New Zealand’s most Wanted
With the Emmy-nominated Wanted returning to Three this week, Rebecca Gibney tells what it takes to create an international success story. Kerry Harvey reports.
When I tell Rebecca Gibney that a television critic described her as a bigger action hero than Liam Neeson, she laughs.
“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” she says of Lola, the middle-aged supermarket checkout operator she plays in the hit drama Wanted.
However, she is extremely proud of the series she created with husband Richard Bell – and with good reason.
The second season begins in New Zealand this week – on the same night that Gibney will be walking the red carpet at the International Emmys in New York where Wanted is one of the nominees in the best drama category.
It is also screening on Netflix and, to cap it off, Australia’s Channel Seven has commissioned a third season.
“It’s sort of surreal. From the moment we found out about the Emmy nomination, we have been floating on a bit of a cloud,” Gibney says, adding neither she nor Bell takes success for granted.
“We work hard so it’s not like it’s luck because we’ve devoted the last two years of our lives fully to the show. You can’t just put it out there and go, ‘Oh gee, I want to go global’. You have to really work at it.
“It’s a team effort. We couldn’t have done it without the hundreds of people who came on board because everyone loved the show, everyone knew what we wanted to make, and I think everyone really got in behind it. I think that’s why it’s been so special.”
Gibney, who is considered one of the most influential people in the Australian television industry, is
no stranger to fame. She became a household name in Australia and New Zealand playing mechanic Emma Plimpton in The Flying Doctors and went on to star in
Halifax fp and several other series, including Packed To The Rafters.
Now 52, she is breaking new ground. She and Bell have their own production company and Wanted is their baby.
“We basically said we want to turn the genre on its head. We want to take the action-adventure road movie that is normally the male domain and put women in those roles, but not action hero women, just ordinary women,” Gibney says.
She has relished the chance to play the far from glamorous, but very resourceful, Lola.
“For me, particularly, being over 50 now, I think there’s such a great freedom in allowing yourself to be who you really are because I spent so long in my life – particularly in my 20s and into my 30s – feeling so insecure about my physicality,” she says, adding, like many women, she never felt good enough or pretty enough.
“Then you get to a point where you go, ‘I don’t have to be that. I just have to be me.’
“I want to play a strong woman who doesn’t give a rat’s about what she looks like, so it’s been really liberating in that respect.
“It is good to do a show where you don’t have to worry about your physicality other than, ‘Can I run that fast in hiking boots that have got lifts in them so I’m not the short-arse next to my glamazonian co-star?’.”
That first season followed two strangers – Lola (Gibney) and
Chelsea (Geraldine Hakewill) – who intervened in a fatal carjacking while waiting at a suburban bus stop and found themselves being pursued across Australia by criminals and police. Wanted is frequently likened to Thelma And Louise but Gibney thinks it is more Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. “Maybe, Butch Cassidy And The
Sundance Kid meets The Odd Couple,” Gibney says, “because Thelma and Louise were great friends going away on a vacation but these are two women who have nothing in common, who are poles apart, who actually didn’t like each other from the start, who basically have to learn to develop a friendship.
“The most lovely thing anyone has said (about the show) is, ‘I want to be in the car with those women’.”
That first season ended with a phone call from one of the villains snarling, “Did you think this was over? We have your son.”
The second season starts with Lola and Chelsea travelling to Bangkok to rescue Lola’s son David (Home And Away’s Charles Cottier) and what happens there takes them to New Zealand where the women change from the hunted to the hunters.
“It’s been amazing. Season one was awesome but season two just steps it up a notch. It’s so epic. We’re filming chases on the Dunedin railway, going through gorges and up snow-covered peaks. It’s quite phenomenal,” Gibney says, adding she and her husband enjoyed the experience so much they have now set up home in Queenstown. “Our goal is to bring more productions here, to bring as many as we can.”
“We want to take the action-adventure road movie that is normally the male domain and put women in those roles.” – Rebecca Gibney