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Back under the vines

22 March 2023
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Dunedin-based star Rebecca Gibney talks wining, dining, making great Kiwi TV and her love for the south. Interview Josie Steenhart

Kiwi-born star of screens both big and small Rebecca Gibney’s latest role is one that’s both close to her heart and to her homebase, as a longtime resident of Dunedin.

Under the Vines, set and shot in Central Otago, became an immediate feel-good favourite from the first episode – due in no small part to Rebecca’s character Daisy Monroe.

We caught up with the multi-award-winning actor as the second series went to air.

Congrats on a second season of Under the Vines! How was it shooting season two?

It was great and so wonderful to be back in Central Otago. We are almost locals in Clyde now!

We were also shooting during Covid so there were a lot of protocols in place. Luckily none of the cast got sick while we were filming so we were able to keep the schedule the same.

We always have a lovely time as we all get along so well. It doesn’t feel like a job and this time we were based in Clyde so had lots of time to explore the local area, which was lovely.

Is it quite different returning for a second season of shooting a show?

There’s a familiarity that really helps. We know what works and what doesn’t and of course we know all the locations and the costs so that helps a lot.

Some people think there’s the added pressure of trying to get it as good as season one, but we’re lucky in that our writers came back and produced such beautiful scripts so it was easy and I think it’s equally as good, if not better.

The show has been a huge hit, was that a surprise or did you know you were onto a winner?

I always knew there was something special about it. From the moment the idea was pitched to me – about two strangers from opposite ends of the earth with nothing in common inheriting a rundown vineyard in the deep south of New Zealand, and how they learn to integrate into the town with an array of wonderful local characters – it had such a joyous feel about it. Throw in romance, amazing locations and wine and what’s not to love.

Plus, as I said, we have such a wonderful team of amazing creatives so it was always going to be special.

Any Covid-related challenges, as that was still in the throes at that time I think?

Not really, a few crew came down with it but we were able to replace them for the time they had to isolate and then they were back and we kept going. It might have been a different story if [co-star] Charlie [Edwards] or I had succumbed but luckily we pulled through.

What was a typical day on set like?

On shows like Under the Vines I’m both an actor and I’m also one of the executive producers.

As an actor, your responsibility is to create a character, learn your lines, show up on time and do the job to the best of your ability but you’re not really in control of much more than that.

Our days usually start very early with makeup and costume calls and then a full day of filming but the vibe on set is always loads of fun – our cast and crew really are like a big family so even though the days are long, they seem to fly by!

As an EP there’s obviously more control over the full outcome of the project. I love it but I do have to wear two hats and sometimes I’m not good at swapping them out.

I’m lucky in that there is enormous support from our production team and once we are shooting I try to take off the EP hat and focus on being an actor (although I still tend to watch rushes and discuss script notes while we are shooting – I do enjoy multitasking!).

Also our EPs/producers have the added worry of keeping everything on track financially and, having been involved in that side of things on earlier shows, I now try to avoid those discussions wherever possible!

What did you get up to in your time off?

We had an amazing trip and spent the Christmas and new year period in Canada and the US. It was the first trip since Covid, and my husband and son are avid skiers so we were away for six weeks visiting two ski resorts.

We also visited our dear friends in Cape Cod, a place I had never been, and that was very special as I met these particular friends nearly 40 years ago in New Zealand, they were my first flatmates, so to be able to visit them in their home in the US for their 40th wedding anniversary was a real treat.

Are you a big wine fan in real life? Any South Island favourites you could recommend?

If I don’t say Two Paddocks, Sam (Neill) will never forgive me! It does produce amazing wine. I’m also partial to a rosé now and then… and a crisp pinot gris… a light chardonnay, depending on the meal. And of course a pinot noir.

What are some favourite spots in the area to visit?

I love all the walks around Queenstown and often head out to Glenorchy. The Routeburn Track is one of my most favourite walks anywhere in the world.

Clyde is where we film a lot of the scenes of Peak View and it’s an awesome wee town with really lovely people who have been so welcoming. The cafés and craft shops there are lovely as well.

Arrowtown is great and the walk along the river there after breakfast at The Chop House is pretty outstanding. And Botswana Butchery, Rata and Sherwood have incredible meals.

I could actually write a novel about all the things to do in the area.

My husband and I also just bought bikes to do some of the bike trails on my weekends off. Heading to do a part of the Otago Rail Trail this weekend, actually.

And to eat/drink/stay?

Olivers in Clyde, Botswana and Rata in Queenstown, Kobe Japanese out at Millbrook. There are so many accommodation options in Queenstown. Eichardt’s is pretty special and The Spire has great rooms. The Sofitel is right in the heart of Queenstown as well. St Moritz has lovely large rooms. And if you want something extra special, Blanket Bay is superb.

Fergburger is a must for burgers followed by either a donut or gelato. White + Wongs has delicious Asian fusion, Kanpai is still tops for Japanese. The Bunker for awesome cocktails.

You’ve lived in Dunedin for the last five-plus years, what drew you to settling in the south?

The people mostly, but also obviously the environment. The air is clean and fresh, there is so much to do if you want to be active but there’s also lots to do if you don’t.

Great restaurants and bars in Dunedin, awesome shopping, art galleries… Dunedin especially has a love of all things art – you can wander the streets just to look at the graffiti art on so many of the buildings.

And there’s a feeling of simplicity, people still take the time to chat, to ask you how you are. There’s a real sense of community.

As a local, where do you take visitors as must-dos/sees?

In Dunedin, high tea at Larnach Castle was high on my brother and his wife’s list of things to do and they loved it.

We are regulars at No 7 Balmac up in Maori Hill. It’s our go-to for brunch, dinner, everything really. Gorgeous food and excellent service – try Sheryl’s lemon slice. Yum.

The Good Oil café in George Street does the best club sandwich ever and an excellent coconut latte. They also have one at Nichol’s Garden Centre so you can shop for plants and then have lunch or coffee. Great service as well. And Nova in the Octagon next to the art gallery does amazing donuts!

The albatross colony is worth the drive especially when they are nesting. Doctors Point is also stunning for a drive and there’s an eco sanctuary out that way too.

Beach walks, movies at the classic Rialto cinema followed by dinner at any one of the amazing restaurants near the Octagon. The farmers’ market at the Railway Station on a Saturday afternoon.

And if a longer drive is on the agenda then a visit to Curio Bay to swim with the Hector dolphins, further on to stunning Lake Manapouri and then to Milford Sound via Te Anau is an absolute must. But bring your bug spray – the sandflies are lethal!

Are we likely to be seeing a third season in the works? Anything else you’ve got on for the year ahead you can tell us about?

We are very hopeful of a third series and should know soon but I’ve got a few other things in the pipeline as well so lots on the boil.

I’m back in Dunedin for a few weeks and then will be heading back to Oz to star in a new series, which I am super excited about.

I love that I can bounce between the two countries as I feel incredibly grateful to Australia for the opportunities I have had over the years but I have to say I am utterly in love with the deep south of New Zealand.

Whenever we come home after being away a while I’m reminded how stunning it is and how lovely the people are. I’ve never experienced friendliness like you get in Dunedin. Everyone is up for a chat and always so willing to help at the drop of a hat. There is such a sense of community here.

I’ve also recently completed co-writing the first episode of a new series that I’ve created for our company R & R and we are working together with an amazing Australian-based company to raise the finance to hopefully be shooting in the UK in 2024.

It’s always a long process getting a series up but it’s one that I love and I’m lucky that I get to do it with my husband and partner in R & R Productions.

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