Kiwi ac­tress Emily Cor­co­ran on bring­ing her dream project to the big screen

It took courage for a wo­man to make it alone in 1860s New Zealand, and it took grit for ac­tor Emily Cor­co­ran to make a film about it. She tells Sharon Stephen­son why giv­ing up was never an op­tion

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IIt’s 8pm on an un­sea­son­ably warm Fri­day and London’s bars are over­flow­ing with end-of-week rev­ellers let­ting down their hair. Emily Cor­co­ran would love to join them but at the mo­ment that’s some­thing of a pipe dream.

In fact, when the London-based Kiwi ac­tor and film-maker fin­ishes this in­ter­view she has to or­gan­ise the UK and NZ pre­mieres of her 12th feature film The Stolen, make calls to the US and Ger­many re­gard­ing post-pro­duc­tion fi­nanc­ing and sign off the dis­tri­bu­tion rights to Latin Amer­ica. And only then will the 41-year-old re­turn to the one-bed­room Padding­ton flat she shares with her hus­band Marc Bengue. She’ll hope her daugh­ter Poppy, two, doesn’t wake up when she plants a kiss on her fore­head and tip-toes qui­etly out of the bed­room.

Ex­haus­tion might be etched into the dark cir­cles un­der Emily’s eyes, but she’s thrilled to have made it this far: af­ter eight long years, the feature film she wrote, pro­duced and acted in is fi­nally about to be re­leased. “It has def­i­nitely been a long road to this point,” ad­mits Christchurch-born Emily.

Her pas­sion project, The Stolen, is set in the 1860s, when New Zealand was alight with gold fever, and tells the story of Char­lotte, a posh English em­i­grant forced to take a huge leap out­side her com­fort zone when her hus­band is killed and her in­fant son is taken hostage. How Char­lotte man­ages to track him down, while nav­i­gat­ing a land­scape of ban­dits, pros­ti­tutes and pioneers try­ing to make sense of life in a new land far from home, is at the heart of this nar­ra­tive.

“It’s Char­lotte’s jour­ney from be­ing a lady to a wo­man,” says Emily of the char­ac­ter she cre­ated af­ter toy­ing with the clas­sic fish-out-of-wa­ter story.

“I’d met a lot of girls like Char­lotte in London, rich princesses who I’d look at and won­der how they would cope be­ing thrust into 1860s New Zealand,” laughs Emily. “Would they sink or do what­ever they needed to do to find their child?”

Fac­ing the hur­dles

The film fea­tures Bri­tish ac­tress Alice Eve (Sex and the City, En­tourage) and Pi­rates of the Caribbean star Jack Daven­port, as well as Ki­wis Stan Walker (who also sup­plied the film’s sound­track) and Richard O’Brien, best known for The Rocky

Hor­ror Pic­ture Show.

Emily came up with the con­cept for the film around the same time she fin­ished up as the as­so­ci­ate pro­ducer of the Bafta-nom­i­nated film The Sur­vival­ist.

She’d no­ticed a lack of strong fe­male lead ac­tors and re­solved to do some­thing about it. It dove­tailed nicely with her wish to make a feature film in New Zealand about the gold rush era of the 1800s. Emily be­gan to re­search this pe­riod of New Zealand’s his­tory – and es­pe­cially the role of women set­tlers.

“I found that these women were ex­tra­or­di­nary. They’d come from quite a re­pres­sive class sys­tem in Eng­land to a new land where they were free to be who­ever they wanted to be. It re­ally was an ex­cit­ing time for New Zealand women.”

Not ev­ery­one was so en­thused, how­ever. “Early on, peo­ple told me that a pe­riod/west­ern film with a fe­male lead char­ac­ter wouldn’t suc­ceed, that women

wouldn’t want to watch it, which was just crazy to me.”

At the time Emily was sin­gle, sol­vent and de­ter­mined, so she pushed ahead. Dis­as­ter struck when the 2011 earth­quakes ripped through Christchurch, de­lay­ing film­ing and re­sult­ing not only in the loss of Emily’s cast, who had to move onto other com­mit­ments, but also the film’s fund­ing (cast and fi­nance are of­ten closely linked, so if one falls over then so does the other). It would prob­a­bly have been eas­ier, and cheaper, to film the sweep­ing pe­riod piece in the UK.

“But there’s nowhere else that can re­ally repli­cate the look of New Zealand’s bush and the set­ting is such an im­por­tant part of this story. Plus, my par­ents and friends were hav­ing such a hard time af­ter the quakes, I re­ally wanted to con­trib­ute to Can­ter­bury in some way.”

So Emily picked her­self up and started work­ing the phone. She even­tu­ally stitched to­gether enough fi­nance to keep the project on track, in­clud­ing as­sis­tance from the late Sir Doug My­ers, on the con­di­tion that The Stolen be filmed in Can­ter­bury to help pro­vide jobs for those af­fected by the quakes.

