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Dark City’s killer couple Chelsie and Cohen share their unbreakable bond

The co-stars play a deadly game in a new Kiwi thriller set to get pulses racing
Images: Matt Klitscher

The day they met, they were acting like naughty teenagers – and not much has changed in the seven years since. When the Weekly chats to actors Cohen Holloway and Chelsie Preston Crayford, the pair are making fun of each other, joking around and almost in a cheeky world of their own.

Chelsie is full of energy and Cohen is giving her deadpan jibes. Which is rather ironic, as she plays an antagonist to his serial killer in the new thriller Dark City: The Cleaner.

Despite the macabre theme of the six-part series, they are comical, teasing each other affectionately. That’s because these two seasoned stars have a fabulous rapport that was built on the day they met – when they had to improvise a range of characters for a development lab of filmmakers.

“Our friend Loren Taylor is a filmmaker, and needed people that could pretend to be whatever character and wouldn’t be precious,” explains Chelsie. “We were playing two teenage boys and because it was all improvised, Cohen ran outside, around the back of the building and climbed through the window.

“I think straightaway we just knew that we could trust each other.”

So they were excited to discover each had been cast in Dark City, a series based on the books by Kiwi author Paul Cleave.

Cohen plays Joe, a Christchurch serial killer who is a cleaner at a police station. When another woman is murdered, police suspect “The Carver”, but Joe knows it wasn’t him. Appalled that someone is trying to steal his thunder, he sets out to find the copycat killer. However, Joe is being hunted by Melissa (Chelsie), an adversary who is cleverer and even more dangerous than he is.

“My whole job in the show was to just annoy Cohen as intensely as I could,” Chelsie tells. “I had to show up, inject a bit of chaotic energy and go.”

Seasoned performers: “It seems like we’ve both been in everything for five minutes,” says Chelsie.

Cohen quips, “You mean steal the scene! It was not unusual to spend 12-hour days filming, then Chelsie comes out to do one scene where she’d raise an eyebrow and it was done in one take. And everyone clapped. That broke my heart.

“I was gutted when Chelsie was cast. Come on, there’s some great Kiwi actresses out there,” jests the actor, whose credits include The Power of the Dog, Evil vs Shark, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok.

“Cohen is so informal with everyone – he is irreverent and is so funny on set,” enthuses Chelsie.

“You come across lots of people in this industry and some of them you form really deep bonds with – you hold them close. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, it’s really special.”

Cohen becomes serious, although it’s hard to tell, saying, “I was really stoked to even be approached to do this. At our chemistry test, we both overacted because you really want the role.”

“It seems like we’ve both been in everything for five minutes,” reflects child star and Aussie Logie Award winner Chelsie. Her roles have included Cousins – which featured Cohen’s son Leo – along with Underbelly: Razor, Panthers and Nude Tuesday.

“But Cohen’s been around so long, he’s so good. It was really cool to be able to act alongside him.”

They take a rare solemn moment to talk about the challenges of being a New Zealand actor.

Trust issues! Chelsie and Cohen in Dark City.

“It’s to be celebrated that this international production had local actors,” Chelsie says. “There is not a lack of talent in New Zealand, but there is a lack of faith in it sometimes. Most New Zealand actors who you would think are at the top of the game probably have another stream of income.”

Cohen agrees. “In New Zealand, you’re blessed to get work. We both would have been rejected hundreds of times. But I’m thrilled I chose this path. I used to work in a bank.”

Partner of Kellie Wilson, and proud dad of Cruiz, 14, and Leo, 11, Kāpiti-based Cohen is also in the band The Māori Sidesteps that has regular gigs and festival appearances. And Chelsie, who is the daughter of famed New Zealand filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston, lives in Auckland with her eight-year-old daughter Olive and her comedian partner Guy Montgomery. She supplements acting with creating work for other actors.

“I’ve got a feature film that I’ve written and I’ll be directing,” she enthuses. “We’re going for production funding and I’m hoping to shoot that soon. It’s a drama comedy about three generations of women.”

No, she tells Cohen, she hasn’t cast herself before he even gets to ask.

Cohen finishes our chat saying he is incredibly grateful to have formed such strong friendships working on Dark City, including his bond with former Shortland Street and Wentworth star Robbie Magasiva.

“I told him I loved him, that I was staying in a B&B, ‘Come hang out.’ He just kind of took off.” Typical Cohen – deadpan in his delivery.

Dark City: The Cleaner will stream on Neon, Sky Go and Soho before going to free-to-air channels in coming months.

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