ­mas as an of­fi­cial ex­tended mem­ber of the Royal fam­ily. Yes, it’s been quite a year.

The royal treat­ment

Let’s start with the Princess Diana con­nec­tion, be­cause why wouldn’t you? We’ve seen An­to­nia on both the small and big screen in a va­ri­ety of shows, in­clud­ing the leather-clad Rita West on the tele­vi­sion show West­side, where she plays the grand­mother of her most well-known char­ac­ter, Loretta West from smash-hit Out­ra­geous For­tune. But there’s an­other

My def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess is broad­en­ing from what it used to be.

fam­ily tree An­to­nia be­longs to that rates even higher on the house­hold name fac­tor. In the TV pro­gramme DNA De­tec­tives, hosted by Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show writer Richard O’Brien, well-known Ki­wis trace their ge­netic lin­eage and visit lo­ca­tions around the world to which they have a sur­pris­ing link. For An­to­nia, her episode proved a whis­per her grand­mother had al­ways in­sisted upon: their fam­ily had royal blood. “It’s the jewel in the crown, so to speak,” An­to­nia jokes, in a faux-prim royal ac­cent, about the dis­cov­ery. Her nana had kept a cru­cial news­pa­per clip­ping in her rest home, about the ran­dom Lord who was the al­leged con­nec­tion, but the fam­ily were never re­ally sure if it was true.

The DNA test con­firmed it: An­to­nia is in­deed re­lated to Princess Diana and her sons, Wil­liam and Harry. This knowl­edge hasn’t nec­es­sar­ily changed her life – she ad­mits that she usu­ally skips past sto­ries on the roy­als when flick­ing through women’s mag­a­zines – “but now that I know I’m read­ing about my rel­a­tives, ob­vi­ously I have to keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in the fam­ily, don’t I?” She likes the soap opera na­ture of the Wind­sors, such as Harry’s new ro­mance. (“With that girl… Melissa, is it? Oh, it’s Meghan? Okay, I’m clearly not keep­ing up that well.”) She is, how­ever, a mas­sive fan of The Crown and, like all of us, busy hold­ing out for sea­son two, with a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for lead ac­tress Claire Foy. “She’s just amaz­ing.”

’Tis the sea­son

There will be lit­tle time for binge­watch­ing in the lead-up to Christ­mas how­ever, as she’ll be flat-tack film­ing the fourth sea­son of West­side. But then the work clouds will part on De­cem­ber 22 and, for a “lux­u­ri­ous” two weeks, An­to­nia will be join­ing her fam­ily in Welling­ton for Christ­mas.

It’s a set fam­ily tra­di­tion, com­plete with an­nual ac­tiv­i­ties. Ev­ery year, the group – around 20 rel­a­tives, give or take – sings The 12 Days of Christ­mas around the ta­ble, with the dif­fer­ent parts all get­ting divvied up, apart from “Five gold rings”, be­cause An­to­nia’s un­cle is an opera singer and who’s go­ing to ar­gue with that ar­range­ment?

An­to­nia is par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about this year’s gath­er­ing, as her brother Ben will be back from Eng­land, with a new girl­friend to meet the fam­ily, and her sis­ter Becky will have her two young chil­dren with her. Af­ter spend­ing so long away from New Zealand – An­to­nia’s past few years were equally di­vided be­tween home, Aus­tralia and Amer­ica – that fam­ily time is more pre­cious than ever.

“When you pur­sue some­thing pro­fes­sion­ally away from New Zealand, yes, you’re in the market for amaz­ing gains, but there are in­her­ent sac­ri­fices be­cause you’re so far from home,” she says. “As I get older, and my par­ents get older, I want to spend more time with them. I want to see my neph­ews grow up. So I feel slightly less en­er­gised to­wards fear­lessly pur­su­ing a ca­reer be­yond the an­tipodes.”

