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Theresa Healey's family surprise: 'My son works in mysterious ways!'

Having another actor in the family was never the plan,
but the actress concedes it’s Zac’s time to shine

By Fleur Guthrie
If there's one thing Theresa Healey not-so-secretly wished for, it was that her two sons wouldn't become actors. As kids, she refused to let them take drama classes or sign with a talent agent.
But the 58-year-old has recently admitted defeat, with her eldest son Zac destined to follow in his famous mother's footsteps.
He's just finished filming his first independent movie Mysterious Ways and in recent years, shared several scenes with Theresa in local drama Head High.
"She played my school principal and there was this great scene where she got to say to me, 'Put a sock in it, Sam!' I loved that because Mum did not need to act," laughs Zac, 21.
'I can ring Zac and he picks up my call at a party! I would never have done that'
"That first day driving into work with my son, I was going, 'Okay, this is so lovely!'" adds Theresa.
"Zac has always been a performer. At three years old, he'd walk into kindy and sit down on the little round table and then dramatically fall off to make the other kids laugh.
"But I was adamant he wouldn't be an actor. I just know how hard it is. I've had to fight to make a living all of my life and I wanted my boys to have something more secure.
"Being an actor can be so powerless," she continues. "You're told what to do, what to wear, what to say and then you might be told you're not good enough or you're too old. Acting is addictive though and I'll never give it up, but boy, it's a tough profession."
Zac starring alongside his mum in Head High
Growing up, Zac says whenever he was asked, "What are you going to do when you leave school?' he'd reply, "Something like what my mum and dad do." His father Steven O'Meagher has enjoyed a successful career as a television producer.
"But they never let me do acting classes," he tells. "Mum put me in dancing lessons though, which I sooo resisted, and then I started to get lead roles in school productions."
The week he performed in Sacred Heart College's rendition of Blood Brothers was the same week sporty Zac prepared to make his debut for the First XV rugby team.
Theresa cringes recalling having to awkwardly interrupt his first team training session to collect him for the show.
"At the dress rehearsal – where I was helping backstage – the drama teacher was like, 'Where's Zac?! Where's Zac?!' So I had to go find the first fifteen.
"It was so embarrassing," recalls Zac, picking up the story. "We'd just sat down as a team for the first time to see everyone who had made it and were deciding who was going to be captain for the year. I was so excited.
"Then Mum walked in and everyone turned their heads, as she goes, 'Sorry, coach, do you mind if I steal my boy to get him in costume for the dress rehearsal?'
"The shame, the shame!" laughs Theresa as the tight-knit pair bounce off of each other throughout the interview.
'Everyone asks me why I'm still living at home, and I tell them I love my mum's cooking and her company'
Like his mother, Zac is outgoing, warm and full of funny tales (some they apologise for being more appropriate for "Police Ten-7 than the Weekly!")
He now works for Kea Kids News, directing children to be television journalists.
"After college, I headed to film school to study scriptwriting and directing. If anything though, learning to be behind the camera made me realise how much I still loved being in front of it."
He and younger brother Xavier, 18, featured in the popular KFC and Surf Life Saving NZ ad, where Zac thanks a woman lifeguard with a bucket of chicken.
"That's when I let him get an agent," says Theresa, adding that actress friend Miranda Harcourt has also been giving Zac classes.
"I would never stop anyone following their dream and he's so good at it, I'm happy to support him. And if he wasn't any good, I would tell him."
Zac and younger brother Xavier starred together in an ad
"Xav is a great actor too, but he's too smart to be an actor," says Zac wryly. "He just got an A+ in his law exam, so he's going to be a star lawyer. And I think he can sometimes be put off by Mum's vigorous approach to auditions, where she puts him through the wringer.
"Yep, I'm a hard task-master," concedes Theresa. "I told them, 'If you're going to do the audition, you've got to do it bloody well.'"
She would know. Gracing our screens since the early '90s, the actress first found fame playing Carmen Roberts on Shortland Street, a well-loved character whose partner was Guy Warner.
