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Rebecca Gibney on setting up a home in New Zealand

Putting down roots in Dunedin suits the beloved Under the Vines actress down to the ground

She’s a familiar face on our screens and has been for a while now. But when Rebecca Gibney talks to the Weekly from her Dunedin home, she is shockingly real.

“Oh, look at my hair,” she says flicking her blonde hair up and down. “I went to the hairdressers yesterday and I said, ‘I know I’ve got everything and I’m so lucky and grateful, but couldn’t I just have been given a bit more hair?'” she laughs.

“I know that by the time I’m 80, I’m going to have three hairs left and I’ll probably dye them purple and perm them!”

Rebecca, 58, is very funny. And it’s this humour and unaffected personality which shines through in her popular TVNZ 1 series Under the Vines. In its second season, the hit show about two people who inherit a struggling vineyard in Clyde is a piece of sunshiny bliss, funny and calming, addictive and heart-warming all at once.

“Some call it a drama, others call it a romantic comedy,” says Rebecca when asked how she describes the show. “But to me, it’s a drama that can be funny. It’s just light and joyous, like a warm hug or an ice cream or a glass of wine when you need it. That’s why I love it.”

But she also credits the cast and crew for bonding in a way that allows them to take that special relationship with them on to the set.

“When we all get to Clyde – which is such a lovely place – from various places all around the world and all around New Zealand, we get put in these lovely little accommodations and we all hang out together,” she reveals. “We do karaoke on a Friday, we play games on the weekends and have afternoon barbecues.”

The only non-Kiwi actor in the show is British actor Charles Edwards, who plays a disgraced London lawyer and co-inheritor of the vineyard. Rebecca says he is “just like my brother from another mother. I’m sure I knew him in a past life”.

When Charles came out to work on the first series, he didn’t quite know what to expect.

“But when he landed in Queenstown Airport, which is beautiful, we had a sign saying “Charlie” on it and we took him straight to Botswana Butchery for lunch, and we had Champagne and oysters. He thought he had arrived in some fantasy land. Which he had really, because it’s one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.

“Charlie and I have such an easy chemistry, and he comes home and hangs out with my husband Richard and loves my dog, and my son Zac adores him, so I think that closeness between us comes on the

set as well.”

It was instant chemistry with her Under the Vines co-star Charles, who is “just like my brother from another mother”.

Rebecca says that when the first series of Under the Vines was finished, she knew it would be a hit. As executive producer, she gets to see each episode “a thousand times” before it goes to air and she says she had “that little feeling when you just know”.

She tells, “I knew it would find a home because we’ve all been through so much, and I think people were just desperate for something joyful and heartfelt that you can relax into.”

She also jokes that she has been around for so long, she now appeals to a very broad range of viewers.

“It used to be, ‘Oh, my brother thinks you’re cute’, then it was like, ‘My husband thinks you’re cute.’ And then it was my father and now it’s my granddad! It’s all the stages of an actress’ life.”

Rebecca began her acting career in Australia at the age of 18 and lived there for 32 years before making the decision to return home with her family in 2017.

At the time, the family had been in Queenstown temporarily while Rebecca and Richard worked on their hit show Wanted. But when it came time to return, their son Zac didn’t want to leave. He’d fallen in love with the outdoor life there and the ski fields.

“We decided to stay and moved to Dunedin, which we love,” says Rebecca. But last year Zac, 18, moved to Wellington when he was accepted into Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School.

“A lot of people said, ‘Right, you’ll be leaving Dunedin now then,’ and we did contemplate it,” admits Rebecca. “We asked ourselves where did we want to be?

“I would go off and do a job and come back, and every time I came back and looked at the ocean or went into town and had that extra 15 minutes chat with someone at the local shops because they were genuinely interested in how my day was, I realised I wasn’t going to find this anywhere else.

“There is something so wonderful about Dunedin and they keep telling me to shut up, but I want to tell people because I feel like I’m stepping back in time here. It’s like in the old days where people had time for each other.”

Rebecca says they recently ran out of water on a Saturday afternoon and instead of having to wait two or three days, the lovely water guy Dean said he’d just finish barbecuing for the kids and thought he could bring his water truck out later at 7pm.

“You lose your power and the electrician comes in a couple of hours. It’s that warmth and kindness. There’s a real sense of community here. I don’t think I’m going to get that anywhere else.”

And with Zac in Wellington living his life, Rebecca says there has been absolutely no empty-nest syndrome.

“When I met Richard, we were both in our thirties and we actually said in the beginning that we weren’t going to have children because we were very content with each other,” she confides. “We had dogs, we moved to Tasmania and were just very happy living on our little farm. He’s my best friend and we’ve been together 21 years now.

“So, when Zac came along, it was great. It was awesome and we’ve had this amazing time with him. Then kids turn 16 and start pushing back, and that’s all very interesting,” she laughs.

“Life with these two is the BEST. LIFE. EVER,” Rebecca wrote online with this pic of son Zac and hubby Richard

When Zac came back to Dunedin for a visit after he had been away from home for a couple of months, he was shocked to find that his bedroom had been turned into a guest room.

“He was mortified because I had taken down all his posters and made it a very nice spare room,” says Rebecca. “I told him he didn’t live there any more, but of course he was welcome to come and stay in the spare room any time!”

It’s obvious Rebecca has a very close bond with Zac and now that he is pursuing an acting career like his mum, she is very proud.

“He’s on set today, doing some extra work in Wellington, earning a little bit of extra money,” she tells. “And the director, who I know, texted me and said, ‘What a lovely guy.’ He’s such a delightful, smart, empathetic, kind, lovely kid.”

One member of her family who Rebecca does miss is her mum Shirley, who lives in Brisbane. At 87, she’s independent but slowing down and during Covid Rebecca didn’t see her for two-and-a-half years.

Mum Shirley.

“I’ve got a sister and brother in Brisbane who keep an eye on her, and during Covid we would do Sunday night Zoom sessions, which she loved because she said it was like having all six of her children in the lounge room with her,” says Rebecca.

“But as she gets older, it’s hard. She had an operation just before Christmas that I couldn’t be there for and that was difficult for me. But I’ve got a job in Sydney soon, and I’ll be able to get up to Brisbane and see her then.

“Mum has lost a few friends in the last few years and when I was chatting to her the other day, she mentioned that a resident in her block of flats had passed away the night before. When I asked if she was okay, she said, ‘I’m alright and, yes, it’s sad, but we’re all getting old, darling.'”

At 58, Rebecca knows about getting older, but it’s not something she spends much time dwelling on.

In the new series of Under the Vines, her character Daisy, a former events manager from Sydney, spends most of the series being in denial that she is menopausal, something Rebecca has already dealt with in real life.

“My menopause wasn’t too bad,” she admits. “I got some natural stuff from America and I was on that for about four or five years. So, I didn’t have any hot flashes. I didn’t really have mood swings. I didn’t really have that many symptoms other than my brain. I left it behind quite often. You just do stuff and you say, ‘Why did I just come in here?'” she laughs.

Rebecca says Aussie actress Naomi Watts has just launched an initiative in America about menopause, giving women information on symptoms and treatment, but also reminding women that it’s not the end.

“We all go through it thinking, ‘Okay, well, shop’s shut. Sex is finished. That’s done. I’d rather read a book,” she says. “But some of those feelings come back and you realise that you’re still the same.”

Rebecca says she’s heard some post menopause women complain that they are invisible.

“Well, I refuse to become invisible,” she declares. “I’m going to keep working. And I look at Helen Mirren and she’s still sexy. She’s still got it. She’s still doing it. I’m gonna do that!”

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