With the kind of career path most actors can only dream of, 21-year-old Thomasin Mckenzie has returned home to star in the Kiwi movie The Justice of Bunny King, filmed in the sweet spot between her role in the Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit… and the arrival of Covid-19. Thomasin talks to Capsule about creativity, adjusting to Covid-19 restrictions and the loneliness that comes with being on the road so much.
The momentum of Kiwi actor Thomasin Mckenzie had reached an absolute fever pitch just before Covid-19 threw the entire world – not to mention the film industry – into a strange kind of pause. Travelling for work is something Thomasin grew up with; her parents, actor Miranda Harcourt and director/playwright Stuart McKenzie, took Thomasin and her two siblings with them around the world. Up until Covid-19, being a working actor based in Aotearoa was totally do-able. Post Covid-19… it’s less so.
When Capsule talks to Thomasin, she’s on day five of her stay in MIQ after returning from filming in London. She’s back in Aotearoa to catch up with family and friends and Wellington and also promote her new Kiwi film, The Justice of Bunny King, about a woman’s battle to keep in contact with her kids through the foster system. “I filmed [Bunny King] just after Last Night in Soho [her upcoming film with Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy] and doing the publicity of Jojo Rabbit in Toronto,” she says, the latter film being the Oscar-winning Taika Waititi dramedy about Nazi Germany. “Both of those things were kind of whirlwind experiences, so I was pretty exhausted, but I came home and started straightaway with Bunny King… I had such a wonderful experience on that, it really did feel like I was coming home.”
Ever since Thomasin’s breakthrough role in Leave No Trace in 2018 (where she was hired by the same casting director that gave Jennifer Lawrence her big break), it’s been one whirlwind experience after each other. When asked about the last three characters she’s played, Thomasin says the “similar thread” that runs through all of them is loneliness. “I think each one of those characters are feeling very isolated in their own way,” she says. Her character in Bunny King, Tonya – the cousin of the lead character who joins her on the rescue mission/road trip – is a potty mouth, something Thomasin laughs she didn’t realise until she watched the final version of the film.
But that sense of isolation is very real, at times, for the young actor. At age 21, she has now been working on international productions since her late teens. The flexibility of her parents’ industry jobs means they often travel with her, as much as they can, but even so, her job can mean a lot of time alone. “There have definitely been times where I’ve felt isolated because I haven’t been able to be at home in New Zealand with my friends, having the experiences they were having.”
“[Isolation] is definitely something I’ve struggled with a lot but it also makes me appreciate the times when I am with loved ones and where I feel connected to people.”
One of her latest movies, the M Night Shyamalan thriller Old, filmed during last year, was done in a production bubble – meaning only cast and crew were allowed on location in the Dominican Republic. “[Isolation] is definitely something I’ve struggled with a lot but it also makes me appreciate the times when I am with loved ones and where I feel connected to people.”
Before returning home, Thomasin was filming the television series Life After Life, based on the best-selling Kate Atkinson novel. She plays the lead character, Ursula Todd, who lives and dies over and over again in this reincarnation-based novel. It is a story that reiterates the fact that death is not only inevitable, it’s everywhere – and it must have been quite the experience to shoot that in London, at a time when the city was being ravaged by a pandemic.
Thomasin says it was interesting timing, proof that “you just never really know what’s going to happen, death can literally be around the corner.” The director, John Crowley (who did The Goldfinch and Brooklyn) was a key part of how wonderful the filming experience was, she says. “He didn’t want to focus on the inevitability of the darkness or the sorrow of death, he was more about life and joy. Maybe that’s part of the reason it was such an amazing experience, every day I was reminding myself, ‘okay, crap things happen but there is so much joy in the world and I want to be happy, I don’t want to be focusing on the crap stuff.’”
Thomasin has a huge line-up of work for 2021: after the release of Bunny King, there’s the thriller Last Night in Soho (shrouded in secrecy but with a very creepy trailer), then the upcoming Jane Campion movie The Power Of the Dog, plus Perfect, the new movie from Booksmart director Olivia Wilde, where Thomasin will play US gymnast Kerri Strug. When it comes to looking at her next project, whether it’s an international production or a local one like Justice of Bunny King, which Thomasin says “felt like coming home,” the actor says she doesn’t have a hard and fast rule she follows about what to go for. “It kind of depends on where I’m at, at that point in my life. I think it’s the same for everybody, whether you’re watching a film or reading a book or reading a script, you’re always bringing your own emotions and your own experiences to that. I’m just really looking for collaboration at the moment; I just love creating with people.”