It’s been two years since Amanda Billing hung up her surgical scrubs and left Shortland Street, and now she returns to our screens as the host of Sensing Murder, a phenomenally popular show where psychics try to solve cold cases.
At its peak, when the last new series screened back in 2010, Sensing Murder was reaching more than a million viewers. In television numbers, that’s big. In New Zealand television numbers, that’s huge. One of the only other TV shows to pull those kind of ratings is, well, Shortland Street.
Billing doesn’t do things by halves.
The 40-year-old has stayed present on the small screen with roles on shows like Māori TV’s Find Me a Māori Bride and Prime’s Brokenwood Mysteries, but now she’s back in a big way, taking on the mantle of one of TV2’s other most popular shows. And who foresaw that coming? Not her, she laughs.
“People would ask ‘what are you doing next?’ and when I would say, 'Sensing Murder', it would almost feel like it wasn’t real,” she says. “Like I was going, ‘….Really? How did that happen? How did I get here?’ This is so weird! Even weirder than being on New Zealand’s favourite soap opera!”
Whether or not you are a true believer – and even Billing says she wouldn’t describe herself in that sense – the show is captivating. A team of Australasian psychic detectives – try and say that without adding quotation marks – attempt to solve cold cases using items left behind by the deceased. Yes, it sounds ridiculous – but based on the numbers, you’ve probably watched the show and even in spite of yourself, maybe found you loved it.
As host, part of Billing’s job involves recording the voice-overs for some of the show’s more dramatic scenes and she says more than once she’s been so enthralled, she’s forgotten to come in and start speaking at the right time.
“It’s not really a describable, definable thing,” she says of the show’s appeal. “It’s like magic. I think a long time ago, everyone used to believe in magic and spirits and the other side. Science means those sort of beliefs can now seem primitive or backwards, as if ‘because you can’t prove it, it can’t be true.’”
Billing finishes this statement with an eye roll at me, as if to say ‘come on now’.
Billing, who replaces Rebecca Gibney as Sensing Murder host – “No pressure!” she faux hyperventilates – is both matter-of-fact and then enthusiastic about her new role.
It’s hard to say exactly where on the woo-woo scale Billing sits; there are some crystals around the house and she enjoys the mythology behind what they can mean, but for her it comes down to curiosity more than the occult.
“I’m attracted to the idea that what happens to us in our lives can’t be rationalised,” she says. “I like mystery. I think that probably helps with being a freelancer – that I don’t mind living in questions, and not knowing the answers.”