On Netflix Rose McIver has made quite an impression as a brain-eating zombie, now she’s turning heads in a home-grown Kiwi film.
It’s a rainy Monday afternoon in Los Angeles and actress Rose McIver is speaking from hands-free Bluetooth in her car; it’s hard to hear her over the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced city around her.
It’s where she’s been based since 2011, and for the past five years has made the weekly commute to and from Vancouver to play the lead character of medical examiner Olivia “Liv” Moore in the comedy-drama series iZombie.
The bright lights of Hollywood and the 520,000 followers she’s garnered on Instagram are a far cry from her days of delivering Fair Trade bananas on the back of a scooter in Wellington between acting gigs, but it’s clear within a few minutes of chatting to Rose that she’s a down-to-earth Kiwi who hasn’t forgotten her roots.
In a gap between filming her hit Netflix show, the 30-year-old returned home to play lead lovebird, also called Rose, in Daffodils alongside fellow Kiwi actor George Mason. The film, which was directed by David Stubbs, is based on the award-winning stage musical written by playwright Rochelle Bright that has played in 12 cities across the country since its premiere in 2014.
It’s a bittersweet love story set in the 60s and tells the true tale of Rochelle’s parents. The film follows an indie musician (played by singer-songwriter and Grammy Award winner Kimbra) who recounts her parents’ romance – starting with 18-year-old electrician Eric meeting 16-year-old farm girl Rose by the daffodils at a lake in Hamilton. They date, get engaged, and look set for a life of marital bliss until secrets are uncovered.
“Men’s vulnerability and the ability to communicate as men and women in New Zealand is something due to be talked about,” Rose says of the film, in cinemas in March. “We come from a tough ‘hold it together, nothing’s a problem’ culture and the film addresses some of the problems that come from that way of thinking.”
Daffodils is told through classic Kiwi songs written by Neil Finn, Dave Dobbyn and Bic Runga – the latter being Rose’s idol as a teenager.
“Getting to sing one of Bic’s songs is an insane blessing,” she admits. “It’s the most grounded, naturalistic musical I could imagine.”
After being so long away from New Zealand and the fast turnaround that comes with working on a TV show like iZombie, Daffodils is a project Rose considers to be particularly special – it brought her home to work with people in the film industry she knew as a child actor here. “It was certainly one of the most precious projects I’ll be a part of.”
Raised in the West Auckland suburb of Titirangi, Rose – whose real name is Frances – was born into a creative family. She’s the daughter of a photographer and a ceramic artist, and her older brother, Paul, is a musician. She started appearing in commercials from the age of two, and had a brief role in The Piano when she was three, but it wasn’t until she was eight and playing a young Xena in Xena: Warrior Princess that acting became something more than just fun and games.
“I remember the challenge of trying to take on a character and a personality, and thinking the creativity in that was a lot of fun.”
Her star continued to rise, playing Lindsey Salmon in the 2009 Peter Jackson directed film The Lovely Bones. It was her first time filming in the US, and the first time she’d lived away from her parents for an extended length of time, but a role she considers being very formative in her career.
The film received numerous accolades, including BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.
The highs and lows of the acting world
If you scroll through her social media feed, it looks like she’s been working non-stop since the day she first landed in Los Angeles in August 2011, but Rose says that’s simply not true. She still gets recognised for her role of Lindsey in The Lovely Bones – “particularly when I’m sweaty and in my gym gear” – but her success hasn’t come without a few dead spells along the way.
“Social media is so misleading. When I first got here I had a couple of really dead years and wasn’t sure if I’d made the right decision. It wasn’t like I came out here and landed every opportunity.”
But she stuck at it and says a large part of that is down to resilience. “You see people look around and think everybody else has got it going on and it’s just not true. Everybody is juggling their own demons and missing family; it’s just about riding it out, trying not to take it all too seriously and making sure you have good people around you.”
Rose met her Australian boyfriend George Byrne, a photographer and visual artist, around the same time she moved to the States. They share a house together on the east side of Los Angeles, which means they’re slightly out of the madness but still close enough to the action.
“LA can be a bit of a hustle city. There’s always something to do and someone who’s got an idea for a project that you can talk about. I find it a really exciting city to live in creatively, surrounded by people who think anything is possible and at the moment it’s fun, but I don’t know if I could sustain it long-term.” For the past eight years, Rose has essentially lived out of a suitcase. Before Daffodils, she was filming The Christmas Prince in Romania. A nomadic lifestyle might not be for everyone, but her mantra has always been whatever decision you make is the right decision.
“You feel sorry for yourself in those moments where you think, ‘I’m on the other side of the world and all my school friends are watching each other have babies, get married and get on with life’,” she admits.
“But at the same time, you’re like, ‘I’ve chosen this and I’m so fortunate, and how dare I complain about an opportunity that I could only have dreamed of?'”
Returning home to New Zealand
What is clear is that Rose is an incredibly hard worker with a good head on her shoulders.
“I feel like I climb on to so many things sometimes, then end up in a bit of a state, and the people around me suffer because of it. I want to slow that down a bit, make choices that mean I can be the best version of myself and try to make sure there’s enough time for the people who I love in my life and that I don’t create more stress than I need to.”
Rose says she’s really “freaked out” by the gun culture and US-Mexico border situation in the States at the moment, and welcomed the weekly escape to Canada to shoot iZombie. “The pace is a lot slower, which is good for my mental health.”
Having recently wrapped filming the final season of iZombie, Rose now plans to spend more time in New Zealand. She’s nervous and excited to see how a Kiwi audience – who “like to laugh at themselves” – responds to Daffodils.
“We’re a small country being confronted with our own identity and people and places we know on a big screen can seem a bit strange. I hope people embrace that it’s really a celebration of growth and of how much we can learn when we do communicate.”
She’s ultimately driven by exploring cultures that a wider audience might not necessarily be familiar with, praising the 2018 drama Roma, by Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón, as the most stunning film she’s ever seen for that reason. It’s based on the life of a live-in housekeeper for a middle-class family in Mexico City.
“It wasn’t his own personal experience – he was trying to share somebody else’s – but that’s the best thing you can do with art. It’s about helping to show people other walks of life. That’s the kind of art I’d love to be involved in, one way or another. It can be a comedy, it can be anything, but just making sure you’re helping people realise not everybody’s lives are exactly like yours.”
Writing her material is a new focus for Rose; plus she has a project in the pipeline that Kiwi director Peter Salmon is due to direct, and together they’re working on getting a film off
the ground soon. “There’s so much talent and so many stories we should be sharing, especially in New Zealand.”
Rose isn’t certain what the future holds.
She could be gainfully unemployed, much like her banana delivery days – “definitely a good one to tell the grandchildren” – but she’s simply excited about the prospect of whatever might pop up.
“For me it’s just one of those emotional chapters, and then I’ll be thinking about what’s next.”