Emily had just cleared the fund­ing hur­dle when she found out she was preg­nant to Marc, an ar­chi­tec­tural de­signer born in France and raised in London. “My dream was to also star in the film, so I was try­ing to fig­ure out ways I could cover my bump dur­ing film­ing.”

As it turned out, fur­ther de­lays meant Poppy was eight months old when cam­eras fi­nally started rolling on the five-month shoot, which took place in and around Can­ter­bury. Film­ing out­doors in win­ter, work­ing un­til 2 or 3am and then get­ting up a few hours later to do it all again, along with car­ing for her baby daugh­ter, was cer­tainly chal­leng­ing.

All on board

“At times it was chaos, but I knew I couldn’t give up. I had 100 or so peo­ple de­pend­ing on me for their in­comes. The local com­mu­nity also got be­hind us, help­ing out with spon­sor­ship and things like set building, so I couldn’t let them down. I just got through one day at a time.”

It helped that her mother Mer­ryn, also the film’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and pub­li­cist, pro­vided much­needed sup­port. As did many of her fam­ily and friends.

“You couldn’t throw a shoe on set with­out hit­ting a rel­a­tive of mine! But I know what it’s like try­ing to get into this in­dus­try, you re­ally need some­one to give you the op­por­tu­nity and I was glad to be able to do that.”

Script writ­ing and pro­duc­ing has paid the bills for the past few years, but act­ing is still her first love and in The Stolen she plays Honey, a “tart with a big heart”. But get­ting by on a few hours’ sleep a night meant Emily wor­ried about how she’d look on screen.

“I was look­ing as rough as a badger’s back­side, so I de­cided to try some fa­cial acupunc­ture. How­ever, the acupunc­tur­ist ac­ci­den­tally gave me a black eye and I had to spend the next week field­ing queries about my re­la­tion­ship with my hus­band! For­tu­nately this hap­pened three weeks be­fore the shoot, so my eye had healed by the time the cam­eras rolled.”

Be­ing strapped into a corset for eight hours a day was no pic­nic ei­ther – or hav­ing to use the bath­room while in cos­tume.

“I’m not sure how women back then did it, be­cause with the crino­lines and thick skirts, not to men­tion the bloomers which are tucked into your corset, it can take half an hour just to have a wee!”

Mak­ing her mark

Emily has spent much of her life criss-cross­ing the globe, leav­ing Christchurch when her par­ents’ mar­riage broke up and her mother moved her first to the UK then to Rome. Christchurch was home from ages 10 to 17, af­ter which Emily re­turned to London to at­tend drama school. Not hav­ing an ad­dress book filled with English con­tacts meant af­ter grad­u­a­tion she found it hard to get work in the in­dus­try she’d al­ways loved.

“It’s that whole new­comer thing, when you don’t have con­nec­tions, when you aren’t re­lated to some­one or went to school with some­one, it can be hard to get no­ticed.”

So she started writ­ing her own scripts, pro­duc­ing her first short film, The In­vi­ta­tion, made with a mi­nus­cule bud­get, which screened world­wide. Since then Emily has writ­ten, pro­duced and starred in nu­mer­ous films and TV com­mer­cials, work­ing with ev­ery­one from the Rolling Stones’ Ron­nie Wood to Al­fie Allen from Game of Thrones. It’s been quite a ca­reer, she ad­mits, and one that looks set to con­tinue with plans afoot for a cou­ple of feature films, in­clud­ing a comedy, and a three-part allfe­male po­lit­i­cal thriller she’s writ­ten for TV.

First up, though, is a good rest. “We’re com­ing home for the New Zealand pre­miere of The Stolen in Christchurch on Novem­ber 23 and then we’ll have Christ­mas with my fam­ily. I’m knack­ered, so I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to hav­ing some time off.”

And as for the peren­nial question asked of ev­ery Kiwi who spends any sig­nif­i­cant time over­seas: Would Emily ever con­sider mov­ing back here?

“I’ve spent more time out of New Zealand now than I have liv­ing there, but I loved grow­ing up in New Zealand and want my daugh­ter to know that side of her her­itage. She knows all her French rel­a­tives re­ally well and I want her to have the same re­la­tion­ships with her Kiwi rel­a­tives. The ideal sit­u­a­tion would be to come back ev­ery two years to make a film in New Zealand, par­tic­u­larly a film about New Zealand. That would be my dream...”

‘At times it was chaos, but I knew I couldn’t give up’

Clock­wise from top left: Along with fea­tur­ing in films, Emily also has plenty of ad­ver­tis­ing ex­perier­ence un­der her belt, like star­ring in a cam­paign for Beau Joie Cham­pagne; the crew, with horse mas­ter Wayne McCor­mack, film­ing a scene from The Stolen; Em

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