This month, she stars in Auckland Theatre Company's production of Long Day's Journey Into Night by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning US playwright Eugene O'Neill. Regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century American playwriting, the drama takes place over one turbulent day in the lives of the Tyrone family, at their seaside Connecticut home.
In Shorty as Carmen, with Guy (Craig Parker) and daughter Tuesday
Theresa plays wife and mother-of-two boys Mary, who is battling her own demons. A recovering morphine addict, Mary is "restless and lonely" after returning from rehab and trying hard to stay clean.
"When I was offered the part, I was very worried about the emotional places I would have to go to," she admits. "But then it's like, 'Well, when else are you going to go there?' Better to do it in fantasyland than real life! And it's why I've always loved theatre because you get to work on scripts that are so deep, and where you have the time to mine the emotions
and relationships.
"Not to mention the parallels of Mary and my own life – being Irish Catholic, being formerly married to an Irish Catholic man and having two boys. So, I've got a lot of stuff there I can use. It's about utilising your own traumas and experiences, and turning them into artto help other people."
Although Long Day's Journey Into Night was written in 1939, Theresa says it's based in 1912, when 80 percent of morphine addicts were white, middle-class women.
"They were in pain or in hysteria, or maybe depressed, and morphine was an easy fix for the pain. The opiate cushions the receptor in your brain, so you don't feel anything any more. It's all okay until it wears off. Then it creates an addict because you want more of that numb feeling. It's still an epidemic, but it's more like fentanyl or OxyContin now. Whatever what was happening in 1912, is still happening today."
In Long Day's Journey Into Night with Stephen Lovatt, Simon Leary and Jarod Rawiri.
Currently rehearsing six days a week, Theresa has come straight from the theatre to the Weekly photo shoot on a blustery day at Auckland's Cheltenham Beach.
The actress slips into model mode for the camera, while Zac cheers her on and partner David Pugh comments, "Tre's always full of energy."
But she's describes herself as a homebody at heart, whose number-one priority has always been her boys.
"I'm not very ambitious," she muses. "I've certainly said no to acting jobs because of the kids. I never wanted to go overseas – I'd love to now, maybe it's a bit late? What I loved most was helping at school. I was the mother help from heaven and from hell, because I did too much."
Zac nods in agreement. "Mum created special days in the school calendar that were never there before. But now they're still there today. She did the gardens, recycling and even got a water tank put in. Once at a school Theatresports event, which she'd organised, they assumed she was the principal.
"I think all the teachers thought I couldn't leave my children," laughs Theresa, "but actually it was the other kids who I really loved! I wanted them to experience what my kids had."
"Yeah, she was a mother to thousands… Mother Theresa!" says Zac, who is about to move out of home for the first time, while Theresa jokingly mouths "Thank God".
"Everyone asks me why I'm still living at home, and I tell them I love my mum's cooking and her company. We have fun. Besides, who's going to help me with my auditions in a boy flat of plumbers?"
"Both kids have turned into the most wonderful adults," smiles Theresa. "I can ring Zac and he picks up my call at a party! I would never have done that. When your children are better people than you, it's like 'What did I do right?'"
Zac, can you share a time when your mum embarrassed you?
I've always had extremely hairy knees and when I was 15 – when my social image was incredibly important – Mum said, "I've had a brilliant idea, we'll bleach your knee hairs!" The problem was it turned them orange and also bleached my kneecaps white. I was mocked so badly by the boys at school. A year later, Mum was invited to speak at the school's Mother's Day event and I told her, "Whatever you do, don't tell the story about my knee hairs." But she did. I was livid! I love her though because Mum knows how to put on a show.
What's the best acting advice she's ever given?
Mum is honing in on me to keep it real because no one wants to see someone overacting. She always tells me there's got to be something going on behind the eyes.
Theresa, what's your signature dish to cook?
Chicken, pasta and pesto with a bit of avocado, and bacon if they're lucky.
Theresa stars in Long Day's Journey Into Night, which runs from July 5-30 at Q Theatre. For more info, go to atc.co.nz

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