Last year, Oddly Even won TVNZ’s inaugural New Blood web series competition. This year and $100K later, the series launches. Sam Brooks talks to Oddly Even’s three lead actresses about the experience so far.
Oddly Even is a cute web series. There’s an SPP-lite feel about the endeavour, with enough new-generation flavour to keep it from feeling like another Step Dave or 800 Words. It has a simple concept: two siblings, the uptight and industrious Liv (Beth Alexander) and the wild child Frankie (Lucy Suttor) are reunited when Frankie comes back to live in their childhood home. However, she also brings along $50K of debt with her. Drama, and hilarity, ensue.
On the sidelines are the sisters’ flatmates, and the one who really shines is the mute and mysterious Helen (Bronwyn Ensor), who seems to come out of another show entirely. If Oddly Even is a few hairs away from Step Dave, then Helen is half a hair away from Roger on American Dad.
What really makes the show special are the trio of actresses at its centre. I’ve seen all three in some context before – Beth Alexander was in last year’s jockey TV film Kiwi, and I’ve seen Lucy Suttor and Bronwyn Ensor in shows at The Basement. All three are full of charisma, presence and energy, all of which they bring to their Oddly Even characters.
I got the chance to sit down and talk with all three about the show, how they got involved, and what the process of shooting it was like.
So I’ve seen the first three episodes – it’s fun! How did you guys get involved with the show?
LUCY SUTTOR: My story was that Ash [Ashleigh Reid, DOP] saw me in a Cul de Sac audition back in 2016. She contacted me and was like, “I really liked your performance, I want you to be in a short film with Isla [the co-creator of Oddly Even].”
So when I auditioned for that, Beth was there, and Isla was like “You look like sisters”. So then she said “I’m going to write a web series for you two as sisters.” Basically, Ash stalked me, and there was this whole series of events that led to these parts being written for us, which is amazing.
BETH ALEXANDER: I worked with Isla and Ash when they were at broadcasting school and I was studying at Hagley Theatre Company, so we were both students starting out at the same time. I auditioned for their school projects and we got on really well; they’d always wanted to write a web series, and they were always talking to each other and making with ideas and coming up with stuff, and then they told me when they’d seen Lucy in the audition, “We’ve found someone who could be your sister, we’re going to write something for you two”.
They didn’t know what for, I didn’t know what for, and then my understanding is they’d already had that idea, they already wanted to write a web series, as separate things, and then New Blood came up and it was perfect timing.
They were like “Cool, we’re writing something for you two as sisters,” and I felt like “Um.. amazing!”
LUCY: It’s a luxury that I don’t think will ever happen again in my career. I hope it does, but I don’t know if it will.
That’s so lovely. And not like a normal experience for a web series in this country, which I guess is why the New Blood project exists in the first place.
How about you Bronwyn, how did you get involved?
BRONWYN: Well, I first met Isla through Beth, ‘cause Beth and I met through The Actor’s Programme (a one-year drama school in Auckland). I met Isla, then one day she just messaged me and was like “We’re making a thing for New Blood, we’ve got this character Helen and I’d love for you to audition for it.” It was really funny because, obviously she doesn’t speak.
So how did that go down? How exactly did you audition for a mute character?
BRONWYN: Well there’s a scene in the pilot where she just holds up placards, so I wrote out the placards and went to my friend Freya’s house and was like “Can you help me self-tape this? It was funny because she was reading all the other characters, there were three or four characters in the scene… the shirt and the hairstyle that I’m wearing in the pilot, I wore for my audition. It’s a shirt with like a chihuahua or a seal on it, and the two buns – and that’s where Helen came from. Thus Helen was born!
What was it like to win? How did that feel?
LUCY: I remember the moment. I was sitting in the carpark of KFC with my boyfriend–
LUCY: No, Dominion Road. It’s a very different vibe.
This was desperation KFC, late at night. I was sitting there having my two-piece quarter pack and I got this call. Isla was like “Luce, I’m sorry but you’re going to be really busy, you’ll need to take some time off work.”
I was like “What do you mean?” and she said “We won”.
I genuinely didn’t expect – I thought we could win, but I didn’t expect it.
BRONWYN: I came to this party they’d organised for the night they thought they’d find out, and I went to this party thinking it was a get together, to say thank you. I was there at the party for like ten minutes, just talking to people, and Ash was like “Oh, Bronwyn, do you realise that we won?” and I was like WHAT?!
