Give any of the Harcourt women – matriarch Dame Kate, daughter Miranda and granddaughter Thomasin – an inch and they’ll grab it with both hands.
Arranging themselves on the sofa for the Weekly’s photo shoot, Miranda surreptitiously pokes her mum. “Idiot,” hoots Kate as they fall about laughing.
They all share a house – Kate (90) has a self-contained flat in a downstairs area of their light and airy Houghton Bay home – but having a spare couple
of hours to spend together is a rare pleasure these days.
Sixteen-year-old Thomasin, or Thom to her mum and grandma, has just been Skyping her voice coach in Vanuatu to practise a Southern American drawl for an audition she’s shooting in the afternoon.
Miranda, just back from Israel, where she was directing the background action for Mary Magdalene, a film starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix, is “going to Sydney in a minute”, then to Canada and London with husband Stuart McKenzie (53) to promote their latest movie project, The Changeover.
Kate is off to lunch with longtime friend and acting buddy Helen Mulder, then she’s on grandma duty for her youngest granddaughter, 10-year-old Davida.
“It’s very difficult to get sick of each other when you’re all away so much,” laughs Miranda, reeling off the various locations she’s been in the past year, including a two-month stint in India as acting coach for Lion, working alongside Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, and five months in Italy, again for Mary Magdalene.
Last spring, she and Stuart were in Christchurch for more than two months shooting The Changeover, an adaptation of Margaret Mahy’s 1984 coming-of-age fantasy.
The cast includes Kiwi newbie Erana James and veteran British actor Timothy Spall, along with Lucy Lawless, Melanie Lynskey and Nicholas Galitzine, or “the hot one”, as Miranda puts it.
Kate and Thomasin also appear in it, briefly – Kate as a witch and Thomasin as a school friend of lead character Laura. Filming in the garden city was poignant for the Harcourt-McKenzies.
Stuart was born in Christchurch, and it was where he and Miranda (now 56) first met. Kate is also a Cantabrian, brought up on a sheep station in Amberley.
She recalls meeting Margaret Mahy once – “years ago” – when she stayed in her flat at the former Christchurch Teachers’ Training College.
Our photographer is calling through from the lounge to ask if he can move one of the many artworks that adorn the walls, and floor, of the house.
Stuart is the art aficionado. Kate looks up at a large installation hanging in the sunroom. “That thing there, I call it the abscess. I think it’s disgusting,” she snorts before remembering, “Actually, I think I’m the part-owner of it…”
As head of what must surely be one of New Zealand’s best loved and longest-lasting acting dynasties, Kate has always taken great delight in the successes
of her children – Miranda and journalist broadcaster son Gordon – and grandchildren.
But there were never any expectations they would follow in her footsteps. “They trod their own route,” she says with a smile. “They are all their own people.”
Miranda adds, “Acting is kind of like doing a paper round in our family. It’s just really easy when someone says, ‘Oh, we need a kid,’ we had them. And that’s what it was like for me growing up too. Someone would need a kid for something and Kate and Peter [her father] would go, ‘Okay, use this one.’”
Like Kate, Miranda is hugely proud of her own children’s successes. “Thom and I are pretty different people but I think we share a strong social conscience. We are both interested in making films, TV and theatre that will make a difference in the world.
“Thom’s first role was as a teenage Louise Nicholas in the film Consent, which was a very difficult role but made a difference to a lot of people, so Thom was keen to play it. And I have done a lot of work in prisons for the same reason.
“Davida’s only 10 but she has a better CV than me – she’s been directed by Jane Campion and Luc Besson, who directed Valerian, and Vincent Ward.”
Meanwhile, son Peter, who at 18 recently moved out of home into Victoria University student digs and is studying politics, Mandarin and law, financed his first two years at prestigious Scot’s College through money he made doing an ad for Sealord.
The sea and fish are prominent themes in this household. You can’t escape the panoramic views of Cook Strait and shared meals will often include seafood, more specifically a chunk of salmon.
Says Miranda, when asked what she has learned from Kate, “Joy in performance and in the little things, I think, the ability to take pleasure in the moment. An appreciation of the health benefits of smoked salmon and red wine!”