Career

Tandi Wright's new political role and the unexpected link to Jacinda Ardern

Tandi's latest project has been a real family affair.

By Wendyl Nissen
Tandi Wright

When you visit the Auckland address of Tandi Wright, there are two things you notice.

One is the colourful and comfortable home that makes you feel immediately welcome. The other is a massive wood pile in the garage that appears to stock enough fuel to keep an entire suburb warm.

The wood stack is husband Michael Beran's thing, according to Tandi, 48, who says the whole family was heavily influenced by some Norwegian neighbours who taught them handy tips, such as leaving enough room for a mouse between your blocks of wood to ensure it dries well.

This warm and relaxed home in Grey Lynn is where Tandi and writer Michael, 54, have raised their 10-year-old daughter Olive.

It's also where they've recently worked on a pilot for a political comedy called Third Term, in which the main character is a prime minister who is pregnant.

"Michael had this idea three years ago, well before Jacinda was even leader of the Labour Party, and at the time I thought that would never happen. So I said, 'Quick, we need to get this made before someone else thinks of the idea.'"

Little did the couple know they would shoot their pilot at the same time that our own Jacinda Ardern – New Zealand's first prime minister to give birth in office – would start her maternity leave with baby Neve.

Tandi and husband Michael had a blast filming together.
Tandi and husband Michael had a blast filming together.

Michael admits that Third Term's PM is quite different from our real one.

For a start, the show's politician, played by Tandi, has no idea who the father of her baby is. It could be one of four men – a Samoan gynaecologist, a Korean singer-songwriter, the Maori Leader of the Opposition or her old journalist boyfriend.

"Professionally, our prime minister is really good at her job, but privately, her life is chaos," explains Michael. "She's quite a deeply flawed character."

Tandi produced the pilot and says that because there was little money, they couldn't pay any actors. So she pulled in a lot of favours from actor friends like Elizabeth Hawthorne, Kirk Torrance, Jarod Rawiri, Oscar Kightley, Greg Johnson and even her mum, Dinah Priestley.

Many people will remember Dinah from her roles in shows like Close to Home, but this was the first time Tandi had acted with her mother.

The couple also involved daughter Olive when Michael was at the script-writing phase. "We gave her the draft to read and she came back with some notes," says Tandi.

"And she came up with a great physical comedy gag, which runs through the whole pilot," adds Michael. "She loves physical comedy and is very clever at it."

When it came to filming, the family home became the prime minister's electoral office, Tandi's stepdad Tony Burton made soup and Christmas cake to feed the crew, and
Olive would come home from school to help out in the costume department.

Working together on the pilot was hard work, say the couple, but they enjoyed having a chance to create something they both feel very proud of.

The pair even developed a code so that when they looked at each other's work and gave their thoughts, they weren't being too rude. CDB meant "could do better", CDM meant "could do more" and CDL meant "could do less".

"Once the other actors knew the code, they were into it too," Tandi recalls.

"Tandi always said she wanted me to write something for her," says Michael. "So I gave her all the good lines and made her character flawed but also multi-faceted, and I think when she realised I had written her into every scene, she was a bit shocked."

Tandi with her *800 Words* onscreen family
Tandi with her 800 Words onscreen family

Tandi is currently on our screens in the TVNZ 1 drama 800 Words, as a ghost who spends a lot of time talking to the main character George, played by Erik Thomson.

She also plays a psychiatric patient who has delusions she's a rodent in an episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries on Prime.

"My character has species dysmorphia, which means in times of stress, she believes she is a mouse, so she is quite mentally ill," tells Tandi. "I tried to find the place where that fit OK with the tone of the show."

She also had a big role in critically acclaimed TVNZ OnDemand series Alibi, a six-part crime drama centred around the murder of a 17-year-old.

And Tandi appears as a rather stern mother in the movie Daffodils, due out next year, which is a musical love story featuring classic Kiwi hits.

But for the moment, the family-produced pilot for Third Term is awaiting the green light for production funding to film six episodes.

"Funding for TV series isn't what it used to be, so we're expecting it to be pretty low budget and that's OK," admits Michael.

"As long as we can pay our actors and crew, that willbe the main aim, although I could probably pay them all in firewood – I have enough!"

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