She’s played everyone from a Power Ranger to Tinker Bell, but Rose McIver could be about to become a household name. James Croot caught up with the Kiwi actress in Los Angeles to discuss iZombie.
Usually eating a lot of noodles is a sure sign your acting career isn’t going well.
An enforced bland diet of such carbs is up there with selling sections of your couch or spending back-breaking hours waiting tables as a way of keeping your dreams afloat and the financial wolves from your door when you’re a young thespian.
But for Kiwi actress Rose McIver, the constant chowing down of flour paste “delicacies” is an indicator of just how far her talents have taken her.
Just a short few years after deciding to base herself in Hollywood, McIver has landed the lead in the new high- concept crime-drama iZombie.
She plays Olivia “Liv” Moore, a rosy- cheeked, disciplined, over-achieving Seattle medical student who doesn’t even let zombification stop her furthering her career or contributing to society. Combining her Gray’s Anatomy knowledge with some new perks picked up as a result of being undead, Liv begins work in the local morgue. The job not only provides her with the satisfaction of helping to solve crimes and a sense of public service, but also easy access to the foodstuff she’s developed a craving for – fresh brains, usually supplemented by the aforementioned noodles.
Speaking in a quiet corner of the lavish and labyrinthine Langham Hotel in Pasadena during the mayhem that is the Television Critics Association Press Tour, the affable McIver admits that they’ve been trying to perfect the most palatable noodle-brains combination all season long – without success.
“It’s still not quite right. I don’t know if that’s suggesting I don’t have good taste in my own life or I’m not a good cook, but I can’t seem to come up with what would be right. At the moment, ‘the brains’ are gelatine with a very syrupy blood mixture, some hot sauce and vegetable juice. Believe me, they are just not things that go together, but they look really good and I’m really happy to do it – as long as there’s a spit bucket.”
While promising that she eats better when not on the iZombie set in Vancouver, McIver confesses to missing the iconic Kiwi combo of Marmite and Vogel’s bread. “That is something I have actually fantasised about. They don’t do good bread in America – or I haven’t worked out where to find it yet.”
Whittaker’s Dark Chocolate is another staple she misses keenly, while also yearning for the “simplicity” of Kiwi fashion. “I really miss knowing where I can find pieces that I like. Yes, they have amazing design out here but I find myself sifting through a whole lot of unknown. At home, I know I like Juliette Hogan, I love Ruby and I can find things by them.”
However, sartorial confusion and confectionery cravings aside, the 26-year-old has certainly started to look at home in Hollywood. But then she did show a penchant for this acting lark from a very early age.
The daughter of a photographer and a ceramic artist, little Rose was first cast in a short film at the age of 18 months (alongside her older brother Paul) before working with Jane Campion on The Piano (she had one scene where she was on a stage sporting angel wings). Stints on Shortland Street and Hercules followed, as well as a pair of Harry Sinclair movies (1997’s Topless Women Talk About Their Lives and 2002’s Toy Love), before the short-lived Kiwi kidult series Maddigan’s Quest (conceived by Margaret Mahy) catapulted her into the limelight.
McIver then found herself starring alongside the likes of Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones, where she played Lindsey Salmon, the younger sister of the main character Susie (Saoirse Ronan).
She was in Berlin and about to embark on a historical walking tour of the city when a friend got a text message from McIver’s mother about The Lovely Bones role.
“I didn’t have a cellphone and it cost my friends to receive calls, so my mum just sent a text message saying: ‘You’ve got it’, ” McIver told Fairfax in mid 2007. “That’s about all I knew for the next few days. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was pretty ecstatic.”
By that stage, she’d graduated from Avondale College and was studying psychology and linguistics at the University of Auckland, but that was put on hold in the aftermath of the success of The Lovely Bones and landing the role of Summer Landsdown on kids action series Power Rangers RPM. More adult parts came in an adaptation of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s Predicament and the critically acclaimed television movie Tangiwai, in which she played Nerissa Love, Kiwi cricketer Bob Blair’s doomed fiancee.
