One Question Quiz
Sara Wiseman’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)
Sara Wiseman’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureMay 25, 2024

‘I was absolutely devastated’: Sara Wiseman on the moment she nearly quit acting

Sara Wiseman’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)
Sara Wiseman’s life in TV (Image: Tina Tiller)

The star of High Country talks Tinkerbell, her love for Hawkeye Pierce and why a 98-year-old environmentalist is the most stylish man on television. 

Sara Wiseman has been a fixture on New Zealand television screens for nearly three decades. First appearing in Hercules and Xena Warrior Princess during the mid 90s, her breakthrough role came in 2001 as the formidable Dr Nicky Somerville in popular medical drama Mercy Peak. She went on to feature in iconic New Zealand shows like Outrageous Fortune, The Mighty Johnsons and Shortland Street, before a move across the Tasman saw her land a lead role as Carolyn Bligh in much-loved Australian 1950s drama A Place to Call Home. 

Wiseman’s latest television role takes her deeper into the Australian countryside. High Country is a murder-mystery that follows the investigation of five missing people who disappear into the bush. Wiseman jumped at the chance to be involved with the show, because not only was the crime drama made by the team behind Wentworth (a show Wiseman fiercely admires), but it was an opportunity to work in the stunning Victorian mountains. “It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country, with almost a New Zealand, Scandinavian vibe,” Wiseman says.  

We spoke to Wiseman about her favourite TV memories, including an early obsession with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and why she thinks Sir David Attenborough is the most stylish man on television.

Sara Wiseman in a scene from High Country (Photo: Supplied)

My earliest TV memory is… The Wonderful World of Disney. I’m pretty sure it was on every Sunday evening, because I think we sat down and had pancakes with it. I remember seeing Tinkerbell go around the castle, and wondering what Wonderful World of Disney story I would see this week.

The TV show I used to rush home from school to watch was… Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Back in primary school days, I’m pretty sure that was on at four o’clock. I was obsessed with that cartoon. I don’t know why. 

The TV ad I can’t stop thinking about is… The New Zealand Post ads about calling your Mum or going home and families reuniting, those ones kind of linger. I’m a sucker, I will cry. They pull the heartstrings. 

My favourite TV moment is… A scene in episode six of High Country. We shot this wonderful sequence inside where a bunch of us light up and have a bit of a boogie. It was just the most fun two and a half hours of cutting loose to great music and pretending that you’re wasted, and it was beautifully shot with some wonderful people. I only think about twenty seconds of it ends up on screen, but I left on such a natural high from boogying down for two and a half hours. I was like, “this is the dream job”. 

What I wish people knew about being an actor on TV is… There’s a lot of sacrifices that come with this gig, and it’s very fickle. It’s very soul destroying at times with the amount of rejection. Imagine going for a job interview every week and getting told “nah”, and not why. There’s a strong, thick soul to a lot of actors.

My favourite TV character is… Hawkeye Pierce. Mash still stands up. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Friends, but there’s some episodes where you’re like “ooh no, that doesn’t hold any more”. But Mash? My gosh. Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce can do no wrong. 

The most stylish person on TV is… I’m not really one that follows style, but style to me is passion and integrity, so I’ll say Sir David Attenborough. There’s no-one more styley than him and his ninety-plus years of dedication to conservation on this planet. I think he’s the styliest mo-fo ever.

The TV show I watched and really wished I was involved with is… Wentworth. I auditioned for it and didn’t get a recall. I was absolutely devastated. I was about to quit acting, it was that devastating. The day that I found out that I hadn’t got a recall, I was cast in A Place to Call Home. So that stopped the quitting, but I just loved that show with all these really complex, powerful women. 

My most watched TV show of all time is… Friends. Anytime, anywhere around the world, there’s probably a channel playing it and so it’s something that you can just sit there and watch. It’s very easy to just go “oh, Ross”. 

The TV show I’ll never watch, no matter how many people tell me to is… I can only speak to a film, and that would be Jaws. Never going to watch it. I know too many people that did and now have such a fear of going in deep water. I know it’s not a TV show, but I’ll usually give most TV shows a go. 

My controversial TV opinion is… I struggle with gratuitous violence and the dumbing down of really explicit violence, so that we’re desensitised to it. I mean, if you’re fed it 24/7, how can it not change your view of how you deal with people in real life? 

The last thing I watched on television was… Friends Like Her. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I mean, I’m a fangirl of my mate Morgs [Morgana O’Reilly] forever and ever and ever, and Jared [Rawiri]. But I just love seeing Kaikōura on screen, it was beautifully shot and all the characters are fantastic. Sarah Kate Lynch has done such a great job of a really interesting, complex, different storyline. I’m amped if they get a season two.

High Country screens on Three from Monday 27 May at 8pm and streams on ThreeNow. 

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