TV

Actress Morgana O’Reilly’s star performer

The young star of After The Party has powerhouse parents
Robert Trathen

Morgana O’Reilly’s moving one-woman play Stories About My Body ends with a riveting home video of her son Ziggy’s birth. The wee lad draws his first breath on camera and there’s rarely a dry eye in the house.

So it should come as no surprise that, five years after that emotional delivery, the cute-as-a-button boy is continuing with a showbiz career – this time, playing Robyn Malcolm‘s grandson Walt in the new TVNZ drama After The Party, a series that his dad, Emmy Award winner Peter Salmon, also happens to be producing and directing.

“For a while, I did worry I was being one of those stage dads who casts his own kids,” confesses Peter. “But when we were creating the show and talking about characters, whenever Ziggy stopped by to say hi, it was clear he was perfect for it.”

Ziggy cuddles up to his director, er, dad!

However, the role wasn’t handed to Ziggy on a plate and the young star still had to do a camera test, but it was definitely an advantage that he had spent lots of time on set with his folks, and that he’d feel safe with his dad behind the camera and his mum as his acting coach.

“Ziggy is this really kooky clown,” says proud mum Morgana, who’s famous for her roles on Mean Mums and Neighbours. “He loves to make people laugh and he’s found his place in the family by being this wonky, funny little guy.

“He’s also extremely potty-mouthed and we have to try really hard not to laugh when he says inappropriate things. When anyone looks at Ziggy, he just starts to perform – I don’t know where he gets it from!”

While Ziggy brings the cute factor, After The Party is incredibly gritty, with complex characters forced to navigate increasingly murky waters regarding an alleged sex crime.

Morgana admits, “We told Zig we were making a wholesome family drama because we didn’t want to shatter his beautiful, shining innocence, but we also warned him before we started filming that the actors might sometimes pretend to be angry or they might yell.

“We asked Ziggy if he thought he might be scared, but he said he wouldn’t be because he knew we’d tell him what was really happening.”

Ziggy plays Walt in After The Party, alongside Robyn as Penny.

The clued-up kid was also protected from any potential unpleasantness by his father’s clever directing techniques. Any time there was conflict on set, Ziggy wasn’t present, which is why the couple felt comfortable flying in the face of the showbiz maxim about not working with animals and children.

“Having a child on set is simply about managing and conserving their energy, and because I’d made three seasons of Mean Mums, I had plenty of experience working with kids,” says Morgana.

They also had a rule that Morgana was the only person to give Ziggy direction, so the youngster wouldn’t be confused by lots of people telling him what to do. “We also found it worked best when I whispered directions to him, like he had a secret mission that only we knew about.”

With Mean Mums co-stars Aroha Rawson (left) and Anna Jullienne.

When filming started and Ziggy was still learning to feel comfortable with his co-stars, Morgana suggested Robyn’s earrings might actually be pirate treasure.

“So when he ran down the hallway for a cuddle and had to jump into Robyn’s arms, to have him focus on Robbie’s earrings helped create the illusion of intimacy without us making a four-year-old cuddle someone unfamiliar for no reason. That worked a treat.”

Ziggy quickly became close to his screen family, and he particularly enjoyed being fawned over by the cast and crew. He also came to realise he could occasionally get away with behaviour that would not be acceptable in real life.

Fab four: Morgana and Peter with their “kooky clown” and sister Luna.

“In one of his first scenes with Peter Mullan [Ozark, Top Of The Lake], we had to do several takes. As Ziggy started to get fatigued, he got sillier and sillier, then this wickedness took over and he started calling Peter ‘Bum Face’. But because Ziggy loves pandering to a crowd, that sort of silliness helped build relationships, so we let him get away with it.”

If nothing else, Ziggy’s role in After The Party will be an everlasting happy memory for this talented family, with big sister Luna on board offering moral support.

Says Morgana, “Each age is special, but four is so ethereal, so beautiful and fleeting, which means we were lucky to have captured him at that age.”

After The Party screens 8.30pm Sundays on TVNZ 1.

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