Acting “snooty” is something successful Kiwi actress Sarah Peirse does very well. So the opportunity to portray an arrogant winemaker from Central Otago for the new TVNZ series under the vines was too good a chance to refuse.
For starters, she started working in her home country rather than overseas early last year in one of New Zealand’s most beautiful parts, and she’s worked with a plethora of Kiwi actors and teams. It was very fun.
“It’s a lovely sight,” she said. “It’s funny, silly and also very cute. There’s a levity to it that was very appealing.”
Sarah, 63, says she has played haughty characters a lot in theater, but not so much on screen.
“In my acting work, I feel like I have a metronome that goes from pretentious to undermined, vulnerable and potentially dead. That’s the kind of range I seem to occupy,” she laughs.
Her character Marissa in under the vines is one that many people will recognize in small town life in New Zealand. “She exists because she’s one of a kind and there aren’t a lot of people who challenge her,” Sarah says. “She wouldn’t function as well in a big city – she would be overwhelmed by it all.”
Sarah says eventually a small army of people rises to challenge Marissa on the show and it makes for good comedy.
To play Marissa, Sarah says she used a mix of different accents and mannerisms.
“I’ve definitely played characters like Marissa on stage and when it came to finding her, it was about absorbing a lot of available material and then selecting from a soup of possibilities,” she says. “When I play her, it’s kind of like wearing perfume – she sort of lingers.”
When it comes to deciding which roles Sarah will or will not take on, she says it all comes down to the writing and the creative team around the project.
“If I’m reading it and I close my laptop and think, ‘No, I’m not going to continue with this’, then that’s fine, but if I’m absolutely committed to writing and it triggers something in me, then I am the. for this role.”
Sarah liked what she saw while reading the scripts for under the vines, created by Australian director and producer Erin White, and as for the cast and crew, they were all Kiwis except for a British actor, Charles Edwards.
“Charles and I had worked together years ago when I lived in London, but we didn’t recognize each other until we were doing a reading on Zoom. We were both sitting there thinking, ‘I know this person, they look familiar’, and then at the end of the Zoom, we realized we had done a Sherlock Holmes play together in the UK.”
Watching under the vines is a rewarding experience for any Kiwi viewer as it features an array of all our favorite actors over the years, including Rebecca Gibney in the lead role.
Although they had both lived in Australia for many years, Sarah says they had never worked together before and loved the opportunity to do so. “It was a lot of fun to do. We had a few Covid scares, but overall it was a pretty relaxed shoot.”
Sarah says some of the Kiwi actors were playing people from other countries, but they had great range and did their accents really well.
Sarah has lived in the UK and Australia during her successful career, but has been back in New Zealand since 2002, which she says many people don’t know.
She realized that wherever she lived, she was always working somewhere else.
“So ultimately I live in Auckland because my siblings are here, two of my children are here and my two granddaughters are here. Actually, my two granddaughters are a big draw. They’re a picket tent that makes me want to stay here.
“They’re very entertaining and I love them in the usual way grandparents react to having grandkids. You fall completely in love with them and it’s wonderful.”
Sarah has just returned from filming a new television series, Love me, a romantic drama starring Hugo Weaving, in Melbourne. She was supposed to stay there for two months, but ended up staying there for four months as she tried to return home.
She just got out of the MIQ. “Doing the MIQ part was good – the adventurous part was trying to get a lottery spot to get back into the country.”
While in Australia, Sarah was reading books to her eldest granddaughter via Zoom.
“She was snuggling up and I was reading to her while her parents were busy bathing her younger sister and getting her ready for bed. The fact that I can do this is so wonderful, to be able to maintain a relationship with her while I’m away to work.”
Sarah likes to work, although she could be excused for wanting to slow down a bit after such a great career.
“I don’t work hard,” she says. “I have a nice, good amount of work, which keeps me engaged and interested, and as long as I can remember lines, I’ll be fine! The big disaster for actors is memory loss, but I like work and the challenge, but I am careful about what I do and I am lucky to be able to do it.”
Sarah points out that throughout her career there has been a degree of timing and luck in many aspects. When her three children were small, she made the decision to give up acting, which kept her away at night.
“It became more logistically feasible because it didn’t require the same level of internal focus that an actor’s performance might require, which is exclusive and a not necessarily great circumstance to run alongside. of a mother.”
Sarah returned to acting in 2007 at the Melbourne Theater Company and has since worked in theatre, film and television.
She talks about her role in the New Zealand film Rain, for which she won Best Actress at the Nokia New Zealand Film Awards in 2001, helped launch her screen career as it was very well received in Australia and had a big impact.
In under the vines, Sarah’s character, Marissa, is a gorgeous, glamorous woman with a sheen of gray straight hair, cut into a long bob. And it’s that hair that Sarah credits for getting her a lot of work done.
“Going gray early oddly helped my career. I think it may have opened up the age bracket for me more.”
Her decision to go gray came when she developed a gray streak and spent a lot of time at her hairdresser dyeing the other parts to blend in. fine as it was, so I said ok – it was much cheaper!
“After that, when I signed up for a role, the production team started saying they liked the gray and left it, then they started telling me not to touch the gray in my hair before until I arrive,” recalls Sarah. “It was in the contract – I couldn’t dye my hair! There was no grand plan to go gray, it just happened.”
As a woman with curly hair, Sarah points out that the perfectly straight bob she wears as Marissa is nothing like her usual appearance, especially in the humid Auckland summers.
“It’s really way too much maintenance for me.”
Sarah has been acting since the late 70s and has won awards for her work throughout her career, but is best remembered for her role in celestial creatures, based on a notorious 1954 Christchurch murder. Directed by Sir Peter Jackson, Sarah won Best Supporting Actress at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards in 1995. Sarah portrayed Honora Parker, who is murdered by his daughter Pauline (played by Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslet).
It was a feature film debut for Kate and Melanie, and Sarah has stayed in touch with both actors over the past 26 years, especially Kate.
“Haven’t they both done wonders? she said, adding proudly, “I thought Mare of Easttown was a great work by Kate.”
In times of Covid the need for actors to move from place to place has become compromised, but Sarah says it is now possible for actors like herself and others like Sam Neill to base themselves in New Zealand and continue to perform overseas.
“When I first went to England in the late 80s as a young actor, the idea was for you to get rid of your New Zealand accent and any sense of history. You removed everything that to become English, find work and do If you disappeared in New Zealand, it was a bad decision because you had left the planet Real, which was in the northern hemisphere.
“But that all started to change in the ’90s when it didn’t matter where you were, and actors started moving in all sorts of directions for work.”
Sarah has other projects lined up in Australia, but one thing is certain: these grandchildren mean she won’t be away from home for long.