Five minutes with Antonia Prebble

A chat with Antonia Prebble about her new TV show Double Parked, and playing Steph.

How did you get involved in the show?
A few years ago I did a reading for Double Parked because the creators were submitting it for a sitcom competition that TV Three was putting on. They got me in to read the part of Steph at that point and I thought the show was really great. A few years later, it got funding and an audition came up for the show – I’ve never read a character description that’s closer to my own life. In so many other ways we’re really similar. I don’t often have that experience.

And then Madeline Sami, who plays Nat (pictured left), Steph’s partner – she’s also the director of the show – is one of my best friends in real life. We’ve been friends since my early 20s. That was another quite unique element of this show. I’ve never had the experience of working really closely with someone I’m already really good friends with. Often you do a production and you become really close with the people you’re working with but this is the first instance where we already had a pre-formed relationship. I did my first audition and then Madeline and I did a chemistry test together. I felt really giddy and giggly on the way to the audition because she’s my friend. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. And we’re now going to pretend to be girlfriends, how hysterical that’. But I got over it. And it actually was an amazing thing that we already felt so comfortable with each other and already knew each other so well because we were playing a couple who have been together for seven years.

Then I got the part and it was actually a bit of a decision for me whether or not to say yes, because I just come off the back of a show in Melbourne, a play with Auckland Theatre Company, and then a few months on Shortland Street. And because I have two little kids, I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to take on something else rather than take some time off to be with them. But in the end, my partner Dan and I decided we could manage it. And I’m really glad I did. Because it was a really wonderful experience.

What was your experience working on the show?
It was so fun. I feel like I didn’t stop laughing for 7 weeks. And I think it’s a beautiful testament to the nature and the tone of the show and of the process of making it. It was just a lot of really lovely, funny people in a room together.

In what ways do you identify with Steph?
Steph’s a lawyer and comes from a family of lawyers, so do I. I actually did go to law school for a year but decided it wasn’t for me, but my dad is a lawyer. My sister was a lawyer. My brother was a lawyer. They actually not working as lawyers currently, but they did practice for a while. And Steph’s sense of style is very similar to mine. I actually loaned a lot of my clothes to the show, because I was like, ‘Well, I’ve got Steph’s wardrobe because she pretty much is me’. Stef is quite fastidious and likes to be prepared about things For example, she wants to get this parenting contract signed, and Madeline’s character doesn’t. And I’m totally aligned with Steph’s point of view throughout the whole thing. In a lot of the scenes, there wasn’t a lot of acting required, which, again, felt like Madeline and I were kind of in this fever dream because it felt like we were just being ourselves wearing our own clothes. But saying lines of the script with cameras around. It was crazy. It was crazy in the best possible way.

How did you first get into acting?

I’m sort of a unique case in that I’ve always known I wanted to do it. From when I was three or four, from my earliest memories I’ve known I wanted to do this. And I don’t really know where that came from, because, as I said, I come from a family of lawyers. I just had this desire to perform. And felt like whenever I did, some little spark would just ignite in me and I just loved it. As a kid, I jumped on every opportunity to do any kind of drama or performance that I could. When I could read, I would look in the newspaper for acting classes. In the holidays, I could go to auditions for local repertory theatre shows, and my mum would drive me. And then when I was 11, my best friend’s mum knew that I was into acting, and her neighbour was an acting agent. And so, through my friend’s family, I got signed up with this agent. That meant I was able to start auditioning for professional TV shows as opposed to just theatre. And when I was 12, I got my first TV job.

Why do you think that lesbian and female representation is so important on television right now?

Because it hasn’t been. I feel like the show is sort of quietly groundbreaking because it has a lesbian couple at the centre of it. But their sexuality is not what the show is about. In the past, if there were lesbian characters in show, the story would often be about them questioning their sexuality, whereas this is just about two people who happen to be in a lesbian relationship. They’re grappling with this crazy situation of both being pregnant at the same time, but it’s ultimately just two people in a relationship. In that way, it’s normalized for primetime TV. I feel it’s so important to represent all kinds of people and all kinds of relationships on TV. And I think a gay relationship like this has had less representation. It’s really great that it is being represented now. In addition, there has been an under-representation of females in leading roles, which just perpetuates the idea of women being subordinate. For so long women have been sidekicks or the people who ask the man ‘What do we do now? What’s the plan? What next?’ And then the man comes up with the answer and saves the day, which is clearly not a reflection of reality at all! It’s so important to tell everyone’s stories. And there’s always more work to do. But I think we have come a long way in the last few years, as the spotlight has been shone on the need for equity of representation.

How have your experiences as a mother reflected in how you played Steph?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve, interestingly, played a lot of pregnant characters before, but this was the first time I’ve played someone pregnant since having children. And yeah it was really interesting. I definitely related to the morning sickness scenes in a very visceral way. Because I remember that very clearly. And then I think wearing the different-sized baby bumps felt very natural to me. I was quite impressed with how realistic it was. I felt like the size and weight of the fake bellies were very accurate to what it was in real life. And I’d actually, throughout my pregnancy, taken photos of my belly. So I was able to send those photos to the wardrobe department and be like, ‘This is what I was at week 14. This is what I was at week 20. This is what I was at week 25’. They just matched my photos, my real-life photos, with the stages that Steph needed to be in her pregnancy. It was a kind of crazy reality meets fantasy moment that collided in a very neat way.

Like how did you find working on a comedy?

So great. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to do it. When I was debating whether or not to take the role, the fact that it was a comedy and quite a departure from anything I’ve done before was one of the main reasons that I wanted to do it because I really wanted to explore that. I knew I’d learn a lot. And I did. I love the atmosphere that serves a comedy to have on set, it’s very kind of free and frothy. And people are just laughing and messing around all the time. Because again, that feeds into the spirit of what you want to capture on screen. A lot of improvisation and changes to the script and just going with what you feel in the moment was really encouraged as well, because, with a comedy, you want to have lots of different options in the edit. I had to keep reminding myself to make different offers every time because, in a drama, it’s sort of the opposite. I loved the improvisation element. I found that really freeing and fun as well.

What do you hope that the audience takes away from watching Double Parked?

I hope they will, fundamentally really enjoy it. We wanted to create a show that people would really like watching, and that would make them feel all sorts of things. It’s a comedy and the emotional stakes are really high. Throughout we’re talking about fertility, a relationship, and impending motherhood, which are all huge topics that have enormous emotional resonance. It definitely is a journey. And we hope that people will really go along with us with that, and laugh and cry along with the characters as they are struggling with this. And I want people to really connect with the characters and see that the path to happiness is not always smooth, and perhaps just empathise with what the characters are going through. And it will be really interesting also to see if people are Team Nat or Team Steph. Because so far, even within the production team, and the editors, there is a definitely camp for each character.

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