As Rose McIver’s career continues to blossom across the Pacific, MiNDFOOD catches up with the Kiwi actor on the back of her latest movie, Daffodils. This heart-wrenching journey of song and soul-searching is a beautiful examination of the bittersweet nuan
I’m lucky enough to catch the in- demand Rose McIver before she jets off from her Los Angeles home back to Vancouver, where she is about to film the series finale of iZombie – a sci-fi zombie drama in which McIver has played the lead character, Olivia ‘Liv’ Moore, since the show’s premiere in 2015.
“I’ve been doing this for the past five years, and now everything is coming to a close. It’s been an epic chapter for me,” she explains, adding that fans can expect a darker, political season, but with a hint of the comedy the show is well-known for. “I’m really proud of it. On a technical level it has been incredible for me. Working with the people that I’ve worked with and navigating a long-running TV show with many character opportunities hopefully stands me in good stead for a future of diverse roles.” The final season of the CW production is expected to air in May.
Given the level of McIver’s stardom in the US – her career includes such television credits as Once Upon a Time and the Golden Globe-nominated Masters of Sex – it’s no wonder she was at the top of the list to star in a leading role in New Zealand’s first big-budget musical movie drama, Daffodils.
A bittersweet love story told with re-imaginings of Kiwi songs originally made famous by artists including Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn and Crowded House, the film sees McIver playing Rose – a frustrated teenager living in a conservative family in the 1960s. She meets her future husband Eric (George Mason) in a field of daffodils in Hamilton Gardens, and maintains a complicated relationship with him until their separation in the 1980s.
Based on a true story, McIver says she was really excited to get involved with “something that is anchored and grounded” – quite different to her very technical sci-fi role in iZombie.
“It’s about something that I think New Zealand really needs to talk about – communication and vulnerability and pretending that everything is okay all the time. While I’m incredibly proud to be from New Zealand, and I love our home, I think that sometimes our no-worries, laidback attitude can come at the cost of real intimacy and honesty. So this film celebrates the characters of Rose and Eric, and is a love letter to them, but also a cautionary tale about how much we can preserve if we do peel back those layers and not be so scared to show our wounds and scars.”
The film is based on the awardwinning musical theatre performance of the same name, which was created by Rochelle Bright and Stephanie Brown from Bullet Heart Club. McIver was able to spend time with Mary, the woman upon whom Rose is based, and says she admires her generous, strong-natured personality. However, McIver also explains that what is very evident in the character of Rose is her inability to effectively communicate her feelings to her husband (and vice versa) – which ultimately leads to their separation.
McIver says that she is quite different to the character Rose, having herself coined the term nosyRosy as a child. “I’m way too nosy and want to know everything all the time. I think I am pretty different to Rose’s character, in that I would never let things lie for that long,” she says. “If there is something that I hope people will take away from the film, it’s that communication does take two people, and that Kiwi women and men can really help to change the cultural norm in New Zealand – pretending that everything is okay all the time.”
“The film makes the audience really think about the way that they communicate with the people they love. Somebody recently said to me that ‘expression’ is the opposite of ‘depression’ and it really stood out to me: the idea that without an outlet of energy and emotions, it does limit your ability to feel, and it numbs you a little bit. So I hope that if people are slightly more mindful of that aspect of their lives after seeing this film, at the same time as being entertained, we will have done something pretty special,” McIver says.
Having never worked on a musical drama before, McIver was excited by the challenge. “The real preparation for me was the singing,” she says. “I have sung quite a bit over the years, played a bit of guitar – my brother is a classical guitarist – but I had never recorded, so it was really a matter of getting comfortable working in the studio and thinking about how we are trying to integrate the songs with very naturalistic scenes, and how that affects your voice,” she says.
That said, the musical element of the movie was a big drawcard for her.
“I’m such a huge fan of literally every single song in this film – I grew up listening to them on CDs and cassettes. So there was a huge responsibility to do the best I can do, to try to re-imagine some of the work of some of my favourite musicians. I didn’t have to try to mimic anybody else’s performance and we were able to think of ways to make the songs my own, because I don’t have Bic’s voice, I don’t have Don [McGlashan]’s voice, but I could just find a new way to inhabit them and make those songs my own,” she says.
New Zealand singer- songwriter, Bic Runga, was one of McIver’s idols as a teenager, so singing one of her iconic songs, Drive, was “both an incredible opportunity and extremely terrifying”. McIver says that another of Runga’s songs, Bursting Through, is one that really stood out during her childhood, as a kind of mantra to her growing up – “it really spoke to me as a teenager.”
“I think it’s great to shake up where you’re from and what you’re about.”
Living and working abroad for a number of years, McIver says that shooting Daffodils “absolutely” made her feel homesick. She does, however, say that there’s no disconnect in terms of living abroad, and her feelings for New Zealand have never changed.
“I’ve always been so grateful to be from New Zealand, and I’ve known that I want to end up spending most of my time in this country. It’s been a really exciting, wonderful past eight years that I’ve lived away, where I’ve been able to meet all different kinds of people, and go through all sorts of life stages in new environments. I think it’s great to shake up where you’re from and what you’re about, and be able to thread different ideas through the characters that you play and the stories that you tell. I look forward to doing more work back here on other really exciting New Zealand stories,” she explains.
One of the things that stood out most to McIver about working on a Kiwi production – for the first time in almost a decade – was the ecofriendly approach to filming, and the concern with the environment. “In the States these is just this colossal amount of waste,” she says. “With Daffodils we would have to bring our own coffee cups to set, and there were no plastic bottles allowed.”
She also says that the collaborative nature of the whole production really inspired her – “everybody on set is trying to make a good film, and will step in where needed,” she explains.
McIver hopes that Daffodils will remind audiences of just how much musical talent there is in New Zealand. “It’s unbelievable when you look back through this Rolodex of the artists that we have in this country. So for starters I hope that’s acknowledged and all of these artists are really celebrated and people get those records back out.”