From Shorty Street to su­per-star­dom

Thomasin Har­court McKen­zie is still a Welling­ton school­girl – but she’s al­ready mak­ing waves in Hol­ly­wood and is on the fast­track to world­wide fame, writes Leah Mc­Fall.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

TEEN Kiwi ac­tor Thomasin Har­court McKen­zie is cre­at­ing a se­ri­ous buzz around Hol­ly­wood and al­ready draw­ing com­par­isons with A-list stars such as Jen­nifer Lawrence.

‘‘You can fake buzz and you can cre­ate press,’’ tal­ent man­ager Mitchell Gos­sett says from his of­fice near the Hol­ly­wood hills, ‘‘but there’s noth­ing bet­ter to cre­ate buzz than su­perb work. And that’s what hap­pened at Sun­dance.’’

Gos­sett has a solid rep­u­ta­tion for dis­cov­er­ing young ac­tors and guid­ing them to in­ter­na­tional suc­cess and saw ex­actly what hap­pened in Utah at Jan­uary’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, when the then un­known 17-year-old Har­court McKen­zie in a smallscale film com­pelled some of the most pow­er­ful heads in cinema to turn her way.

That movie was Leave No Trace – a fam­ily drama shot over seven weeks in the Ore­gon rain­for­est by di­rec­tor Debra Granik. Granik is the film­maker who gave Jen­nifer Lawrence her break in Win­ter’s Bone, which went on to reap four Os­car nom­i­na­tions and es­tab­lish a major star out of its young lead.

‘‘It’s re­ally ex­tra­or­di­nary she got that role with­out meet­ing the di­rec­tor, or the other ac­tor,’’ Gos­sett says.

‘‘But her work is so over­pow­er­ing that even an au­teur like Debra saw what she needed to see with­out ever hav­ing to meet Thomasin in the flesh. It’s re­ally ex­tra­or­di­nary that some­body could get that role while go­ing to school in Welling­ton.’’

Back in leafy Karori at the ex­clu­sive Mars­den school, Year 13 stu­dent Har­court McKen­zie is pretty hum­ble con­sid­er­ing she’s be­ing tipped for the kind of movie star­dom that comes to a New Zealan­der only once a gen­er­a­tion (Anna Paquin; Keisha Cas­tle Hughes).

‘‘I got back from Amer­ica and two days af­ter that I was at school again. Pretty much the day af­ter I got back I had to go sta­tionery shop­ping.’’

And al­though her home­grown screen cred­its in­clude Pixie Hannah on Short­land Street, the title role in the hit chil­dren’s web series Lucy Lewis Can’t Lose and a young Louise Ni­cholas in a tele­vi­sion docu­d­rama Con­sent: The Louise Ni­cholas story, she’s happy to live an or­di­nary life – at least un­til Leave No Trace is re­leased in late June.

‘‘It feels weird that only a small amount of peo­ple have seen it and raved and are so ex­cited about it when the rest of the pop­u­la­tion is like, ‘Who is this girl?’ she says.

‘‘It was just such an awe­some re­sponse that peo­ple liked it, but that was in Amer­ica and in a smaller, kind of film fa­natic com­mu­nity; and cast­ing di­rec­tors and agents and what­ever have seen it but not the gen­eral pub­lic.’’

The red car­pet at Sun­dance had been scary, and she’d felt the pres­sure of at­ten­tion and the need to present her­self well. There were won­der­ful mo­ments, too – when the 2800-strong au­di­ence gasped to hear her speak on stage in a Kiwi ac­cent, af­ter she played an Amer­i­can so con­vinc­ingly on screen. And she was glad she’d worn a sim­ple white T-shirt with the slo­gan STRONG FE­MALE CHAR­AC­TER for the press.

‘‘Debra, the di­rec­tor, was so stoked about that be­cause she’s a fem­i­nist and re­ally pas­sion­ate and stuff, and she loved that I wasn’t wear­ing a spaghetti strap kind of thing,’’ Har­court McKen­zie says.

In Leave No Trace, Har­court McKen­zie plays Tom, a 13-year-old be­ing raised in the woods in sur­vival­ist mode by her fa­ther Will (Ben Fos­ter), a trau­ma­tised army vet un­able to cope with civil­ian life. Her per­for­mance earned rave re­views in Va­ri­ety and Van­ity Fair, Hol­ly­wood Re­porter sin­gled her out as a break­out star and six of Los An­ge­les’ most pres­ti­gious agen­cies scram­bled to rep­re­sent her.

‘‘With the re­views, you’ve got to be care­ful not to read all of it be­cause you don’t want to get a big head, or some of the re­views may not be very good,’’ she says. ‘‘That’s why it’s im­por­tant for me to come back to school. It’s re­ally ground­ing. I’m not al­ways show­ing off about what I’ve done or what­ever. I think it al­lows me not to get car­ried away with the whole busi­ness of it. If I’d stayed

With the re­views, you’ve got to be care­ful not to read all of it be­cause you don’t want to get a big head.’ THOMASIN HAR­COURT MCKEN­ZIE

in LA much longer, I was get­ting so much praise, so many peo­ple wanted to meet me, then it’s easy to get ar­ro­gant about what you’ve achieved.’’

In­stead, the teenager re­turned home and now daily gets on an early bus with her 11-year-old sis­ter Davida, signs up for bad­minton, lawn bowls, drag­onboat­ing and touch, looks af­ter the younger girls as Co-Head of Mars­den’s pri­mary school, and helps out as Co-Head of Drama.

Al­though she has the per­fect Kiwi film pedi­gree thanks to ac­tor mother Miranda Har­court, di­rec­tor fa­ther Stu­art McKen­zie and 91-year-old grand­mother, Dame Kate, her par­ents say they are sup­port­ive and en­gaged, but hands-off, about the young­ster’s bur­geon­ing ca­reer.

‘‘We’re in the same busi­ness but Thomasin’s got her own tal­ent, her own in­tel­li­gence, her own in­stincts, and what she needs from us is par­ents, not a film di­rec­tor and an act­ing coach,’’ Miranda Har­court says.

‘‘If she has a thought or an is­sue or a ques­tion, then she’ll come to the Stu­art and Miranda library. But she’s def­i­nitely her own per­son.’’

When she’s act­ing, says Har­court McKen­zie, she feels joy.

‘‘For me it’s the best feel­ing when you’re do­ing a scene and you’re be­com­ing some­one else. When I’m re­ally into the scene I com­pletely for­get about all the things go­ing on around me ... It’s so fun to play with be­ing an­other per­son, and to play with dif­fer­ent emo­tions that you don’t al­ways get to feel. I just love it, and I’m so happy when I’m do­ing it.’’

Her fam­ily don’t talk about act­ing at din­ner; they prob­a­bly talk more about pol­i­tics, she says. Her dad does the cook­ing and she’s eat­ing a ve­gan diet right now, mainly be­cause of her be­lief in the right of an­i­mals to be farmed with­out cru­elty. She’s not tak­ing act­ing lessons, and she’d been au­di­tion­ing so reg­u­larly that when the big call came from Granik last year, she didn’t im­me­di­ately re­alise she’d won the role of a life­time.

‘‘I thought the call was just a catch-up, to see if I still looked the age,’’ she ad­mits.

Thomasin Har­court McKen­zie at home, above, with her grand­mother Dame Kate Har­court, and, left from top, on screen in Short­land Street, Con­tact and Leave No Trace.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.