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Career

How Ginette McDonald's daughter Kate McGill followed in her acting footsteps

Both actresses leapt at the chance to star alongside one another.

For the majority of us, we know her best as that girl from the suburbs with one heck of a Kiwi twang, who had plenty to say about her boyfriend 'Gaaary'. Yes, Ginette McDonald's character Lyn of Tawa was the stuff of Kiwi comedic legend.
But to Kate McGill, she was simply "Mum" – in fact, growing up, Kate didn't realise her mum was an actress or even famous for that matter.
"The house was always filled with writers, poets, actors and musicians," says Kate (32) of the Wellington home she grew up in. She simply thought that it was how everyone's home was.
When Kate was just two years old, she got her first taste of acting, appearing in the '80s television series Shark in the Park.
"The kid playing a toddler in the series didn't turn up, so Mum suggested I do it and I ended up being on it for three seasons," she tells.
So it really should not have come as a surprise when Kate announced she was applying for drama school – but it did to Ginette, who did her best to dissuade her.
"She said, 'Wouldn't you rather be a lawyer or a doctor?' Mum was very clear about what a hard career acting is and I'm thankful she was so honest about it."
But Kate persevered and has notched up roles in The Brokenwood Mysteries, TVNZ's Girl vs Boy, as well as countless theatre productions around New Zealand.
Though it's her latest role treading the boards that has provided a truly special moment for the young actress – for the first time, she and her mother are performing together.
"I can't believe we've gone so long without sharing the same stage," delights Ginette.
"Maybe people couldn't handle so much fabulousness in the same place at the same time!" Kate laughs.
Kate's left behind her partner, actor Rutene Spooner, in Auckland and moved to the capital for two months to star with her mum in Tom Scott's play Joan, which charts the humble, sometimes troubled life of Tom's late mother, who raised six children in Southern Ireland.
The pair actually play the role of Joan at different times in her life – Ginette "the older and disappointed woman" while Kate plays Joan during her "younger, more fun" days.
The script even demands that both of them are on stage at the same time.
"Mum is a fabulous actor and has been doing this since she was 14, so it's fantastic to be able to watch her in action," says Kate. "Her timing is brilliant and it's been so much fun working with her."
Ginette, who separated from Kate's father, writer David McGill, when her only child was 12, admits it has been "slightly odd" to come into work and see Kate.
"But this is such a powerful piece of theatre and at the end of the day, we're professionals, so at rehearsals Kate isn't my daughter, she's a fellow actor," says Ginette, who "fell" into the industry as a schoolgirl when she pitched a play to theatre director Richard Campion, father of film director Jane Campion.
"At one stage, they needed someone to play an ordinary Kiwi woman from the suburbs," recalls Ginette of her beloved Lyn of Tawa character. She says she is still asked to pull out her impressions of Lyn and still has very fond memories of her.
"I loved doing her voice and how funny she was. Lyn really was a joy to play."
Lyn is worlds away from her latest role of Joan, particularly as she's a real person, who Ginette actually knew very well, thanks to her close relationship with cartoonist-writer Tom.
She and Kate both knew Joan when she lived in a flat below Tom's Wellington house.
Ginette says, "Joan was this larger-than-life character who'd had a really hard life but she was funny and outgoing, and took no prisoners. She was the kind of person who would tell you if you'd put on weight!"
Ginette often told Tom that if he ever wrote a play about his mother, she'd love to star in it. "He said, 'Of course you will.'"
A few decades later, when Tom called to say that he'd finished the play and suggested Kate play the younger Joan, the pair jumped at it.
"It takes a lot for me to cry but sitting in that first read-through, I was just bawling," remembers Kate. "I knew it was the perfect story for us to tell."
But is there a temptation to direct or critique each other's performances?
"In the past, Mum has said things like, 'You could try this' or, 'Have you thought about doing it like that?' But overall, we tend not to direct each other. We both respect each other too much to do that," says Kate.
In fact, the only prickly situation the pair have come up against is when Ginette tells the crew embarrassing stories about her daughter. Like the time a teenaged Kate forged her mother's signature so that she could change high schools.
"I was a bit of a rat-bag growing up, but I still roll my eyes when Mum tells those stories about me!"

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