The fe­male bond

Jen­nifer Ward-Lealand & Emily Camp­bell — Ac­tors

Metro Magazine NZ - - People To Watch - TEXT — DAVID LARSEN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY — MICHAEL ROOKE

“Not that I’d ruled it out,” says Jen­nifer Ward-Lealand,

“but to be hon­est, I kind of thought I wouldn’t be do­ing any more films. I had this whole other life. Maybe 75 per cent, maybe 80 per cent of my ca­reer has been on the stage.”

That’s largely be­cause over the past three decades, the stage has of­fered am­ple scope for her tal­ents. But there’s also the ele­phant in the screen­writ­ers’ room: good film roles for women re­main vastly rarer than good roles for men. So when she sat down with film-maker Dorthe Sch­eff­mann in a bar off K’ Rd a few years ago to dis­cuss a project, WardLealan­d had an open mind but low ex­pec­ta­tions. That changed fast.

“What at­tracted me to the char­ac­ter was that she’s such a com­plex per­son. It’s quite rare as a mid-50s woman to be of­fered a role like that. For there even to be a role like that. I thought, well that’s some­thing I could bring all my life ex­pe­ri­ence to. The pull in­side this woman who’s a cre­ative per­son and a mother. You want to be the best mother you can be, but also you have this in­cred­i­ble urge to be do­ing what you ought to be do­ing in the cre­ative sphere.”

Darcy, the cen­tral char­ac­ter in Sch­eff­mann’s film Ver­mil­ion, is a com­poser whose suc­cess­ful artis­tic ca­reer has put strains on her re­la­tion­ship with her daugh­ter Zoe, played by Emily Camp­bell. The mother-daugh­ter bond was very easy to cre­ate on film, Camp­bell says, be­cause she and Ward-Lealand al­ready had a re­la­tion­ship go­ing into re­hearsals.

“Jen was my teacher at drama school. I grad­u­ated from The Ac­tors’ Pro­gram the year be­fore, and she’s on the artis­tic board there — she took us for stage­craft and singing, she was there the whole way through the year in vary­ing roles. So when I went in for the re­call au­di­tion, it was just the loveli­est thing to see her face; it felt very fa­mil­iar, very com­fort- able, and I felt very well taken care of. She was won­der­ful all through the shoot in that she let me do my thing, but also guided me in a way that it felt like I wasn’t be­ing guided — lead­ing by ex­am­ple, and giv­ing me per­mis­sion to ask for things, in­stead of wait­ing for some­one to tell me I could yell if I wanted to yell, or ask for an­other take if I didn’t like the takes we had done so far.”

In the film, a lot of the work of rais­ing Zoe has been done by Darcy’s clos­est women friends, who are played by Theresa Healey and Goretti Chad­wick. Ward-Lealand has known both of them for years. “We didn’t have to go and do work­shops to es­tab­lish a rap­port, it was al­ready there. And I loved work­ing with Dorthe. I love the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of her work; she re­ally val­ues the artis­tic con­tri­bu­tions ev­ery­one makes. And also she knew these char­ac­ters so well, they’d been in her mind for so long. She could just come up and give me one very lit­tle sub­tle note and it would awaken some­thing in me. It was so good see­ing fe­male re­la­tion­ships and friend­ships play out, be­cause I don’t of­ten see our life re­flected on the screen, the life of me and my friends, that in­cred­i­ble bond be­tween women. Women’s friend­ships will see you through thick and thin.”


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