She spent three sum­mers in Los An­ge­les, chas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties dur­ing the fa­mous “pi­lot sea­son”, when the up­com­ing roles in tele­vi­sion shows are cast. A chance to make it big, or a chance to have the hope knocked out of you on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions. Re­mem­ber the scene of Emma Stone cry­ing on cue in La La Land, only to be in­ter­rupted be­cause the cast­ing agent wants a sand­wich? That’s pi­lot sea­son. It’s no walk in the park. But de­spite the po­ten­tial for heart­break – and the fact that she once com­mented that “In LA terms, I’m like 75” – An­to­nia is re­mark­ably chip­per about her years spent chas­ing the big time. “I found it very sat­is­fy­ing for what I got out of it. Ob­jec­tively speak­ing” – she starts laugh­ing – “it was per­haps not that suc­cess­ful, but I re­ally en­joyed be­ing on the hunt, with the shimmer of po­ten­tial al­ways there.”

Her act­ing work has been one of the great loves of An­to­nia’s life, right from when she was young. Very, very young in fact – she was un­der five when she de­cided, in a house full of aca­demics, that she was go­ing to be­come an ac­tress. And there was ab­so­lutely no push-back from her par­ents, some­thing she re­mains ex­tremely grate­ful for. “They never told me no, and I feel like I can’t un­der­es­ti­mate the sig­nif­i­cance of that. As a re­sult, I have no in­ter­nal con­flict about be­ing an ac­tor. They never told me to have a back-up.”

Per­sonal fo­cus

She was al­ways firmly goal-ori­en­tated. “I’ve been am­bi­tious for most of my… well, I was go­ing to say adult life, but ac­tu­ally for prob­a­bly most of my life. I wanted to be an ac­tress when I was three, so maybe I just have to ad­mit to be­ing am­bi­tious since I was an in­fant.”

Rest­less­ness, she ad­mits, com­bined with that am­bi­tion, made her some­one who was al­ways in for­ward mo­tion, al­ways look­ing for the next thing.

The fact that she has been work­ing con­sis­tently since she was 10 years old in a field where fund­ing, roles, and sto­ry­lines are never a cer­tainty is not lost on her. “I’m so grate­ful for the gifts I have re­ceived and I’m very aware that, for some rhyme or rea­son, oth­ers aren’t given those same op­por­tu­ni­ties. I’ve seen some of the best ac­tors in my life in act­ing class in Los An­ge­les and some of them are still clean­ing toi­lets.”

But that re­lent­less mo­men­tum has started to soften. “All that en­ergy, all that in­ter­nal com­bus­tion, has com­pelled me to do lots of trav­el­ling and have lots of ex­pe­ri­ences and thrive on nov­elty and va­ri­ety, but I just feel, in the last year or so, an in­ter­nal set­tling. I’m not look­ing at the hori­zon so much any more,” she says. “I feel like my def­i­ni­tion of suc­cess is broad­en­ing from what it used to be, which was fo­cused on pro­fes­sional gains. Whereas now I want a full life, and that means my fam­ily, re­la­tion­ships, friend­ships are all more of a pri­or­ity.”

An­to­nia won’t be drawn on her per­sonal life cur­rently – she is ex­tremely, ex­tremely po­lite in de­clin­ing to talk about it – but does say that she’s very keen for chil­dren of her own one day. “See­ing my sis­ter with her

chil­dren… it looks re­ally in­tense and like a lot of hard work, but amaz­ing! In the past it’s al­ways felt like a re­ally ephemeral con­cept; some­thing I’m not quite ready for. And I still think I’m not quite ready for it, but I’m mov­ing closer. Partly be­cause al­most every­one I know is preg­nant or hav­ing a baby!”

Grown-up women

A few years ago, An­to­nia had said that she found play­ing West­side’s Rita West a chal­lenge, be­cause the char­ac­ter was “this grown woman, who’s re­ally sure of her­self, and I’m not quite there in my own life yet”. When I ask if she still feels this way, An­to­nia is pleased to say she’s changed since then.

“She was one of the first char­ac­ters I had played who was an ab­so­lute woman: she owns her space, and doesn’t take any non­sense, and she says what she means. Her en­ergy is all woman, whereas I think I have quite a girly en­ergy. But now I do feel dif­fer­ently. I feel more sure of my­self.

“I’m bet­ter about stand­ing up for my­self than I ever have been be­fore,” she says thought­fully. “If some­thing isn’t quite right, or if some­thing has been un­clear or un­just, I nor­mally would have said noth­ing be­cause I don’t like con­flict, or some­one think­ing I’m dif­fi­cult. And I still don’t like it, but I feel more con­fi­dent in my right to have an opin­ion, and also more con­fi­dent in my judge­ment.”

