She’s one of our most successful actresses, with a professional career that started when she was just 12 and roles in some of our best-loved TV shows, including Outrageous Fortune and its prequel, Westside.
But Antonia Prebble admits there are still times when she could do with a guiding hand when it comes to acting.
“I still feel like I’m learning,” admits Antonia (33), who returns to our screens this month as Rita West in the new series of Westside. “I don’t think you ever stop. I’m a big believer in studying as much as you can.”
Antonia takes acting classes whenever she is in the US looking for work opportunities – which has been for a couple of months a year for the past three years – and means it when she says it would be nice to have a mentor.
“I would have loved one when I was younger and I’m still on the hunt for one now!”
Back in 1997, when Antonia landed a part in the TV series Mirror, Mirror, she had appeared in amateur productions but had no professional experience.
“I’d never been on a film set before, nobody in my family acted and I didn’t know what I was doing. I went on instinct, but I had no knowledge of technique or craft to fall back on if something didn’t feel quite right. It was a steep learning curve.”
Her fellow cast members in Mirror, Mirror and later on The Tribe, in which she played the leading role of Trudy, helped where they could, but Antonia says it would have been useful to have had one person she could go to for advice.
That’s why she agreed several years ago to mentor a young, aspiring actor as part of Variety Club’s Gold Heart mentoring scheme. The programme pairs talented youngsters in the performing arts field with experienced professionals who can offer support for a year.
Antonia helped out Fynn, an accomplished dancer who was keen to improve his acting skills.
“I would hang out with him at his house, and talk about things like the auditioning process and what he could work on. He was a very smart, receptive young man. I think we both got a lot out of it.”
When the year was up, Antonia stayed in touch with Fynn, who is now 13.
“We’re not in contact as regularly as we were, but I will always be interested to know how he is getting on. He’s a great kid.”
Antonia is only too happy to help out whenever Variety Club asks – in fact, she is an ambassador for the charity, which supports Kiwi kids in many different ways.
She is currently promoting its winter appeal, which is raising money to provide basics to 500 children who are going without items such as warm bedding, clothing and closed-in shoes.
“Most of us take it for granted that when it’s cold, you put on a warm coat or you turn on the heater, but unfortunately there are a lot of families in New Zealand who can’t afford to do that,” she tells. “They’re constantly cold and end up getting sick. These people are just like us but for whatever reason, they are in a far less fortunate position.
“Variety does a great job buying things like blankets, pyjamas and jackets. They will also buy school uniforms – some families can only afford one so if it gets wet and they don’t have a drier, it is hard to get it dry. So they end up going to school in a wet uniform and getting sick as a result.
“It doesn’t cost much to make a difference to someone’s life – as little as $8 will buy three pairs of socks.”
Antonia also sponsors a child through Variety. For $45 a month – about $1.50 a day – she contributes towards clothing, shoes, a school uniform, healthcare and fees for school trips and other activities.
“It is all anonymous – all you know is their first name and they don’t know anything about you – but you know they are getting a great benefit out of it. I’m glad I can help out – it’s a no-brainer.”
She finds it hard to believe that nearly one in every three Kiwi children is growing up in deprivation, and that child poverty rates have basically doubled since 1982 which is, coincidentally, the year in which the new series of Westside is set.
“You would think that in the 21st century things would have improved, but no. It’s sad.”
Antonia has had a great time filming the third series of Westside and is looking forward to hearing what people think.
“I haven’t seen any of the episodes yet but I think this season was the best yet. I loved doing it.”