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Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - THE GRILL - In­ter­view/ Britt Mann Pho­to­graph/ Matt Kl­itscher screens on TVNZ One on Wed­nes­days at 8.30pm.

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

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