Jodie Hillock is a graduate of Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School. Her on-screen credits include The Inland Road, Daffodils, Ash vs Evil Dead, The Women’s Vote, The Brokenwood Mysteries, Nothing Trivial, and lead roles in the 2018 short film Milk, and the independent feature Blind Panic – currently in post-production.
In 2019 she appeared on New Zealand screens in a lead role on the new TVNZ drama The Bad Seed and will appear in the German-New Zealand co-production The Gulf.
Jodie’s on stage credits include Silo Theatre’s Tribes, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, The Seagull, After Miss Julie and Homeland; which won Jodie The 2007 Chapman Award for “Best Female Newcomer”.
Jodie played the role of “the Mother/Maria” in Ways To See. The following is a conversation with Jodie and director – Jessica Sanderson.
Jessica: What attracted you to Ways To See? I’m a director who’s new to drama and this is the first short film script I’ve written – that’s a bold move for an experienced actor such as yourself. What made you take that leap of faith?
Jodie: I liked the way it had been written, I enjoyed the script basically.
Jess: Oh, thanks mate.
Jodie: I also ask questions about who I’m going to work with. I go off the vibe of the person too – so when we met it was really nice to have the conversations that we had. I felt that we could be open with each other, you have to be open as a director.
You meet someone and if you don’t feel like you can open up, then that’s no good. I’d seen some of the other things you’ve made and they were beautiful, it was very sexy stuff [laughs].
I also looked at the creative team, I’d worked with Des [Desray Armstrong] on Stray and helped her in the casting process. So it was also Des that drew me to the project. And I loved Stray, the director was so uncompromising with that vision – there was a lot of trust with the audience and I loved that.
Jess: What were the best things about working on this project?
Jodie: I was excited about the all female creative team. I really was, and a female Director of Photography [Tammy Williams]. It’s just not something that I get a lot, I did enjoy that. The script excited me.
I don’t really get to work in Māori spaces and I’m really interested in doing that. I’m interested in land – and I relate to the way Māori connect to the land. As a white middle-class person I’m not asked to be a part of Māori projects very often. I’d love to do more.
Jess: What were the most challenging parts of this project?
Jodie: I’ve played depressed characters before. But trying to find the colour in that, in despair, can be a challenge. It can be very full-on to watch someone in that state. It was really interesting playing with you, doing different takes and going full-on with it. We got options, but I went home and thought – oh, that’s too much. But then you said you’d use other takes and that’s a great collaboration and a trust thing.
It’s always a challenge going to that dark place though and not be left with no energy. Quite often you can play a depressed person and there’s nothing there for the audience.
Jess: Thank you for the trust, because we needed that.
Jodie: It’s all about trust really isn’t it!. There was no tyrant on set. I’ve worked with tyrants and it’s exhausting and there’s no trust, which is horrible. I’m interested in a collaborative approach. For example, on the rooftop, you were pushing to get what you wanted. It was quite exciting, because it wasn’t my instinct, we got to play together.
Jess: What was it like working with Manawanui (Amaia)?
Jodie: She was just a delight. She was polite, fun, really clever! She was really happy to listen and settle when things had to be serious. She’s talented. She thrived in that environment, it was full-on too.
Jess: Your character was deeply depressed, almost catatonic. And you had to have an extreme leap in your mental state – for any character, for any actor, I imagine that’s a challenge.
Jodie: I’ve not been in that position myself, so I have to make it as believable as possible. Just trying to react as truthfully as possible. It’s possible for us to have major shifts though, it’s human instinct. I just try to remain truthful to it. If I thought someone I loved was in mortal danger, I would change in a second. Well...I like to think I would!
Jess: There are some very dark moments in this film, do you find it difficult to separate character experiences from your own head space?
Jodie: Not anymore, I used to. When I was younger, I played a character in a play, I was 19 and the character thought she’d been raped by Jesus. I had a panic attack at home, it wasn’t great. But since then, I’ve learnt to completely switch it off. I do feel the exhaustion of the character, but I can switch it off.
What helps me is absolute crap TV; Love Island, The Bachelor... watching vile television is great! Because you don’t have to think – brilliant! I remember when I did The Bad Seed, I watched Love Island religiously. It’s like watching a train crash, it’s awful but you can’t look away.
Jess: What are your prep rituals?
Jess: I use my headphones a lot, even if there’s nothing playing in it. It just allows you to have your own space.
Jess: If you can’t shut the door, use headphones eh?
Jodie: Yes! Sets are busy environments, you need to take a moment sometimes. Also it helps me to connect with my body; maybe it’s my chest or my stomach.
Jess: Being a massage therapist would help I imagine?
Jodie: Not particularly, what helps more are things I’ve learnt from drama school. And after a few years you start to figure out what works for you. Britta McVeigh, used to talk about the silent scream. Taking yourself to a place where you can get into your body.
I listened to Les Miserable, that personally gets me into the right starting place. If I’m listening to Katy Perry or something then I’m gonna be in a very different place. But I’ll change the music depending on the character.
Jess: Since working with us you went on to do The Bad Seed.
Jodie: That was good. It was three months work – amazing! We worked with Miranda Harcourt and she’s my go to, she’s great. She helps a lot with character, she makes you think about things that you may have never thought of. That was great.
I also did a stint on Daffodils, I’m a sucker for a musical, love them. I thought it was a nicely done musical. She was the “other woman” character, also not a light role to play.
The Golf, a new series, dark – again! I’d love to do comedy one day.
Jess: And your film? Which you wrote and was in it.
Jodie: Yes, Yamin Tun is my director. It’s called Arrow as our working title. Too hard for me to direct myself; horses, water, stunts. Far too much going on.
Jess: What do you want to do in the future?
Jodie: I’ve written another short film, which I’ll direct. I’m gonna give it a go! That will be interesting. And then I’m looking at writing the feature version of Arrow.
Jess: What advice do you have for up and coming actors?
Jodie: Start making your own stuff, create your own work. I wish I’d done it sooner rather than later. I thought theatre initially, but now it’s cinema. I wish I’d pulled finger earlier.
Jess: What is that transition like, from actor to writer?
Jodie: So freeing! I had written a lot in high school, but it was another creative outlet. Where you feel like you have more control. It was really empowering to write, at a personal level.
Jess: As an actor, control is an issue, autonomy… how do you deal with that?
Jodie: There are tricks [laughs], there are ways to control your performance and what you’re offering. But I think I’ve been lucky that I’ve been a part of processes that are really lovely.
Yeah, well with Arrow I’ve enjoyed being a part of the production team. A story can change completely in the edit room and you have absolutely no control over that as an actor. But you just have to surround yourself with people you trust and share a collective vision with, and I’m learning to do that.
Like, with Arrow, I had to let go. Because my team could add more than I could do alone. It’s a collaborative process and that’s what I’m interested in.
Jess: You’ve got another short in the works?
Yes! I’m exploring meat; the food chain, the circle of life. As a vegetarian I’m trying to unravel my feelings about it all really.
Jess: I look forward to seeing it! Thanks for having a chat with me today Jodie.
Jodie is represented by Gail Cowan Management.