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Kiwi star Sara Wiseman hits the jackpot with her new role!

The talented actress reveals how Judy Bailey helped her feel comfortable with fame
Pictures: John Tsiavis, Sarah Enticknap

Although acclaimed Kiwi actress Sara Wiseman has been based in Sydney since 2011, she takes any chance she can to return to Aotearoa. In fact, she was just in Auckland, where she grew up, to star in the play The Effect alongside Celebrity Treasure Island host Jayden Daniels.

“I really hit the jackpot with that one,” she smiles. “When I came out of drama school in 1998, I did four shows back to back with Auckland Theatre Company, but this is the first time I’ve worked with them in two decades. It’s been so good!”

The 51-year-old has a long list of credits in New Zealand and Aussie TV, including Shortland Street, Rake and Under The Vines, but she admits that when she started out, acting was “a big, scary dream”.

With Rebecca Gibney, her co-star in Under The Vines.

Her first TV experience came doing stunts for the series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess.

“There was a lot of choreographed swordplay, high falls and tumbling down hills, so I collected a few bruises,” she recalls. “Then I decided that I wanted to not get bruises, so I went to drama school for three years!”

When she first started to find fame for her acting work, Sara reveals she was gifted a wonderful mentor to help her navigate the unfamiliar territory.

Judy has been a mentor.

“When I did Mercy Peak at South Pacific Pictures, they let me meet Judy Bailey just to talk about what it was like to be in the public eyes,” she says, still sounding starstruck. “This was when she was Mother of the Nation. Since then, she’s been the best woman in the world to me. She’s ridiculously classy.”

Despite her decades in the spotlight since, Sara still describes an acting career as a “tough choice”. Coming to the end of shows like A Place To Call Home – the Aussie period drama on which she and her then-husband, fellow Kiwi star Craig Hall, appeared on for six seasons – is “very emotional”.

“That last read-through, everyone was in tears,” she says of the show’s 2018 finale. “My character became so real to me. It was a very, very sad day taking off that costume, which had become my clothing, and saying goodbye.”

In High Country, her character Helen has moved to new surrounds…

Fortunately, she hasn’t been short of work since. Sara is currently on the big screen as a chimpanzee in the blockbuster Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes and on the small screen in the Australian drama High Country.

In the eight-part mystery-thriller, Sara plays former artist Helen Hartley, who moves to the mountains of Victoria with her partner, played by beloved Aussie actress Leah Purcell.

Sara had met the Wentworth star only briefly at an awards show before doing a chemistry test to play her lover. “Create 10 years of relationship and go!” she laughs. “It was quite a thing.”

Happily for Sara, she felt it all “fall into place” and scored the role. “Leah is just a dream to work with,” she says. “She’s very genuine and generous. Everything just felt really electric. I left that audition going, ‘Please, please let me get it,’ and it all worked out!”

… with her partner Andie (centre) and daughter Kirra.

This isn’t the first time Sara, who identifies as bisexual, has played a gay character. Her characters on Auckward Love and Shorty were queer. “And with A Place To Call Home, Carolyn was married to Craig’s character Jack Duncan. But, in the final season, she reunites with a female flame from her earlier days.”

It wasn’t too unfamiliar for Sara to play a former artist either, having loved art at school.

“I’d spend my lunchtimes painting,” she remembers. “My art history teacher was such an inspiration. I did a little Instagram post of my paintbrushes and palette from the High Country set. I gave Mrs Perry from Pakuranga College a shout-out for building this passion – and she replied! Now I follow her. All of her pictures are so exquisite.

Sara (right) as Carolyn Bligh in A Place To Call Home.

“I also did a lot of research with my friend [and fellow Shorty actress] Amanda Billing, who’s a beautiful artist. She gave me some quick lessons in holding brushes and charcoal, plus I watched a lot of documentaries.”

Sara adds that filming in Victoria’s high country was magnificent.

“It’s a side of Australia that we never see. It’s exquisite on screen. It looks almost Kiwi, Canadian or Scandinavian, except that you have to look out for leeches, snakes and spiders. Everything is out to kill you!”

Watch Sara in High Country now on ThreeNow.

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