Fight for jus­tice: Catch­ing New Zealand’s Black Widow killer.

A new lo­cal Sun­day Theatre drama tells the story of Lee-Anne Cartier’s bat­tle for jus­tice af­ter her brother Philip Nis­bet was mur­dered by his wife He­len Milner. Aidee Walker, who plays Lee-Anne, tells Sarah Nealon why this role was a ca­reer high­light.

The TV Guide - - CONTENTS -

Christchurch woman He­len Milner might have got away with mur­der if it wasn’t for her sis­ter-in-law Lee-Anne Cartier.

Milner poi­soned her truck driver hus­band Philip Nis­bet, 47, in 2009 and made it look like a sui­cide. But Cartier, Philip’s sis­ter, be­came con­vinced Milner had killed Nis­bet and set out to prove it.

Cartier, who is in her mid-40s and lives in Aus­tralia, spent months in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case. As a re­sult of Cartier’s ef­forts, Milner was charged with killing her hus­band and, in 2014, was sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment with a min­i­mum non-pa­role pe­riod of 17 years.

Cartier’s story is now the sub­ject of TVNZ 1’s Sun­day Theatre drama Catch­ing The Black Widow.

“She’s so amaz­ing,” says ac­tor Aidee Walker, who plays the ama­teur de­tec­tive. “She didn’t fin­ish high school; she’s kind of like the Erin Brock­ovich story.

“She was looked down on a bit and no one re­ally lis­tened to her, but ac­tu­ally she’s such a smart woman. It’s a story about a woman who never gave up. I think that’s why it’s an im­por­tant story.”

Be­fore film­ing started, Walker, who put on weight for the role, met Cartier.

“There was a lot of stuff I knew but she just came and hung out with me and told me every­thing, and I recorded her voice,” says Walker. “She’s got a Kiwi ac­cent with an Aus­tralian lilt. She’s been liv­ing on the Sun­shine Coast for about 15 years.”

Walker, 36, who has ap­peared in Step Dave and Out­ra­geous For­tune, says the drama is a ca­reer high­light for her.

“Hands down Black Widow is prob­a­bly my favourite act­ing job,” she says. “It was a real-life story that felt re­ally im­por­tant to tell. It’s prob­a­bly the big­gest role I’ve ever had for screen.”

How­ever, land­ing the part of Cartier, a mother of four, wasn’t a straight-for­ward process.

“To be hon­est, it’s a pretty sex­ist in­dus­try and most of the roles I go for now are older than me,” says Walker. “Up un­til 33, I was go­ing for younger roles then you hit 33 and you start au­di­tion­ing for peo­ple in their 40s.

“You’re au­di­tion­ing against your friends who are 10 years older than you and you’re al­ways like, ‘They should get this role’ but I think for this par­tic­u­lar role they were hav­ing trou­ble find­ing a Lee-Anne.

“I had to au­di­tion three times. I got taken off a short­list and put back on a short­list. I feel like I was try­ing to find the essence of the char­ac­ter more so than every­thing else which is cool.”

Play­ing op­po­site Walker in the role of He­len Milner is Kather­ine McRae. She didn’t meet Milner but watched hours of cur­rent af­fairs video clips and also met the real-life Lee-Anne Cartier.

“That was par­tic­u­larly help­ful for Aidee and for me. I could ask her cer­tain things di­rectly,” says McRae.

If McRae looks fa­mil­iar that’s be­cause she is the daugh­ter of ex-Short­land Street star El­iz­a­beth McRae, who played hos­pi­tal re­cep­tion­ist Marge.

McRae ju­nior made two ap­pear­ances on the soap play­ing dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters and has worked be­hind the scenes as a di­rec­tor. “The first role I played on Shorty

Street was quite early on when I played Marge’s long-lost daugh­ter who had been adopted out. I was only on screen for two weeks,” she says. “I did that and then went away for many years and came back as (nurse) Brenda Hol­loway.”

Kather­ine McRae and Walker are both di­rec­tors as well as ac­tors. Walker re­cently di­rected a web se­ries while McRae’s di­rect­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in­cludes Noth­ing

Triv­ial, Go Girls and Filthy Rich’s sec­ond sea­son. Based in Welling­ton, McRae is cur­rently in­volved in a Circa Theatre pro­duc­tion called A Doll’s

House which stars West­side ac­tress So­phie Ham­ble­ton.

McRae thinks Black Widow is worth watch­ing be­cause of Cartier’s re­solve to seek jus­tice for Philip.

“It’s the story of a woman who had no le­gal ed­u­ca­tion but she doggedly built up a case against He­len and she used her in­nate in­tel­li­gence to do that,” McRae says.

“She was very canny and kept metic­u­lous records of every­thing. And this has ac­tu­ally changed Lee-Anne’s life. She’s now at univer­sity in Aus­tralia study­ing le­gal sys­tems.”

Aidee Walker as Lee-Anne Cartier

Kather­ine McRae as mur­derer He­len Mil­ner

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