Interview: Rose McIver Talks ‘Brightest Star’, American Accents and Auditioning for ‘Once Upon A Time’

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Rose McIver is all over the place it seems like. She’s appearing in Showtimes’ Master of Sex, playing Tinkerbell on ABC’s Once Upon a Time and now, she’s starring in the new film, Brightest Star.

The film is about a guy (Enlisted‘s Chris Lowell), who, right out of college is dumped by his girlfriend, Charlotte (McIver). So, he reinvents himself into the man he thinks she wants. Trouble is, along the way he ends up falling for his friend, Lita (Jessica Szohr). I liked the film a lot and you can read my review here.

The movie is directed by actress Maggie Kiley and in the interview, I asked Rose what it’s like to be directed by another actor. She said the Kiley “wants us to do the best work we can, so as an actor she knows what we need and the conversations that will be useful.” We also talk about her character, how she got the part and how she and Chris –  before they even met each other – formed a bond over email. And we get into her audition for Once Upon a Time and her flawless American accent.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

Brightest Star is in theaters and on VOD now

I really liked the movie. I thought it was really good.

Rose McIver: Thank you. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it.

One of the things I really liked about it is both female characters were very likeable. Most films would’ve had your character turn into the bitch.

Rose McIver: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, that was my first hesitation when I started reading the script. I was like, “Ok, where’s it gonna go wrong? Where’s she gonna end up being awful?” And amazingly, they managed to show her three dimensional and definitely flawed, but kept her, hopefully, I was aiming to keep her likeable as well.

Any normal guy, his head would explode trying to choose between either one of these two girls. They were flawed but they were also normal women that we all have known or know.

Rose McIver: Yeah. Yeah, I felt like that going into it when I was reading the script. I thought they were people and situations that were so familiar, especially coming straight out of college and you’re trying to find yourself and form your identity and you have these big ideals that you’ve grown up with about what you want in a partner or what you want in a career, and then the real world happens and you realize that you’re gonna have to make certain compromises or change your perspective a little. And that just feels so organic to me and I think they captured that really well in the script.

I was talking to Chris [Lowell] earlier and he said you guys shot this in 18 days.

Rose McIver: Talk about a quick turnaround.

Yeah, absolutely. Were you guys friends before or how did you form that bond so quickly in order to put it on screen?

Rose McIver: Chris and I spent a month… no, more than that. Maybe like a few months emailing backwards and forwards to kind of create a bit of a history for us and understand a bit more about each other and build in jokes and learn… it’s so that when you’re working on set you can have some points of reference and you have things that you know you can mention or say before a take that will make that person genuinely laugh or genuinely connect or genuinely annoyed at you. But it’s so much easier to find those and to have integrity when you’ve built a relationship before the 18 day shoot.

So I was just fortunate that Chris was on board. You don’t always have an actor who is willing to donate time and energy to building that back story and we collaborated with Maggie [Kiley] and managed to build a thing that when we were filming, we were able to just extract from what we already had.

Did you guys have any rehearsal time before filming?

Rose McIver: Yeah. We got a week in New York before we started shooting. So we used that time with Maggie really wisely. We went running over the lines over and over again. Maggie used the time to just kind of have conversations with us and use the lines as a starting point to talk about the scenes and talk about what we really needed to get out of material. And we had great, stimulating conversations and, you know, read through until we were familiar with everything. There weren’t any surprises. Because we were shooting out of sequence as well, you shoot out of sequence anyway but we’re also, the story is non-linear and so it could end up very chaotic if you didn’t know exactly where each scene takes place in the chronological story, so we used that time for that as well.

Brightest-Star

How did you initially get the role? Did you know Maggie prior to this?

Rose McIver: No. I read the script the day before I was due to fly back to New Zealand and I really liked it and I had one day left and I said, “Is there a chance you can meet tomorrow?” and so she and I went and got lunch and talked about it and from the moment I met Maggie I knew, you know, she’s an actor as well as a director and she has this real understanding of character that I really liked.

So we just got into this kind of long, riveting conversation and I had to leave because I had to go pack my bags and by the time I got back to New Zealand I knew I wanted to do it. I sent her a couple of scenes that I put down in New Zealand and we went from there.

