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Antonia Prebble takes control ‘At last I’m calling the shots’

The actress is pushing the boundaries to give the ‘creepiest’ performance of her career

When you talk to women who juggle a career with raising children, they don’t always want a medal for it or to be referred to as a superwoman. They love what they do, as hard as it is, and there is always another project on the go. Westside actor Antonia Prebble is one of those women.

At the moment, she is appearing on our popular soap Shortland Street as the nasty televangelist Rebekah Anderson. One reviewer has described her character as “fabulously creepy”.

“I’ll take that,” laughs Antonia, between takes at the Shorty studios. “It’s super-fun.”

Antonia explains that when Shortland Street producers first approached her to play Rebekah, one of the big reasons she wanted to take the job was because the role was so fabulous. “You just don’t get opportunities to play characters like this very often in your career,” she says. “Rebekah is in the show to shake things up. I knew it would be really juicy and really fun.”

The star as Shorty’s Rebekah, who brutally battered youth pastor Scott (Jaxin Hall).

Before Christmas, Rebekah beat youth pastor Scott Lawson to death with a fire extinguisher, which she says is “hands down the most gruesome thing I’ve ever done in my career, including throughout the six seasons of Outrageous Fortune and six seasons of Westside! Shortland Street is really pushing my boundaries.”

But behind Antonia’s decision to take up her first acting role on Shorty was the need to make sure she could see her children, three-and-a-half-year-old Freddie and one-and-a-half-year-old Gus every day.

“You do long hours on a show like this, and I didn’t want to be off to work before they were awake and back home when they were asleep. I would just have to say no to everything if I couldn’t see them during the day. It’s too important to me to be with them to sacrifice that.”

So every day that Antonia works at the Shorty studios, her sons visit her.

With Dan and sons Freddie and Gus (front).

“They come at lunchtime and sometimes they stay a bit longer if I have some scenes off,” she tells. “That was a big part of the discussion when we were negotiating the terms of the job and, fortunately, Shortland Street is a very welcoming and inclusive place – lots of people bring their dogs and I bring my children!”

She says Freddie calls the studios “the pretend hospital” and now has his very own stethoscope, which he is thrilled about.

Last year, Antonia worked on the TV show Safe Home in Melbourne, and her partner Dan Musgrove and their boys went with her for five weeks. Luckily, there was a playground next to the location she was shooting at for frequent meet-ups with Mum. “It’s all about the playgrounds now when I’m negotiating for a job,” she laughs. “Is there a playground nearby? No? Oh, well, never mind.”

Antonia is very aware that she is part of the industry at a time when working mothers are receiving more support from their employers than ever before.

“Since forever, women have had to make such difficult choices – either give up your career or sacrifice a lot of time with your kids, and that’s a dilemma because neither is a good option,” she tells.

“But I think the tide is definitely turning because our cultural value system is changing. There are also more women in senior positions now, certainly in television and film companies. They understand first-hand the demands on women in the industry and try to support them as much as they can.”

The actress says that since she had firstborn Freddie, she has only ever felt supported by the shows she’s been involved in. “I’m so grateful for that because I wouldn’t have been able to work otherwise.”

Antonia starred in the successful theatre production North by Northwest last year, which meant long days rehearsing and then nights performing, as well as trying to fit in filming on Shortland Street here and there.

“When I was first offered the role of Rebekah, Dan and I went away and looked through the year ahead and put it all into four chapters. I went back to them and said, ‘Well, I can give you two days a week for this period, then I could do two-and-a-half days a week here, and then I could do three days a week for this section.’

“The production team then went away and worked some magic and managed to write Rebekah’s storylines to work within that timeframe. I know it was a huge effort from them to do that and I’m really grateful for all the work they put in.”

However, then a spanner got into the works. Antonia wasn’t expecting to come back to Shortland Street this year, but agreed to do so because she was loving playing Rebekah. But she had also agreed to do another show for Three.

“So the last three weeks, I’ve been doing both at the same time, which again has been challenging, but everyone’s just kind of got on board,” she enthuses.

Antonia’s partner Dan is also an actor, but he is focusing more on writing at the moment and the couple have two TV shows in development.

“We have a nanny for around four hours a day, who we just adore. She is wonderful and, fortunately for us, very flexible. Having her help and support is an integral part to Dan and me being able to work in the way we do.

“We’re both wanting to forge careers as well as create a stable domestic life for the boys. So every professional decision we make now has wanting to be there for them as the central spoke, which in a way makes decisions easier.”

Dan and Antonia have been together for nearly six years, and when it comes to planning a wedding they are very much in the same situation as former prime minister Jacinda Ardern and her fiancé Clarke Gayford: they have tried a few times, but still haven’t managed to pull off the big occasion.

“It’s definitely in our plan,” shares Antonia. “We thought maybe we could do it this year, but with life as busy as it is, we don’t quite have the bandwidth for it. Hopefully, we can do it next year. We both really do hope so.”

Antonia says they don’t want the wedding to become a stressful thing, and another year means the boys will be older and can be more present. “Gus might not be having his daily nap, which could logistically have a real impact on a day. People will ask us why we got married and we’ll say, ‘Because Gus isn’t having his midday nap any more!'” she laughs.

Before Antonia had babies, she headed off to Los Angeles to try to further her acting career at an international level. Now that she’s a mother of young kids, she’s had to put that dream on hold, but the actress insists it won’t be forever.

“When we finished Westside, it was the end of a significant chapter for me. It was a defining moment in my career and at that point I thought it would be great to go back to LA,” she tells. “I had new management and I really wanted to work internationally – and I still would.”

Antonia as Outrageous Loretta West.

Antonia says she wouldn’t be able to go over and spend a few months there at this stage because it’s harder to achieve that with children, but she thinks she could do things another way.

“I had begun to think about putting my feet on the ground there again, but then Covid happened and suddenly it was completely off the table – and interestingly, there was a sense of relief in that.”

Antonia started to consider what life would look like if her career was confined to New Zealand and Australia, and in many ways, it looked a lot easier.

There is definitely plenty here to keep Antonia busy.

As if juggling two TV shows isn’t enough, she is also embarking on a new podcast with her friend, psychologist Jacqui Maguire.

“We met at our mums’ group and we both have babies around the same age, so we do this podcast at night when they are all asleep,” she explains.

It’s called What Matters Most and will be launched in March.

“We have a conversation each week about topics like how to make friends as adults; why the pursuit of happiness is a folly and what should we be focusing on instead; navigating life as a sensitive person… those kinds of questions.”

Antonia says she began podcasting during Covid lockdowns with a series called The Most of It.

“The theme was, how do you get the most out of your life? So this podcast feels like a really nice next step for me.”

For now, though, the fire extinguisher-wielding televangelist Rebekah Anderson is calling the shots.

“One of the amazing things about Shortland Street is that things move so fast,” says Antonia. “The show feeds on high drama, so Rebekah’s storylines have been pretty high-octane – and there is definitely more to come in that department!”

And while there is no doubt Antonia has a busy year ahead of her and she would still like to work overseas, she insists it’s just not the right thing to do at the moment.

“If you can keep things in your own backyard, then life becomes a lot more straightforward.”

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