She’s best known as New Zealand’s favourite bogan, Cheryl West, but don’t expect to find any leopard print miniskirts lying around actress Robyn Malcolm’s wardrobe.
“Well, actually, I do have one pair of leopard-print underwear, but that’s as far as I’ll go,” she says with a laugh. “I think they are a Victoria’s Secret pair, which I bought in duty free once. I thought they were quite good.”
The former star of Outrageous Fortune is back on our screens as her other Holden-driving, bourbon-swigging alter-ego, Julie Wheeler, for season two of Upper Middle Bogan. As she did during filming of the first season, Robyn (50) split her time between her Auckland home and an apartment in St Kilda, Melbourne, during the eight-week shoot – leaving her two children, Charlie (11) and Pete (9) with their father Allan Clark.
“I hurtle back to see the kids as much as possible and if they’re on holiday, they come to visit. It’s a bit of a s* fight, but it works,” Robyn explains. “I’ve heard the boys saying to their friends, ‘We do lead a chaotic life because of Mummy’s work,’ but they get to see some amazing places because of it.”
Even as we speak, Robyn is juggling several tasks at once. As well as getting her kids out of their school uniforms, she’s juggling the phone between her ear and her shoulder, while whipping up a culinary masterpiece. On tonight’s menu is roast pork belly with spices and liqourice.
“I’ve never made this before,” Robyn confesses. “I have a friend coming over and I was trawling through Peter Gordon’s recipes – I thought, ‘I’ll give this one a crack and see how it goes.’ It’s outrageous flavours, but I like the odd culinary risk!”
Much like the ballsy on-screen characters she plays, there’s a certain toughness to Robyn – she’s not a woman to mince words. She’s a member of Equity New Zealand, standing up for performer’s rights – most notably around the time of The Hobbit saga, when producers of the film were looking to move production overseas due to wage disputes. She’s also an active spokeswoman for climate change and environmental issues. And, when it comes to her career choices, she’s equally forthright about making sure family comes first.
Despite doing a few shows filmed in the UK and US during her career, including the horror flick Boogeyman with Lucy Lawless, Robyn prefers to base her career as much out of Australia and New Zealand as possible, to make sure she’s not apart from her children any longer than three weeks.
“I have so much mother’s guilt going over there anyway, but I noticed that the wheels really come off after three weeks. They’d be fine until then. Then they’d be saying, ‘Nah, you’ve got to come home now.’ As enjoyable as the travelling is, it’s agony being away from the kids.”
Thankfully, Skype has been an invaluable tool, enabling Robyn and her boys “to do homework and read stories. I can even check their spelling and maths – it’s great!”
She’s also fortunate to have her “big mad family” around her in the Upper Middle Bogan cast, which includes McLeod’s Daughters’ Michala Banas and Kath & Kim’s Glenn Robbins.
“They’re just lovely to hang out with – all genuinely funny people in their own right.”
Written by husband and wife team Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope, Robyn is relishing the opportunity to play a role that deals with complex issues for the modern, older woman. “One thing I find interesting is the ‘old people having sex’ movie,” she tells, referring to titles such as It’s Complicated starring Meryl Streep, or And So It Goes with Diane Keaton.
“I’m always surprised to see these award-winning actresses giggling and dressed in white. It’s like they can’t be real women with bad tempers and bad hair days. They have to be flawless. I always think it’s extraordinary!”
Having celebrated her own milestone 50th birthday in March, the Agent Anna star can relate to character Julie’s struggle with “feeling irrelevant” as she ages.
“The great thing is, with a lot of the characters I play now, writers aren’t afraid to write witty lines about women who aren’t 28 any more,” Robyn says. “Historically, as women have aged, they haven’t got as much work because Hollywood has long dictated that women over 40 aren’t particularly interesting subjects. Now there’s a bit of a zeitgeist going on, where actresses are saying, ‘No, we are interesting and there are stories to tell.’”