Sur­round­ing her­self with like-minded fe­males who are equally keen on telling in­ter­est­ing, real-women sto­ries has been an im­por­tant part of An­to­nia’s ca­reer for years, and the in­dus­try seems to fi­nally be mir­ror­ing this as well. South Pa­cific Pic­tures, the com­pany be­hind West­side, is mak­ing a con­certed ef­fort to help close the gen­der gap when it comes to tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion, and is bring­ing in fe­male di­rec­tors. And An­to­nia has just re­turned from three months in Mel­bourne, shoot­ing the new show Sis­ters, created by the same team as the hit series Off­spring. The first episode has had strong rat­ings in Aus­tralia, and there’s the hope it will be brought over to our screens as well. She said the ex­pe­ri­ence was a dream: “I’ve never been in a pro­duc­tion where so many of the key roles were held by women. I felt like I found my tribe!”

One of her fel­low cast mem­bers was Aussie icon Magda Szuban­ski, who An­to­nia worked hard to keep her cool around. “I tried not to be a fan girl – I loved Kath & Kim. She was lovely, smart; had us all around for lunch.”

The harsh Mel­bourne win­ter took its toll on An­to­nia, who fell sick con­stantly and was in turn looked af­ter by the cast and crew like a makeshift fam­ily. “I was bedrid­den for five days at one point and they took me to the doc­tor, brought me soup, looked af­ter me in a re­ally lovely, gen­uine way.”

There’s no word yet on a sec­ond series of Sis­ters, but An­to­nia is well-ex­pe­ri­enced in the fleet­ing world of act­ing. It’s one of the rea­sons she’s al­ways worked hard to add more strings to her bow. There’s the Bach­e­lor of Arts she com­pleted in 2014, she’s cur­rently study­ing Span­ish, she’s the am­bas­sador for up­mar­ket Auck­land depart­ment store Smith and Caughey’s – “very handy for Christ­mas shop­ping!” – and, oh yes, she’s just got her of­fi­cial li­cence to be­come a mar­riage cel­e­brant. It’s a long process: char­ac­ter ref­er­ences, let­ters of sup­port, crim­i­nal record check, of­fi­cial in­ter­view. But, all go­ing well, her first wed­ding is lined up for the first week of Jan­uary. There’s just a tiny, emo­tional hur­dle yet to con­quer: when it comes to wed­dings, she’s a real weeper. “I cry a lot at wed­dings,” she laughs. “How­ever, I have found that when I’ve been a brides­maid, I’ve cried sig­nif­i­cantly less. Be­cause I have a role that I’m fo­cused on! So… I’m re­ly­ing on that.”

She’s at a very happy time in her life. “I do feel like I’m go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, so I can con­fi­dently keep step­ping for­ward, and trust that life will un­fold as it should,” she says. “I’m ex­cited about what the next step is go­ing to be in many di­men­sions of my life, and for an in­creased sense of self-con­fi­dence, and self-aware­ness.”

And, at the very least, she can now spend Christ­mas warm in the knowl­edge that she’s le­git­i­mately re­lated to the royal fam­ily; per­haps en­joy­ing the Queen’s Christ­mas mes­sage on an ex­tra spe­cial level. Is it ex­cit­ing to think that, as much as she’s thrilled to be re­lated to Prince Wil­liam, he might be just as thrilled to have a fam­ily con­nec­tion to Out­ra­geous For­tune? She laughs long and hard at this. “Imag­ine if they were se­cret fans! Well, Buck­ing­ham Palace keeps send­ing back all my air­mail pack­ages,” she jokes. “I’ll keep try­ing – there are six sea­sons for them to get to. I should have knocked on the door when I was in Eng­land for DNA Dec­tec­tives: “Do you see the re­sem­blance? Do you?”

DNA De­tec­tives starts on TVNZ 1 on Novem­ber 7. An­to­nia fea­tures in episode 2, which airs on Novem­ber 14.

An­to­nia go­ing West – as Loretta West in Out­ra­geous For­tune (top) and a young Rita in West­side (above).

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