How do you like being directed by someone who’s also an actor?

Rose McIver: That’s a scary title to be directed by an actor. But if you know Maggie, she just could not be less intimidating. She’s so kind. I mean, what’s intimidating about her is how she can remain calm and engaged and unflapped by any situation. It’s her film. She wants us to do the best work we can, so as an actor she knows what we need and the conversations that will be useful and she doesn’t over scrutinize us. She trusts us and knows what we’re trying to bring to the performance, the very best that we can. So it’s nice to work in an environment where you feel confident and understood. She definitely knows the language of actors.

Does she help with your performance at all?

Rose McIver: Absolutely. She… yeah. She first asks to see your instincts and if that isn’t in keeping with what she needs out of the scene, she’ll absolutely tell you and guide you towards the right answer. It’s funny because with actors you’re dealing with egos and helping people to realize the character for themselves. It’s no use her telling us what she thinks it should be. She needs to ask us the questions that will bring out what she wants and she’s really wise at how she does that. Manipulates us in a lovely, lovely way.

Listening to you talk, your American accent is flawless.

Rose McIver: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Did you just kind of pick it up? Because it’s perfect! You sound better than me.

Rose McIver: Hardly. I’m not sure. You haven’t seen me… improv is the one time that sometimes it can get drawn. If you’re familiar with the lines beforehand, you’re fine. Well, I feel like I’m fine. But when you’re asked to generate material on the spot, sometimes it’s not really actually the accent that’s the problem. It’s the idioms or the turns of phrase that aren’t common parlance in the US but that I would say in New Zealand. So those are the things that will trip me up more than anything else.

But growing up in New Zealand, we had access to a ton of American and British film and television. There was a huge influence on me from an early age and my brother and I both just have a natural kind of inclination towards accents, so I was just lucky, I guess.

When you walk around on set and you’re not doing a scene, are you staying in your American accent?

Rose McIver: No, I’m not. I can’t engage with people in an organic way if I’m just thinking about that at all. So I sort of slip in and out. The same way that if you’re playing a murderer on set, hopefully between takes you’re not murdering people. You know?

I’ve played a murderer before and I just went out and killed a bunch of people when I wasn’t on-set.

Rose McIver: That’s one way of doing it, you know?

Yeah, exactly. You’re also in Once Upon a Time.

Rose McIver: I am.

I read that when you auditioned, you didn’t know that it was actually for Tinkerbell.

Rose McIver: It’s true. I got told I was auditioning for a fairy and I…

Not the fairy.

Rose McIver: Not the fairy, a fairy. And I hadn’t seen the show. I hadn’t been in the same place long enough to follow anything for a while and I hadn’t watched it until I got cast. So I wasn’t aware that that was who I was going to be playing, which was a really pleasant surprise. I was able to go and then just completely have my own take on a character and then form that once I had the role with knowing everything that we do about Tinkerbell, which parts of that I was gonna choose to bring to it and which parts I wouldn’t.

Everyone has a vision of her in their head. Does that help you or hurt you?

Rose McIver: What’s great is there’s absolutely nothing I can do about that. There’s something that the costume department can do and there’s something that makeup can do, but visually I am me and the story, Once Upon a Time, is all about the human elements to these kind of fantastical characters. So really bringing the most genuine and truthful performance that you can is the most useful thing that you can do.

And the subject matter and the story will already tell the Tinkerbell story, so the  parts that I tried to incorporate like that Tinkerbell being a tiny figure was only able to host one emotion at a time, was something that J.M. Berry had created. And so I sort of like the idea of playing with big mood switches within a scene because she’s only able to embody a certain thing at once. But at the same time you don’t want that to take away from the narrative and the character journey and everyone else’s character journey. So it’s a matter of marrying those ideas.

What’s your advice to actors?

Rose McIver: Watch films, read books, engage with people, be an observer of people. I think that’s the most useful thing that you can do. And observe people that aren’t just actors. Like when you’re walking around and when you’re meeting other people and the plumber that comes to fix your sink and just see how people engage with other people and objects in a very genuine day to day basis. And just kind of keep these ideas in your head, and bring them out when it serves.

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