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Five Minutes With Sophie Henderson

Young New Zealand actor Sophie Henderson is a familiar face on the country’s stage and screen. She stars in her first screenplay, Fantail – a drama set in a petrol station and revolving around a white girl who thinks she’s Maori – in cinemas now.

Five Minutes With Sophie Henderson

How long have you been working in film?
I’ve worked as an actor in film and television since I finished drama school in 2007, but this is my first time being a filmmaker. I got into writing because I felt limited as an actor – limited by the parts I played and by the types of scripts I was involved in. You are always telling other people’s stories; you don’t really get a choice. My background is in theatre and so I care deeply about the audience. Theatre is fleeting and if you miss it, that’s it. What’s great about film is that it can travel the world and it will always exist for people to watch.

What makes Fantail different?
I think because the film is personal it is distinctive. There are bits of me in Tania (the lead character). I have two little brothers and I have drawn heavily on my hate for retail. When I was coming up with the idea, I wondered what if a white girl truly believed she was Maori and why would she want to believe that so badly? I’m not Maori, but I think Fantail starts a conversation about identity and how we belong to each other’s cultures in New Zealand.

Tell us about the making of Fantail.
I had about six months to write and develop the script and we shot the film in 20 days, so those parts were fast. Director Curtis Vowell and editor Richard Shaw took their time editing Fantail because they … cared so much about telling the story the best way. For both of them it was their first film and they dedicated much more time than you usually would in the edit. We shot in June in 2012 and finished the film in July 2013, so it was a year in the making and now it is finally coming to New Zealand screens.

You call it a “passion project”. What do you mean by that?
I have an intense connection and a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm for the film. I did it for the love of it with very little resources and for no money. And it was totally worth it because this project has been life changing, and career changing.

Did you expect Fantail to have such an impact with audiences?
I’m pretty delighted at how many people connect with the characters and get what we’re trying to say. I think the best thing was having international audiences respond in the way they did – that was unexpected because it is such a distinctly Kiwi film.

What would you make if you had a bigger budget?
Whatever the project, more budget would mean shooting for longer and being able to cast movie stars. But for now, I’m interested in making lots of low-budget films instead of waiting years to make one big budget film. I reckon my next film, Manhunt, will have around four times the budget of Fantail, so around a million dollars.

Manhunt is about an artist who always falls for the wrong man and so decides to make her own boyfriends – she sculpts one, folds one, grows one, knits one. I’m interested in all of the magic happening in-camera, so art department and costume design will be pretty expensive.

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