August 2011 saw McIver make the big shift to America and after making an indie movie, a television pilot and a one- off appearance on CSI (playing a woman whose sister is killed by a hair- cutting stalker), she landed recurring roles on the critically acclaimed 1950s-set drama Masters of Sex and the popular fantasy Once Upon a Time (to McIver’s delight, both character arcs are still open for her to return to), before this latest project gave her the leading role her talents demand.
McIver says she first heard about iZombie about a year ago. “There were a couple of TV pilot scripts that looked really interesting and I was excited about but, to be honest, a lot of them look the same and seem kind of like a rehash of something that has been done very well before. This show wasn’t like anything I had seen before or been a part of.”
Keen to know more about the people she might be working with, McIver placed calls to friends who worked on Veronica Mars and Party Down to see what kind of a set iZombie showrunner Rob Thomas ran.
“I said: ‘OK, this script looks really good, what’s it going to be like to work with these guys?’ Without fail, they all swore by him. ‘This is going to be like the best professional experience you’ve ever had day to day working with the same people and loving going to work’.
“To be honest, it has been even better than that. Everyday I get up and look forward to going to work and, when you work the hours I do, that’s a rarity to be that excited. I’m very grateful.”
But surely early January mornings in Vancouver test even the sunniest of dispositions?
“Because I only had a short break, I couldn’t go home for Christmas this year, ” McIvor laments. “I really did miss those lazy summer days at Piha, living down the street from my parents and having all my high school friends around me. Fortunately though, my best friend came out and stayed with me over Christmas, which was really lovely.
“And yeah, I’m not going to miss the 90 minutes of hair and makeup in the early mornings. Actually, it wasn’t that bad, we really whittled it down after a while. All my white makeup in the rain didn’t sound promising either, but we sprayed some sealants on. I have such a nice team and they’ve created such a specific look that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before and which I love. Although I am looking forward to not having to rub white makeup out of my skin every night.”
One of the other big challenges for McIver in playing Liv has been finding the right balance to reflect the show’s serious yet dark-humoured tone. “A lot of it is just trusting our boss Rob Thomas. He has a knack for balancing humour with high-stakes drama and I think for me I just play it with integrity. Honour the fear and risks that exist for Liv and at the same time laugh about it. Because that’s what we all do in those situations. So even though it is such a surreal concept, it is very true to life.”
So has she had much say in this character, which was originally conceived for a comic book in 2010?
“Actually yes. I kind of had this idea that working in television, especially in America, meant I was going to be part of a machine where everything was decided by executives. However, I found this one of the most collaborative experiences I’ve ever had. From talking about the different brains I eat, to how their former owners’ memories come to life for me, it really has been so communicative.
“Rob and [fellow showrunner] Diane Ruggiero are always on the other end of the phone for me and then we have this executive producer on set, Dan Etheridge, who is like having the tone and the mind of the show right there to consult with. I’ve always felt very listened to and so in turn that makes me really eager to do the best work I can do for them.”
McIvor says she has also been enjoying knowing very little about each of the show’s 13 episodes before shooting them.
“It’s nice to be surprised. It makes it a lot more engaging and enjoyable to be a part of when you are finding out as you go. You get to play honesty for the moment and not foreshadow too much. You just become invested in what’s happening and it’s how we go about our lives. I don’t know what’s happening to me next year.”
Next month is actually when it could all take off for McIver. iZombie makes its debut on America’s youth-orientated CW channel (also home to hit shows like Arrow, The Flash and Supernatural) and TVNZ has plans to fast-track it to its OnDemand website within days, if not hours.
While steeling herself for the potential tsunami of publicity and attention it’s likely to create, McIver says she’s already had a taste of it at last year’s Comic-Con and has now developed a strategy for how to handle it.
“It could be intimidating, but the people I work with make it a lot easier because they’re all really supportive. To me, it’s a job while it’s happening and when it’s not I have a family and real life that’s great too. For me, it’s about remembering that this isn’t everything in my life.
“So when I go to do things like Comic- Con, I embrace it for three days and then really embrace a holiday afterwards.”
iZombie is scheduled to begin screening on TVNZ OnDemand in mid-March.