Comeback kid

Her latest show, Agent Anna, “rated its little tits off” when it aired recently on TVNZ, Robyn told EA, sounding for a moment like her Cheryl West character from Outrageous…

Her latest show, Agent Anna, “rated its little tits off” when it aired recently on TVNZ, Robyn told EA, sounding for a moment like her Cheryl West character from Outrageous Fortune.

Robyn found it almost impossible to get work in New Zealand when Cheryl West hung up her fake fur underwear in 2010. But in the best tradition of theatrical comebacks, Robyn has shrugged off an ugly public stoush over the “Hobbit law”, which coincided with the end of Cheryl, to bring in an audience of more than 400,000 for each episode of Agent Anna, about a hopeless real estate agent called Anna Kingston. “I really wanted to play someone who was a complete failure – someone who didn’t have Cheryl’s lionesque qualities. I wanted to play a bog standard, passive aggressive, middle-class, frightened New Zealand housewife.”

Knocked back

The Agent Anna concept was Robyn’s own, and one that was initially “knocked back a couple of times”. But Robyn was determined to find work in New Zealand even of she had to make it herself. “It’s where I want to be.”

After the Hobbit stoush, where Robyn fronted an actors’ union campaign against the combined might of Prime Minister John Key, Sir Peter Jackson and Hollywood, Robyn could only get work in Australia on movies and television series there. She’s unsure whether the vitriolic personal abuse she sustained over the Hobbit affair led to the shortage of work offers. She also thinks people now have a more rounded picture of the events as more information has come out about what actually happened. “Or it might not have been that at all. Someone told me that after playing in a long-running series like Outrageous Fortune, you have to go into actors’ prison for a while” no one wants to hire you because they think you can only do one thing. Anthony Starr [who played the twins Van and Jethro West on Outrageous Fortune] couldn’t get work either” and now he’s on that fabulous HBO show in America.”

In a demonstration of just how classy an actress she is, Robyn comes across as quite unlike either of her popular television roles” Cheryl or Anna.


She describes herself as having been a bit of a geeky child” “brainy, relatively social, with a bit of a leadership thing going on. I did a lot of music” I was the kid lugging their cello across the playground.” She also admits to “having a bit of a mouth”. Her father was a maths teacher then the associate principal at Ashburton High, which Robyn attended and where she developed a bit of “an anti-authority streak”.

She remembers primary school” in Motueka and Ashburton in the 1970s” as a being a fairly brutal experience, with physical punishment still the norm. She describes the good teachers as being the ones who understood the uniqueness of each of their students” “the ones who had great relationships with kids as individuals, who were interested in you as a person. “We all do well if we think we’re liked. If a teacher likes the kids, it shows” and I know that’s a challenge because sometimes you have to like the unlikeable. “To be a really good teacher isn’t that easy” it’s a highly skilled profession. I think they should be paid a huge amount of money” like lawyers.”

Her two boys are currently in years 3 and 5 in an Auckland school, and she’s effusive about their experiences. “They’ve been to three primary schools because we’ve moved around a bit. Each one has been wonderful.”

National Standards

“They’ve really enjoyed their teachers every year. Their strengths are recognised and they’re engaged. I don’t have any doubts about their intelligence, and all the rest, so at the end of the day I’m just really interested in how happy they are.”

She’s opposed to National Standards and links them to increasing levels of homework. “Amongst parents sometimes I experience more competitiveness. It goes hand in hand with helicopter parenting, of children having to achieve an enormous amount early on. I really don’t give a shit about that, I really don’t.”

She says childhood is so fleeting, and the idea of eight and nine-year-olds labouring under mountains of homework runs counter to her idea of what childhood is about. “I’ve talked to my father a lot about this” about parents who drive miles from home to take their kids to a private school. But Dad says, and I agree” send your kid to the local school. Education in New Zealand is actually bloody good. New Zealand teachers are really, really good.”

What matters for young children, she says, is who their friends are, their community, and their parents. As for Agent Anna, Robyn hopes the network will commission another series. “I think there’s some real legs on that character. There’s a bit more a journey to go on with her” a lot more to explore.”