Keeping it quirky:
800 Words star talks about her love of unusual roles.
Olivia Tennet’s film and TV acting career spans almost 20 years – no mean feat for someone who is only 27 years old.
The Auckland actress, who plays local goth and surly real estate receptionist Siouxsie in 800 Words, had her start in TV at age seven when she appeared in a commercial.
“It was for an anti-smacking campaign where I had to throw a tantrum which Mum said I was very well practised at,” says Tennet.
From there she went on appear in Xena: Warrior Princess, Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers, Maddigan’s Quest and Shortland Street, where she played Guy Warner’s daughter Tuesday.
This year she was a jockey in the Sunday Theatre drama Kiwi and she has a guest role in The Brokenwood Mysteries.
For the past few years Tennet has been a regular on 800 Words, the New Zealand and Australian co-production. Her character is named after the lead singer of British rock band Siouxsie and the Banshees.
800 Words’ Siouxsie is a bit of an outsider in the show’s idyllic fictional town setting of Weld which is home to beach-lovers such as Woody (Rick Donald) and Tracey (Emma Leonard).
“I’m always really interested in characters that are a bit different,” says Tennet.
“I look back at my CV and I’m not really suited to the love interest roles. I usually get the quirky side-kick kind of roles. I was really excited when I first received the audition script.
“Siouxsie is a great character because she says what everybody else is thinking but is too afraid to say it. She’s pretty different to myself so that’s always really fun.
“I love her costumes. She’s very loyal and has a lovely relationship with Monty, her dad.
“I would call her an activist. She definitely has really strong opinions about things and is not afraid to express those.
“I like to think I’m a little bit like that. I’m pretty certain about the issues that are important to me.”
Tennet is the youngest of three siblings one of whom, Anton, is an actor. The brother and sister appeared in last year’s Sunday Theatre drama The Exponents: Why Does Love?
She says her parents were always encouraging when it came to extracurricular activities. At age four she began tap dancing classes and two years later she was having violin lessons.
“I just really loved being on stage. I would do dancing competitions and Mum was like, ‘Oh she’s really taken to this’,” says Tennet.
Dance is still a big part of her life and something she put to good use in the 1980s-themed Auckland musical Pleasuredome.
“You have to be as versatile as possible in New Zealand,” Tennet says. “You can do all of the work that comes your way but I’m also at university studying speech therapy. “I had to make a really conscious decision of, ‘Did I actually choose acting?’ I’ve been doing it for so long now that I just do it because I’ve always done it but I thought it might be nice to do something else and use my brain in a different way.” Like a lot of actors, Tennet has given Los Angeles a shot. She moved there with a boyfriend at age 21. “It was the first time I’d ever moved out of home,” she says. “I had never driven before so I had to learn how to drive in LA which was like baptism by fire. I don’t know if I’m a very brave person but I had to do it. “I remember the first time getting on to a freeway and thinking, ‘Don’t look sideways’ because there were eight lanes. You just have to look straight ahead and keep going.” After two years of Los Angeles life, Tennet returned to New Zealand but says if the right role came along she would move back. But for now she is happy doing her tertiary studies and undertaking acting jobs like 800 Words. “Siouxsie comes to the fore in this season,” says Tennet. “I’ve been able to do a lot more with the character. She gets to hang out with Shay (Melina Vidler) which has meant that I’m in a lot more scenes. “You definitely feel like Siouxsie is part of Weld and involved in a lot of the issues.”
Jonny Brugh (Monty) and Olivia Tennet (Siouxsie)