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Kiwi star’s Hollywood hiccup

Emily Barclay returns to the screen alongside Michael Fassbender, well-disguised.

Emily Barclay wears her heart on her sleeve – and on the back of her calves, not to mention her thigh. The award-winning Kiwi actress – who came to critical attention for her role in 2004 drama In My Father’s Den – has been a passionate vegan, animal rights activist and punk rock fan since her teens, and has the tattoos to prove it.

But the inkings proved a bit of a headache for Emily’s role in upcoming 19th century Aussie-set, Kiwi-filmed period drama The Light Between Oceans, where she plays Grace Potts, the sister of a heartbroken widow who is portrayed by British-born actress Rachel Weisz.

It wasn’t unusual for Emily to have two-and-a-half hour hair and make-up calls to cover the tell-tale tatts and curl her hair to transform her into character.

The English-born, Auckland-bred actress giggles as she recalls her final day on the set of the movie by US arthouse director Derek Cianfrance.

“On my last day on set, I’d finished everything, so I went to the make-up bus and took my tattoo make-up off and one of the artists started giving me a haircut – I thought I might as well get a freebie in quick.

“And then one of the crew came in and said, ‘Derek wants Emily on set.’ We’d literally started the haircut and my tatt make-up was off! So we frantically started covering the tattoos up and re-curled my hair.

“Then he reappeared and said, ‘No, that’s fine, we’re not going to use her.’ A bit later, he came back again and said, ‘He wants her on set right now!’” she laughs. “So I turned up and said, ‘Okay, you can’t shoot me from the back because my tattoos are exposed and my hair is half cut.’ Derek said, ‘It’s fine!’ And I said, ‘It’s not! It’s meant to be the ‘20s.’”

Also starring Irish-German Michael Fassbender (39) and his real-life Swedish-born girlfriend Alicia Vikander (28), the romantic tear-jerker features scenes of breathtaking beauty. It was shot partly on location in the South Island, including Dunedin – meaning a home-coming of sorts for the New Zealand-bred star.

“I haven’t really been to the South Island very much, apart from when I’ve been working,” says Emily, who grew up in Auckland, the daughter of a GP and an interior designer.

“I’ve always had great associations with it because I’ve always been there having an incredible time. It’s so beautiful and an incredible part of the world. I always think, ‘Why don’t I come here more often?’”

Living in a house with seasoned Hollywood actress and co-star Rachel (46) was a profound experience for the 31-year-old.

“She’s a giant,” Emily tells, temporarily lost for words. “I just really watched her with awe. I was almost too…intimidated by her. I was so blown away by how incredible she is. I thought afterwards, I wish I’d asked her more. At the time, I just wanted her to think I was cool!” she adds, refreshingly candid.

“I think she’s one of the best actors in the world and working with her was such an honour.”

Director Derek also made Blue Valentine, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

“He’s a believer in getting actors to live together before shooting,” tells Emily. “Michelle and Ryan lived together in a house before shooting Blue Valentine, and he’s very much about creating authentic-feeling relationships.”

And then some! The Light Between the Oceans is garnering attention not only because of its quality cast and stunning visuals, but because it features real-life romance – with the lead actors Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander falling in love on set.

“There were rumours of that,” whispers Emily giggling.

But while love was blossoming for her co-stars, Emily fell in love with shopping for china – one of her other passions.

“I am a collector, yes,” she confesses. “But it’s not very practical! By the end of the film, I had a suitcase of china to get back to Australia.”

On screen with Rachel Weisz.

Now back home in Sydney, she’s just finished shooting the fourth season of 20-something Australian comedy drama Please Like Me – co-written by and starring award-winning comic Josh Thomas.

“I love doing it,” Emily enthuses. “It’s a great show to be a part of… I am a real-life stalker!” she jokes. “I wanted them as my friends and I went to any lengths to make it happen.”

She’s also just finished filming Melbourne-shot supernatural drama Glitch, in which she plays the part of a pregnant cop. But whatever happens next, Emily’s crossing her fingers for a tattoo-friendly role and has sworn off getting any more inkings – for now.

“A lot of actors have tattoos now, so covering them up is all part of it. But I’ve got no plans for any more. Every time I get up at 4am because I need an hour of tattoo cover-up, I say to myself ‘No more.’”

Words: Carmen Lichi

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