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Westside stars dish on their off-screen bond

Sophie Hambleton, Antonia Prebble, Esther Stephens tell us about the friendship they've forged.
Antonia Prebble, Esther Stephens, Sophie Hambleton

Don’t be fooled by their angelic smiles and demure dispositions because the women of Westside are hiding a dark secret – they’re all witches!

While they mightn’t have pointy black hats or bubbling cauldrons, Sophie Hambleton, who counts her co-stars Antonia Prebble and Esther Stephens among her coven, tells Woman’s Day you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her besties.

“I don’t believe there are enough women leading the industry, so I’m building my coven of fierce and talented female friends to take over. I’m sorry, middle-aged white man, but your time is up,” smiles the bubbly blonde who plays Carol, the naive but well-meaning wife of a dodgy bank robber, on Three’s Outrageous Fortune spin-off.

“I think we are in a lucky position in New Zealand because we are small enough that we can affect some change – it’s scary what the coven is capable of after a bottle of wine.”

Sophie and Antonia in action on the set of Westside.

While the determined theatre and TV star has been training in production roles in her downtime, Sophie – whose famous father Peter played the dwarf Gloin in The Hobbit trilogy – says her first love will always be performing. But after more than a decade in the industry, the harsh realities of a career in acting are beginning to dawn on her.

“It does start to get exhausting. I’m 32, I don’t really own anything and I have just paid my parents back all the money they’ve lent me over the years,” she says. “No-one is holding a gun to my head – acting has its ups and downs – but the best thing about it is the people you encounter. I know it sounds cheesy, but Westside has been absolutely life-changing.”

Indeed, not only has the series, which is now in its third season, put Sophie on the map, but she’s been lucky enough to gain two incredible close pals.

The trio are inseparable!

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“Sophie and I met on the first read-through and we clicked instantly – I only wish our acting paths had crossed sooner,” says Esther, who recently wrapped playing Sophie’s stepmum in Uncle Vanya, a play they performed in Christchurch.

“It would’ve been a long, cold winter in Christchurch without her. I had all these really great intentions to get fit and healthy while I was down there, but Sophie always managed to twist my arm to stay home and drink red wine instead.

“It’s been so great reconnecting with Antonia too. About five years before we were cast on Westside, Toni and I performed in a play together, but travelling and life got in the way, and we sort of lost touch.”

Stepping back into her character Ngaire Munroe’s vintage shoes has been a dream for the 29-year-old, who says her “spiritual home is in the ’70s”.

Esther Stephens plays the fiery Ngaire Munroe.

The daughter of a seamstress and a fashion tutor, the 29-year-old has always had a love of retro clothing – she even found her 1960s butter-silk wedding gown in a Christchurch op-shop.

“With a few alterations from Mum, it really was my dream dress – the first and only one I ever tried on,” says the bride, who tied the knot with musician Todd Beeby last summer.

Having spent much of 2015 separated from her Melbourne-based man while she filmed the second season of Westside, the couple are enjoying newlywed life together in NZ.

But just as the leading ladies were looking forward to reinstating Westside viewing parties, lunch dates and early-morning walks, Antonia – who plays Rita West – is jetting to Australia to star in a new drama series, Sisters.

“I’m so thrilled it was picked up,” says the 33-year-old, who has just returned from a six-week trip around Cuba and South America.

“I haven’t been on a holiday that hasn’t been work-related for a very long time. I had a neat gap between commitments, which is very rare when you freelance, so I thought I will take this opportunity – life’s too short not to.”

The star says trekking Machu Picchu and the Galapágos Islands was exactly what the doctor ordered.

“I feel so relaxed and refreshed, which is ideal before heading off to Melbourne.

“Sophie often jokes that I’m on the periphery of her coven because I’m always moving away, but I’m sure New Zealand will lure me back – this will always be home.”

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