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Family

At home with Wellington Paranormal's Karen O'Leary and her wild Wellington family

The TV cop's a riot at home.

By Julie Jacobson
She can't bend spoons, but Wellington Paranormal star Karen O'Leary can do the death drop and she did once mistake the lights on top of the transmitter on Mount Victoria for an alien invasion.
Blame it on the wind. When Wellington gets a blow on, anything crazy can happen. And today is one of those days, except unlike the rest of us who get a bit cranky after what seems like weeks on end of it, Karen reckons she's in her element.
"The wind makes people creative, it keeps them fresh," she asserts.
It's not clear if she's taking the proverbial as it's hard to tell where Officer O'Leary from black comedy Paranormal stops and Karen O'Leary starts. In person, the Wellington comedienne is eerily similar to her alter ego, the eponymously named cop in the popular Kiwi mockumentary.
There's that dead-pan delivery, the double entendre, the easy back and forth.
Shedding light on the case! Karen with co-stars (from left) Maaka Pohatu and Mike Minogue.
"Kez, how's my face looking?" she asks partner Kerryn Pollock, 41, who's on make-up duty, or as Karen puts it, "face watching, so I don't look like I've got too much make-up on".
The pair met through Karen's day job – she is head teacher at Adelaide Early Childhood Centre, and Kerryn's now 12-year-old son Amos used to be one of her charges. They have been a couple for five-ish years – there's some discussion about the exact time – and are engaged.
Karen, also 41, proposed following the premiere of The Breaker Upperers in May 2018. It was, from all accounts, a true red-carpet affair.
"It seems entirely apt and appropriate, eh?" quips Karen. "At a movie about breaking up! I had been joking about marrying her for some time because I knew that, in the past, she thought maybe marriage wasn't such a great idea, but then I just, yeah …"
Went for it, presumably? She blushes and is for a moment lost for words, mortified at the emotional turn the conversation has taken. Officer O'Leary kicks in again. "Waffling. That's what I'm best at!"
Star Trackies! Karen's butt-kicking crew (from left) Kerryn, Amos and Melvyn.
Karen is a Wellingtonian through and through, attending Wellington High and Victoria University. Kerryn, an advisor and researcher at Heritage New Zealand, grew up on a farm in Tauwhare, near Cambridge.
Home is a sunny, airy converted workshop in the once working-class but now fashionable suburb of Berhampore. Kerryn's lived there since 2008. She jokes Karen "just waltzed in one day".
"Well, not just moved in one day," retorts Karen.
"There was more to it than that. I did a lot of legwork!" She laughs.
They share the house with Amos, Karen's eight-year-old son Melvyn, Michael the cat and Daisy the dog, a "pedigree mongrel" from the SPCA.
The talented actress is also strumming up support for underpaid early childhood teachers.
Outside, washing hangs on a line above a riotous garden. Inside, artwork fills the walls. The kitchen-dining-living area is family central, and Karen is chief cook.
"Yeah, she's a good ... what do you call yourself? Chef, she's a good chef," tells Kerryn. "In fact, that could be an alternative career."
But professional "cheffery" as Karen labels it, isn't on the cards. She takes her work at Adelaide – where she's been for 19 years – extremely seriously and is currently lending her weight to the early childhood sector's campaign for pay parity with kindergarten teachers.
She's also managed to lure her sisters Clare, 43, and Jo, 38, into the fold, with both training to become ECE teachers under her tutelage.
Karen explains, "A lot of people don't fully understand the absolute value of early childhood education, and not making the necessary investment in it to ensure positive outcomes for our children. That's criminal.
"Working out who you are and relating to a diverse range of people is the trickiest thing to learn and if you don't have the right people helping you do that, then you're starting off on the back foot, really."
Karen's entrée into acting is well traversed. Prompted by a parent of one of her pupils to audition for a part in Paranormal's prequel What We Do in the Shadows, legend has it she turned up drunk.
She feigns horror. "The story's getting out of hand. I certainly wasn't feeling 100% on the Saturday morning that I went as a result of potentially having too much fun on the Friday. But no, I certainly wasn't drunk, just feeling a little bit under the weather."
Kerryn pops up, "I'm very proud of Karen. I've always known she's such a star and it's really great that other people are getting to know that through her work. I'm not just saying that – I truly believe it."
"Oh shame," wisecracks Karen, adding, "That said, I couldn't be doing any of this if it wasn't for Kerryn.
"That support – just who she is and through our relationship how good and great it is – means I feel I'm in just the right place to be doing all these new creative things, while still having time to get home and make the dinner every night, of course!"

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