Interview with actress/writer Zenith Ander
Today on What On What’s Good, with Host Jovin Tardif, I am here with Zenith Ander. Zenith is a Scottish-Australian actress based in Los Angeles. She is a professional member of the prestigious BAFTA Los Angeles, Australians in Film, Scottish Screenwriters, Women in Moving Pictures (W.I.M.P.S), and is the founder of Female Film Connect. In our interview, we discuss her roles in People Magazine Investigates and Love and Compromise, writing tips, and much more.
1. Describe your first network television role on ‘Blue Heelers’?
Blue Heelers was my initial network breakout role in Australia. I was just starting my screen career. Previously, I had been working in theater for a bunch of years. I also hosted 2 shows on Melbourne’s local TV station, Channel 31. Blue Heelers was an awesome experience, from the auditions to being on set. I met Jodie McKenna at Channel 7 casting (The Real Housewives of Melbourne). She was so supportive in my audition. It was one of my very first. When I received the callback, the director and producers were there, and it felt like a really huge deal. I proudly aced the audition and was subsequently cast as Tania Morgan. We began shooting around a week later after the table read. I remember that on my first day I was super amused when I arrived at wardrobe.
Tania was a real piece-of-work character, a bratty teenager who gets into a fight with a girl who goes missing and is found near-dead by a river. Wardrobe had picked a bunch of really distasteful outfits for Tania to wear and at the fitting, I instantly transformed! Much of my theater work was as a costumed character (with big fluffy heads), so performing in human clothes with my human face was surprisingly vulnerable for me, and a real coming-of-age learning experience. It was hugely different to hosting and presenting on TV as I was always being myself and didn’t have to worry much about direction in terms of knowing where the camera was and interacting with people I was interviewing. Being directed in an on-screen drama was both exhilarating and frightening – I really wanted to get it right!
2. What was it like on the set?
All of this neurosis develops over time, and you learn to trust yourself and your work as you mature in your career and learn to be at home on set, but this fresh-faced teenage actor was definitely feeling the excitement of actually acting on television! I had met my castmates at the table read, and we all got along incredibly well. I was definitely intimidated by the well-known, very experienced actors that were in the show, but luckily they were all excellent and funny people who were really keen to support the “freshies”.
They’d all been young, new actors at one point. I had friends who had been cast in roles early in their career who had been cut and recast, and it was really devastating for them. I was very aware that I needed to seem relaxed in my work and do an excellent job so that that wouldn’t happen to me. That is quite a lot of pressure for a teenager in retrospect! Whatever I did, it worked and I received a lot of praise for that role. I felt very lucky. Blue Heelers won over 30 awards in its time on Australian television and is now available on Amazon Prime here in the States, Australia, the UK, and Europe.
3. What was it like working on ID Channel’s People Magazine Investigates series?
Ooh – the Long Island Serial Killer case is brutal. Surprisingly, I do have a lot of fun memories from this shoot, albeit a grim tale! This role for Radley Studios and Investigation Discovery was an excellent experience, but a real departure from acting in a fictitious role. It was the first time I had acted in a True Crime story, and I wanted to play it sensitively due to the fact that I was playing a real person who still has a real, living family.
The first day on set for the makeup test was wild – they brought over a photograph of the woman who I was playing, Melissa Barthelemy, who was a victim in the case. The makeup artist was looking at the photo for reference as she worked on me, and it felt very strange. Morbid, really. I had a very deep chat with myself after the first day of shooting and decided that this role was very important, as to this day the case is still unsolved. Keeping stories of victims in the public eye is what actually helps cases get solved. Day two on set was a lot more intense. At one point I was chained to a fence and tortured.
The director Stephen Schuster was super nice and was constantly checking in with me as things got more brutal. The production and crew were really kind and sensitive, and the People Magazine Investigates role was one of the first I was cast in after moving to LA. The show has a viewership of over 4 million and is available on the ID Channel, Amazon Prime, and TLC.
4. Any fun memories from the TV series People Magazine Investigates?
As with most jobs, they do end up being a lot of fun. You find your new friends on set and in between takes there is a lot of joking around and light-heartedness. I was invited into the production studio during the edit and ended up playing video games until the wee hours with the production team. For the record, I won most of the games!
5. Can we have some insight into the upcoming film ‘Love and Compromise’?
Love and Compromise is an awesome feature script. I truly cannot wait to get started rolling on this! Kathy and her best friend head off for a bachelorette party weekend and start to reevaluate their current relationships. They’re keeping secrets from each other and it gets very messy, very quickly! It is a ‘Bridesmaids’ meets ‘The Hangover’ story.
6. How would you describe your character, Kathy?
Kathy is an unhinged, but somewhat traditional character who is more impulsive than she’d like to admit. I’ve been having the best time getting to know her (L&C is now in pre-production), and would love to think that she is very different to me, but I can’t really say that with certainty! She is an excitable soul with good intentions, but maybe hasn’t quite figured out what she truly wants in life. Like many women (or people in general), Kathy has an ideal fairytale in her mind that she thinks may solve all of her problems if she can only just live up to it. Without giving too much away, she has some sh*t to figure out! I loved the script the minute I put it down.
I was hooked the entire time and didn’t have a second to think on my first reading! The producer MmJoe (Sanchez) had sent me the script around September 2019 and offered me the role of Kathy after I hosted the World Film Fair in Santa Monica last year. Without hesitation I agreed, and after a few readings, he offered me subsequent roles in the upcoming ‘Uncommon Criminals’ and ‘Roller Daze’. We just really gel creatively, and I am stoked to be working with StandAsOne (Production) over the coming years.
7. Any news about your show ‘Roller Daze’ set in Venice Beach?
StandAsOne with MmJoe Sanchez are producing this ace 10-episode series script in which I will be playing Alexis. It’s super early days in ‘Roller Daze”s production (it is set to start pre-production early-mid 2022), but the script is super cool! Like you mentioned, it is set on Venice Beach in California and is about an entrepreneurial, rollerskating go-getter girl who starts a delivery service. It’s really a gorgeous story, and the aesthetic of Venice Beach couldn’t be more fitting with the backdrop of the palm trees and ocean. When I first read the script, I was having images of sunsets and dogs in shoes wandering around the scenes! Alexis is a super cool character, a beach-loving boho type. I have heard some rumblings of some incredibly talented actors joining the cast, but the production company is keeping that all very secret right now.
8. You also do some writing. How would you describe your writing style?
You have done your research! I certainly do some writing. I have written a few scripts, my most recent being a short called ‘The Heart is an Idiot’ that I am looking to shoot and star in soon with Clément Oberto. He just produced and directed a video for Christina Aguilera, and is a very talented French filmmaker based in LA. I also wrote a series called ‘Clean’ which is honestly just sitting around and taking up space in my closet at the moment! And I also wrote a show called ‘Echo’ in which we created an Indiegogo fundraiser. We managed to raise more than our initial production cost target, which is unheard of! My writing style, I would describe as existential. I like characters who are very simply good people, but in a situation, they’d rather not be in.
I like the juxtaposition of the flawed wo/man in a mad world, so to speak. Usually, I write about women’s relationships with each other. I like to explore the nuance of an individual’s personal damage against someone who is also dealing with their own damage. I like to explore love stories because that is essentially what stories about friendship are. We all have our own unique romantic experience with life, and I think friendship can be romantic. Gestures are romantic, and strong female friendships can often be more intimate than heterosexual relationships. I love exploring characters who are truly looking for love, and what that love actually ends up looking like, well, is rarely the fairytale, but often something stronger! Thank you for chatting with me What On What’s Good! I’m looking forward to keeping you up to date of all that is coming up for me!