It’s rare to see a local television show that takes place outside of Ferndale create its own artistic canon, but that’s precisely what South Pacific Pictures has achieved with Outrageous Fortune and Westside, with the prequel now running for nearly as many seasons as its predecessor-slash-sequel. It has turned West Auckland from a mythical place that exists in wildly hyped news stories into a… mythical place where grandchildren look either exactly like their grandparents or wildly different from their actual parents.
With that in mind, let’s check in on who plays who in each of these shows, and how exactly they compare.
Cheryl West (nee Miller)
Who played her on Outrageous Fortune? Robyn Malcolm, the Queen of New Zealand television. If you’ve watched Outrageous Fortune, you’ll know that what keeps the sometimes ramshackle ship together is an incredible cast – and heading up this particular cast is the even more incredible Robyn Malcolm. Cheryl West is a complicated, conflicted character and it takes an actor of immense talent to pull all of Cheryl’s contradictions and flaws together into a believable protagonist. After six season, Cheryl felt like she was part of New Zealand’s family, and that’s all due to Malcolm.
Robyn Malcolm needs barely introduction, but you’ve also seen her as Ellen Crozier in Shortland Street, the titular real estate agent Anna in Agent Anna, the lady who memorable and tearfully sends her children off on the horse in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and a lot of Australian shows that have trickled their way over here, like Rake, Upper Middle Bogan and The Code.
Who plays her on Westside? Ashleigh Cummings, an actor who is rising like a perfectly baked souffle. It’s a big role to step into, even for an Australian who might not necessarily be familiar with the icon, but Cummings has a robust list of screen credits already, including Underbelly: Razor, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the horror film Hounds of Love. However, outside of Westside, she’s likely best known to New Zealanders for her starring role in 2017’s Pork Pie.
Who played him on Outrageous Fortune? Grant Bowler played the less-than-lovable Wolf West for five seasons, until the call of Australia took him away in the sixth season. Of all the show’s characters, he was the easiest one to love-hate. By the standards of the mid-aughts, Wolf West is a lovable dick. By today’s standards, he’s just a dick.
Bowler hails from Australia and has done a lot of Australian television – Blue Heelers, Border Security, McLeod’s Daughter, All Saints – but he’s most familiar to me for his vaguely villainous turn on Ugly Betty (RIP Ugly Betty, always RIP Ugly Betty) and for his unfortunate miscasting as Richard Burton in the Lindsay Lohan bomb Liz and Dick.
Who plays him on Westside? Reef Ireland. As the younger, sweeter, not-yet-a-full-on-dick Wolf, Ireland strikes a more appealing tone. Like his counterpart Cummings, he also comes with a lot of Australian screen experience including Puberty Blues, Wentworth, and the bizarrely named Trip for Biscuits.
Who played her on Outrageous Fortune? Elizabeth Hawthorne, who was, in my mind, one of Outrageous Fortune‘s most unsung heroes. Ngaire is a big character in the Outrageous Fortune world, and Hawthorne stepped into the role, three seasons in, with a performance that was full 72mm glory. When I talk to people about Outrageous Fortune, which is more often than you’d think, Ngaire is one of the characters who comes up the most, and the show has Hawthorne to thank for that.
Hawthorne has a legion of stage and screen experience, and to list it all would double, if not triple, the length of this article. For me, however, her most memorable screen performance is in 2000’s Savage Honeymoon, as a wild grandmother with less regard for social norms and rules than she has for the ‘standard drink’ measurement.
Who plays her on Westside? Esther Stephens, who manages to equal Hawthorne for glamorous charisma and layer it with a softness that Ngaire, understandably, lost after living for three drama-filled decades in West Auckland. Stephens had a regular role in the middle stint of Go Girls, and has also been seen in When We Go To War, 800 Words and like any actor who has been working in New Zealand television long enough, The Brokenwood Mysteries. She’s also an accomplished musician with a fantastic voice, and releases music with her band, Esther Stephens and the Means.
Who played him on Outrageous Fortune? Frank Whitten. Whitten’s Grandpa was one of the most memorable parts of Outrageous Fortune; you can call pretty much every character in that show flawed, but nobody dug as deep into their character’s flaws as Whitten. His Ted West was bitter, petty, deceptive and pretty much everything you wouldn’t want in a friend, but Whitten pulled out layers of deep humour and hurt from within the character.
Whitten also had a legion of stage and screen experience, but is likely most famous for his role in Vincent Ward’s Vigil and his decade-long stint as the ‘Good on ya, mate’ guy in the Speights ads.
Who plays him on Westside? David de Lautour. In one of the rare instances where the Westside character looks markedly different from their Outrageous incarnation, de Lautour gets to the bad bits of Ted West without the gruff age that makes him lovable. Instead there’s a suave charm that foreshadows the quirkier, more deceptive Ted that he would become in Outrageous.
De Latour is a familiar face to New Zealanders since way back with Being Eve and he’s been seen on the likes of Power Rangers, Xena: Warrior Princess, the Amanda Bynes sitcom What I Like About You. Most excitingly, for me, he played Vergil in the Devil May Cry reboot succinctly known as DmC: Devil May Cry.
Who played him on Outrageous Fortune? David Fane. Fane played perhaps one of the most sympathetic characters on Outrageous Fortune, the somewhat hapless but always resilient Falani. Even though, like everybody else, his morals were as fluid as an unset bowl of jelly, you always felt bad for Falani getting pulled into whatever high stakes dramas the Wests ended up getting into.
If you’re unfamiliar with David Fane, I have no idea what you’ve been doing for your life. Fane is a founding member of the Naked Samoans, has had starring roles in Sione’s Wedding (and its sequel, Unfinished Business), bro’Town, Eagle vs Shark and Diplomatic. He’s a big deal, is what I’m saying.
Who plays him on Westside? Patrick Tafa. Tafa’s a dead ringer for a young Fane, not physically, but in terms of the charm and genuine warmth he brings to Falani. Westside is Tafa’s first big role, but if his performance here is any indication, dude has a solid career ahead of him.
Which brings us to the double-dipper herself…
Who played her on Outrageous Fortune? Antonia Prebble, technically, briefly, in a flashback where Ted West mistook Loretta West, his granddaughter, for his wife, in an episode that is essentially a backdoor pilot for Westside.
Who plays her on Westside? Antonia Prebble, once again, retaining her iron grip on New Zealand television. It would’ve been easy for her to xerox her Loretta performance – one of the most underrated ones in NZ TV history – but Prebble makes Rita into her own creature entirely. While she’s got far fewer scruples than Loretta, there’s a strong, if highly specific, moral backbone that guides all her choices, and Prebble’s brilliance here is letting the audience see exactly where Rita bends and where she breaks.
If you’ve watched a Kiwi show (or even a few Australian ones) in the past 15 years, you’ll have seen Antonia Prebble – because she’s actually really quite good at this acting thing. Her credits include The Tribe, The Blue Rose (with fellow Fortuner Siobhan Marshall), the feature film White Lies, Pork Pie (with Westside co-star Ashleigh Cummings) and, on the other side of the ditch, Sisters, ANZAC Girls, and Winter.