BETH: I was gardening at that point. I remember when I found out, I had missed calls from Ash and she had said “call me when you can”. So I said “I’ve just got home from gardening, I’m getting in the shower, call me when you want”.
So I was in the shower, with my phone right there, showering away, then heard a call come through. So I leapt out of the shower, as you’d imagine, dripping wet, talking to Ash on the phone, and she was like “We won!”
BRONWYN: We had three very different experiences there.
LUCY: Quite like our characters would I reckon: Ate KFC, had no idea, in the shower.
What was it like to actually shoot the thing a few months later, after having shot the pilot almost a year earlier?
LUCY: It was during Fringe Festival, so maybe end of February. I remember because I was running on like 2 hours sleep a night, which kind of became a common theme for me for the rest of the shoot period as well.
BETH: It changed my whole view of you completely. For the whole pilot I was semi-scared of Lucy, because she was always so tired! I was like oh my gosh, she’s such an artist.
LUCY: I was just exhausted and hungover the entire time! I feel like the culture and the way they shot the pilot set up the standard for the rest of the shoot. It was very efficient, very professional.
BETH: And super collaborative, I felt – sort of in all areas. It was slightly different for the pilot, but when we were shooting the actual season, most of us are under 25 – most of us are still fresh, but with some experience, so everyone was really pulling together; teaching each other things they didn’t know, willing to invite questions from people who may not know things. Or if someone had an idea, be open to it – rather than just thinking “No, that’s my department, back off”, which is awesome, because I find the crew stuff fascinating.
What was the shooting experience like?
LUCY: So it was over December and January, the busiest times for me work-wise in my other jobs. I was running on, often, two hours sleep a night, dealing with Christmas parties and going to shoot in the morning. We made it work, but they were long days – very long days. But it was a blast.
BETH: I loved it. I loved it so much. I would go to bed and be like “I get to go to filming tomorrow!”, like literally living the dream. You get to go and hang out with all of your friends and make a thing.
How do you think the writers made characters fit you guys as people? I know Lucy quite well, I can see heaps of her in Frankie, but is that who Beth is?
BETH: I feel like Lucy’s more chilled out than me.
LUCY: Well the whole idea is that they would have two sisters that were polar opposites. So the characters were always going to be a far stretch away from each other. So maybe Frankie is, like, quite accessible to me. I’m not as reckless as her, but maybe she is quite accessible to me.
BETH: One of my favourite things about acting is that we all have so many different facets – a wanky word – but so many different parts to us, and like, I have a more chilled out end of me, and I have a more anal, OCD end of me, and they just picked up that and went “Can you go all the way with that?”
I can definitely relate to Liv, and I admire her, but at times too I’m like what are you doing, chill the fuck out! But yeah, I’m trying to think if they were to swap us – they would be completely different characters. They cast us well.
LUCY: Yeah, I don’t know if I have the – I’m not completely a loose unit, but I definitely don’t think I can access that level of anal-ness. I don’t know.
BETH: I think I’d be grumpy if I chilled out that much.
Bronwyn, do you think you’re heaps like Helen?
BRONWYN: Like Helen? Holy cow, just freaky as. Yeah, I’m very curious with people and things, like what’s up? She is way more brave than me, in terms of not caring what people think.
Like it was terrifying for me, Bronwyn the actor, to stand on a street with a sign, and have people think that might actually be me. And to wear those kind of things out in public, was scary for Bronwyn.
SAM: When did that happen?
BRONWYN: For the promo stuff, we spent the day – I had these signs – out in public, and it said like “vote Oddly Even”; It turned out great, but it was really hard. It was in the middle of Queen Street and the camera kind of hidden, so people couldn’t really tell that I was being filmed.
It was really hard. I don’t know if I told Ash and Isla that, but it was a mish for me. But I’m really glad I did it, it turned out really well, clearly!
SAM: Last question – what does the title mean?
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LUCY: Good question!
BETH: I’ve never asked Ashleigh and Isla, but I assume it’s the sisters, how polar opposite we are.
Especially throughout the season when you see so much more of Frankie. Obviously Liv is the facilitator of the storyline, and the audience accesses the story through Liv – but I love Frankie’s storyline throughout the series, it’s so beautiful and you get to see and understand her so much more, which is really beautiful. I think through that it’s like, obviously they’re polar opposites, they are SO different as humans, but they still actually have a lot in common. They’re sisters, they used to be best friends. Even through the hard shit that goes down, they have a lot of the same stuff running through them, and that’s really beautiful.
You can watch all eight episodes of Oddly Even on TVNZ on Demand right here.
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