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Five Minutes With: Morgana O’Reilly

We talk to Morgana O'Reilly, star of new Kiwi comedy-thriller Housebound, about her latest role, why Americans love Antipodean films and being an only child. 

Five Minutes With: Morgana O’Reilly

What attracted you to the role in Housebound? 

I wish I had a really romantic reason, but mostly [because] it was work … I’d done a really small stint on The Jaquie Brown Diaries with Gerard (Johnstone, director of Housebound) and I really loved that work, and I really liked the show. I was pretty stoked that he wanted to work with me. Also, when I read the script I loved how tough my character was, I loved that she’s a lead female without a love interest and that she’s unapologetically pissed off.

Was it fun playing someone so obnoxious?

It was fun after a while, the first few weeks put me in a bad mood, which I needed to figure out how to handle, because I wasn’t being very pleasant – I am quite a pleasant person in real life! – but after I figured out how to control [it], then she was really fun.

New Zealand seem to have a tradition of humorous horror flicks, do you include Housebound as part of that tradition?

[Peter Jackson’s] Braindead and The Frighteners are in a similar realm. I think it speaks really strongly to the fact that Kiwis have a strong sense of irony, and find it pretty hard to be earnest and take themselves too seriously. So I think a horror movie, when it’s really serious, probably gives most Kiwis the giggles anyway. So maybe it just goes hand-in-hand when you get a New Zealander making a horror film – we can’t help but take the piss a bit! Any chance to find a weird little laugh in a place where other parts of the world dabble on the serious side, we’re up for it.

Housebound premiered at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Do you know what sort of a reaction it got? 

I wasn’t there, I was working – which I guess is a blessing and a curse! – but I followed it really closely on Twitter and it seems to have got an amazing reception, better than we could have hoped. People really responded to it. And it’s that thing I think Kiwi films always have, or when you take something out of New Zealand and take it overseas. We always go, ‘Oh, people probably won’t get it,’ but of course they do, they totally get it and they love it. And it’s really genuinely New Zealand, we’re not trying to make a film so that the Americans like it – they love it, it translated really well. It’s awesome to be in a movie, and it’s really awesome to be in a movie everyone seems to like.

You were recently at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival performing your play “The Height of the Eiffel Tower”. What was that like? 

It was amazing, it had a few hard bits, you know. If you’re doing a month at a festival it’s going to be pretty hard and you’re up against a lot of other shows – 3000 shows to be exact. But I had the time of my life and I saw so much other stuff that I feel really inspired to make something else now and happily put the piece that I just did to sleep for a little while.

Having written sketches and also “The Height of the Eiffel Tower”, are you keen to do more writing?

I really love writing. It’s not something that I have a compulsion to do like some people, and I have to really push myself to do it, but as an actor I think it’s really important to try to figure out some other aspect of your craft that you can do to keep working, to keep telling stories, so I’ve always got a few little projects on the boil.

As an actor, do you think comedy is harder than drama?

I don’t know, they’re very different … but within each of those, comedy and drama, there’s a million different tones, so you go, it’s a comedy-horror so it’s funny … I think I play comedy quite well, but in the movie I couldn’t play comedy because then it wouldn’t have been funny. I guess it’s not so much comedy rather than drama, but tone, figuring out the tone of what you’re doing – that can be quite hard – and then hitting that just right to make you match the movie that you’re in, if that makes sense.

It must be hard to gauge how that comes across to an audience?

Yes, and you can’t intellectualise it too much because then you’ll kill it. But then at the same time you do need to a bit. It’s a completely wonderful, different ball game when you’re doing comedy on stage, because then you’re your own editor, the rhythm of it is really specific to the audience you’re doing it to every night – they will laugh at different things, and it can be in relation to maybe putting a slightly different intonation at the start of the show on one of the lines, [it] can affect a joke further down the track when you’re doing it live. But then on screen, you’re really in the hands of the editor, he or she is determining the rhythm. And with something like Housebound, Gerard edited it and you can totally tell – it’s got his rhythm to it and it’s brilliant because it’s his writing. There’s a really specific heartbeat to it.

You’re known for being able to play multiple characters in a short space of time and switch between them, does that take a lot of work or does it come naturally?

That comes very naturally. I’m an only child, I’ve got so many people stuck inside me. Being an only child probably informs a lot of my blind confidence in myself, I can’t really compare it to anything. I have very close cousins, but I can imagine maybe having a sibling – as a child they would have told me to shut up!

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