This time around, she's the leading lady of the west!
Going back to the West family home five years after filming her final scene of Outrageous Fortune was a surreal experience for Antonia Prebble. As the only original cast member returning for prequel series Westside, the actress was thrilled to be on familiar territory, but playing a completely different character to Loretta, the role that made her a household name, was “seriously disorienting”.
“I was like a little kid in a candy store seeing how they’d decorated the house to make
it look 40 years newer,” says Antonia, who stars as Loretta’s grandmother Rita in the new ’70s-set series.
“But to be honest, I was still figuring out what it meant to be a whole other character. Luckily, the director of the first episode had also directed me on Outrageous Fortune, so he really helped me find my feet when I slipped up. He’d tell me, ‘Do it again, but do it slightly differently because I saw a bit of Loretta in there!’ It was something about my body rhythm.”
While Loretta was “quite weird and existed on her own little island”, Antonia, 30, describes Rita as “bold and brassy, a woman who loves to laugh, and loves freely and deeply”.
She relates more to Rita than Loretta, explaining, “I try to get the most out of life. I’m always looking out of the corner of my eye for new challenges, experiences and opportunities.”
One challenge Antonia faced on this new TV3 series was her graduation to lead actress. She grins, “That was a bit weird. I always get scared when my name comes first. I definitely feel an added responsibility, especially as I’m the only one from the original show, but it’s only an internal pressure I put on myself.”
Antonia missed having her screen mother Robyn Malcolm on set to “ask annoying actor-y questions”, but it was the absence of late co-star Frank Whitten she felt most keenly.
Frank, who died of cancer in 2011 at 68, played Rita’s husband Ted “Grandpa” West in Outrageous and his role is reprised in Westside, in a much younger form, by David de Lautour.
“I’d often think about Frank and feel quite moved that, in a way, he’s still around and I get to hang out with him,” Antonia reveals.
“We were very close and got on really well. We’d hang out at lunchtimes. He was a Woman’s Day fan and I’d slip him the odd magazine. I loved Frank and I’m so glad his legacy is continuing on this show.”
To prepare for her role as a ’70s housewife, Antonia watched a vintage documentary about life in the suburbs of Auckland. She says, “The women were all bored and went a bit crazy doing nothing but cleaning, washing and looking after babies, but there was no discussion of gender dynamics – it was just what happened when you got married.”
In Westside, Ted makes the decisions and Rita has to fight to get a job. “He rules the roost – it’s his house and her kitchen,” tells Antonia, who lives with her boyfriend of six years, fellow actor Gareth Williams, 30.
“I’d find that very annoying. These days, there’s gender inequality when it comes to things like income, but I’m glad I’m living now and not in the ’70s.”
The actress can only recall one time when she’s felt like the victim of sexism.
“Years ago, I did a wardrobe fitting for a commercial,” she says. “These overseas ad executives came in and they weren’t looking at me – they were looking at my body. I felt totally objectified.”
Fortunately, creepy casting calls are a thing of the past for Antonia. Since Outrageous wrapped in 2010, she’s reunited with co-star Siobhan Marshall for crime drama Blue Rose, scored parts in the Aussie shows Anzac Girls and Winter, and played a witch in the US series Salem.
Of the latter, she recalls, “It was shot in a bizarre little town in Louisiana, where True Blood is set. It was fun, but I was told to never walk on my own, night or day, which is a bit scary.”
Antonia spends a few months each year auditioning for roles in Los Angeles. “Realistically, as a woman, you only have until your 30s to make it there, so it’s now or never,” she says.
“I didn’t get any jobs this year, but I managed to remain in pretty good spirits as I have a lot of friends over there.”
These include her Westside co-star David and his girlfriend, Kiwi actress Hannah Marshall, as well as fellow expats Madeleine Sami, Fleur Saville and Michelle Ang.
Antonia tells, “LA is such a cheap place to live, but we don’t have much money, so we have a lot of pot-luck dinners and go to $5 comedy shows.”
But the actress says she’s most at home here – and starring in Westside.
“Rita really is one of the best characters I’ve ever played. She’s fun, she’s challenging and there’s so much scope. I’d love to take her out for another trot.”
Images: Michelle Day