Actress Michelle Langstone, 38, and director Caroline Bell-Booth, 39, have known each other for almost 20 years and met as drama school students in Auckland. Langstone, left, is based in Sydney and plays Fiona on hit TV drama Bell-Booth, who lives in Muriwai (and is standing on a box in the photo), directed its second series. The pair have also collaborated on their first Australian theatre production, to be staged mid-next year. MICHELLE/ I had just graduated from drama school at Unitec in Auckland. Caroline was directing a play by Kathryn van Beek, Painted Lips. I ended up playing a really bored waitress in that.
I was standing in the studio and this door flung open. I expected from the loud voice going “Hi!” that it would be a much bigger person. But she was the tiniest, most petite person I’d ever seen. She strode into the room – she used to be a ballet dancer and she’s got these really amazing legs – and I was like: “Who the hell is that?!” She was an explosion of a human being.
I think she’s directed me in four or five plays. We’ve lived together on a number of occasions. She’s actually coming to live with me for four or five weeks at the end of this month, ’cos she is directing in Australia. It’s never ceased to amaze me that someone so tiny can have the loudest feet in existence. My apartment is all wooden floors, so in the interests of the other residents, I’m thinking of getting her some small, soft slippers. I’ve already gone and bought another stool because I know she’ll need to climb up to reach things.
Caroline is a very put together individual; she has an amazing sense of style. She’s always beautifully dressed, and her home is always full of extraordinarily beautiful objects. I think she, in some respects, is better at being a grown-up than me. She owns a house, she has a husband.
Not to be disrespectful in any way to the complicated and very difficult history of Ireland, but at one point Caroline would refer to my relationship problems with men I was dating as “The Troubles”. We’d have some quite hilarious conversations, usually over tea or when we were cooking dinner in our Ponsonby flat. She’s a very pragmatic person. I think in friendship it’s really important to be able to tell your friend if they’re being ridiculous, as well as being empathetic towards them.
She’s an extremely strong, intelligent, remarkably creative and incisive director. And she’s courageous with her decision-making. The side of her that people don’t necessarily always see is, she’s just the most sensitive, emotionally connected, intuitive, vulnerable person, with a huge heart. I think that’s a really powerful combination for a director.
A few days after Caroline started working on the show, Benson Anthony, who plays Arlo in 800 Words, was walking down the corridor past my dressing room and was like: “I just have to say, having now met Caroline and worked with her for a couple of days, there is so much more about you that makes sense.” CAROLINE/ I’d see her round school and initially thought she was quite aloof, but actually realised that was a deeply bookish awkwardness, once I got to know her.
I did an adaptation for Tennessee Williams’ Babydoll. I asked Michelle to play the lead. We hit quite a difficult point in rehearsals and we went to dinner. We sat down and had a couple of beers, which enabled us to voice some of our frustrations. I’d pinpoint that particular night as the night we became friends.
I moved in with Michelle, Sarah Wiseman and Craig Hall, in a semi rundown villa in Kingsland. We lived together again, just her and I, for a while. We’ll be living together again very shortly when I go over to Sydney. There’s a natural conflict between us, a vegan and a meat eater. I’m the meat eater. When we lived together in previous incarnations, she was a vegetarian, and I tried quite earnestly to be a vegetarian around the house out of respect.
She claims I have disproportionately loud footsteps. I’m not sure I agree with that.
She’s a very private person, but she’s also deeply loyal. So if you are in trouble, or ever need help, she literally puts everything aside for you. She’ll throw herself in front of a bus for you, to be honest.
I like to think I can get things out of Michelle other people can’t, because I can speak so directly to her, and I also know how far as an actor, she can go. Conversely, she trusts me to direct her to a place that’s not inappropriate or unbalanced – there’s going to be something of value at the end of it.
There have been moments where I’ve been either deeply upset or deeply p...ed off on set and I know she’s seen how upset I am but no one else can tell. And it’s kind of a hard thing because you want to comfort your friend but at the same time, as a director, you can’t be having a meltdown or cast members allowing you to cry on their shoulders.
When Michelle’s been going through something quite troubling, I think there’s a sense of reassurance that I know whatever’s happening in her private life and can not only be sensitive to it, but also I’m really good at taking her out of that concern and worry and into a world of play. Essentially, we run away to the circus together for a little while, and leave life’s troubles behind. 800 Words