The Justice of Bunny King interview (The Age)

Jojo Rabbit star says Justice of Bunny King is the story of many women

Thomasin McKenzie is somewhere in Auckland, sitting out a fortnight of quarantine for the third time in her young life. This is where she will turn 21, which is hardly every young Kiwi’s dream, but part of the deal for an internationally feted actor; McKenzie’s face is familiar as the young Jewish hideaway in Taika Waititi’s Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit. Not that McKenzie is the complaining kind. “It depends on the day, where you are at mentally, how well you deal with it,” she says. “But most of the time I’m trying to take advantage of it: to get my affairs in order, you could say, and just figure out where I am in life.”

Also, she says brightly, her father has volunteered to isolate with her; he is in the room next door. Having your dad next door round the clock might not be every young person’s dream either but she says she just feels lucky. Both her parents are notable New Zealand actors; her mother is Miranda Harcourt and her father Stuart McKenzie, who writes and directs, and is her professional mentor. “It’s great for me to have him here. Probably not so great for him. That’s how dedicated he is!” They’re planning a fun 21st, no matter what.

We’re Zooming, of course. Her camera is turned off. She has recently been working on an animated series, she says; one of its chief attractions for her was that she didn’t have to worry about how she looked. “I really think that that is part of it. It’s a real luxury not to have to go through hours of make-up or costume. You can turn up looking completely like a mess. As I usually do in quarantine.” I’ll have to take her word on that.

Top of our agenda is The Justice of Bunny King, the first feature by New Zealand filmmaker Gaysorn Thavat, who came to directing by way of cinematography. Essie Davis stars as the eponymous Bunny, as a woman down on her luck but irrepressibly spirited; we first see her spongeing car windows on an Auckland intersection, working with a cheerful gang of Maori lads half her age.

It gradually emerges that Bunny has been in prison. Unable to find a real job or a house, she is sleeping on her sister’s couch and serving as chief skivvy to her family in return for their largesse. Her own beloved children are in care; she is allowed to see them only under supervision at her assigned social worker’s office “She’s one woman, but it’s actually the story of many women,” says Thavat. “It’s a really common story we have here in New Zealand.”

McKenzie plays her niece Tonyah, whose story is also distressingly common: as Bunny discovers, her stepfather is abusing her. Tonyah says very little, about that or anything else; her shame and fear is in her walk, her glance and in her silence. McKenzie was comfortable with that. “Sometimes verbally I struggle to express myself in my personal life, so it felt quite natural to me to be leaning more on body language,” she says. “And Tonyah is a character who is bottling her emotions up, partly because she just feels very ashamed.” When Bunny is thrown out of the house, accused of making trouble, Tonyah comes too. Bunny may be erratic and combustible but she is a safe place.

Davis and McKenzie were already a team; McKenzie had played Davis’s daughter-in-law in Justin Kurzel’s The True History of the Kelly Gang. “I love Essie, she is such a big presence I think, she has so much strength and grit and life inside of her that it is a real treat to be a scene partner with her,” says McKenzie. “She just draws you in.”

On Bunny King, remembers director Thavat, McKenzie arrived on set only a day before she had to start shooting; there was no time to discuss her approach. “But Thomasin is an amazingly talented actress,” she says. “You can really just put a camera on her and roll. The best thing you can do as a director is let her spin her magic and not get in the way.” When the film was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in June, the two actresses received a special mention by the judges of the festival’s Nora Ephron Award for women filmmakers.

McKenzie came to the world’s notice only three years ago, when she came to the Cannes Film Festival as the young star of Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. It was the story of a father and daughter who live in the woods of Oregon. Ben Foster played her father, a former soldier with PTSD that makes living in a house unbearable, while she was compelling as a child of the woods, as diligent as a beaver and as watchful as a faun.

When she spoke, it was with the drawl of the Pacific North-West. It was a shock afterwards to hear her speak in her real voice, the vocal equivalent of hokey-pokey ice-cream. After doing so many accents for different films, she believes her own accent must have shifted. “A lot of people have been telling me recently that I’ve got a very subtle, soft Kiwi accent, which I feel insulted by!” Don’t worry, I say. They’re lying.

McKenzie had never been overseas before, let alone to such a grand event. From her home in Wellington, she travelled with her parents across America to Heathrow Airport in London, where she got into trouble. “In my carry-on, I had a bullet I’d completely forgotten about,” she says, as if this were something anyone might do. A bullet? You were carrying a bullet? “I’d picked it up on my boyfriend’s farm as a memento and put it in the pocket of my bag and then forgotten about it. it was one of the stupidest things I think I’ve ever done in my life but there you go.”

By the end of this year, McKenzie will have three major films launched into the world – Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho and the recently released Old, by M. Night Shyamalan. That’s a whiff of the awards season, right there. Her forthcoming birthday could be seen as a time for taking stock, deciding what she wants to be as an adult.

“Hmm,” she says dubiously. “I think I’m figuring that out as I go. A couple of the films I’ve done recently have really reminded me how important it is to stay in the moment and stay present, so what I’m trying to do these days is just take things as they come.” As long as she goes on acting, she adds. “My ultimate goal in life is to be in a Miyazaki film. My Neighbour Totaro (1988) is the film I always go to if I’m not feeling so good or missing home.” To voice the English version of a Japanese animation: is there an actor in the world with such a modest ultimate goal? It’s as Kiwi as the bullet story.

She knows she has missed out on some of the waymarks of youth, such as the school formal and going to university, though she hopes to go sometime; she is interested in so many things, from Greek myths to biology. What about campus life? “I have missed out on some of those things but I’ve never wished I wasn’t doing what I’m doing. When I go home to Wellington I get to spend time with friends and do those things that are, as you say, specific to this time of life. But I also think that through acting, you get to experience such a huge range of things. I’ve lived through so many different lives. I feel pretty satisfied with that.”

Turning the tables on homelessness

Homelessness is a growing problem in Australia as well as New Zealand. In 2016, the ABS estimated there are 25,000 homeless people in Victoria, with the majority dossing in overcrowded houses. A state standing committee report into homelessness in March found that while the biggest group were young, there was a growing cohort of older women with no money and nowhere to go. Behind the figures must be hundreds of human dramas but there are very few films on the subject. “Which is odd, don’t you think?” asks Gaysorn Thavat, director of The Justice of Bunny King.

Her film has often been compared to Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. “He wasn’t homeless but he was on his way to it – it shows the process of how it happens.” But Loach had already made the definitive film on the subject: Cathy Come Home, a BBC Wednesday Play, in 1966. Cathy and her husband are forced from one home after another and finally lose their children. The play was watched by a quarter of the British population, led to a public outcry and the formation of the homeless charity Crisis, and has since been voted the most influential television program of all time.

Source: Theage.com.au

Welcome to Thomasin McKenzie Fan, the latest online resource dedicated to the talented NZ actress Thomasin McKenzie. Thomasin has been in TV shows like "End of Term", "Shortland Street", "Bright Summer Night" and "Lucy Lewis Can't Lose". She has also been in films such as "Leave No Trace", "Jojo Rabbit", "Last Night in Soho", "Old" and "The Justice of Bunny King". This site is online to show our support to the actress Thomasin McKenzie, as well as giving her fans a chance to get the latest news and images.
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