Why Antonia Prebble has her sights set on LA

For someone whose day job is making a scene, Antonia Prebble is no diva.

Antonia Prebble

“Any kind of production, whether it’s a photo shoot or a film, is a collaboration, and everyone’s just doing their best,” says Antonia Prebble. She’s not wrong. At her photo shoot for Fashion Quarterly, there are 13 people in attendance, all working hard to ensure that Antonia, and her images, look fabulous. And when the first shot is in the bag, the 31-year-old actor is quick to thank everyone for what she insists is a “team effort”. Far from the demanding starlet stereotype, she is warm, professional and cooperative. “I just think it helps the product in the end,” she explains, “if everyone’s feeling good and working together, rather than in all these disparate parts.”

Granted, Antonia loves being involved in any creative process. She enjoys collaborating with costume designers in particular because of the enormous role that wardrobe plays in helping her interpret a character. “You have these abstract, general instincts about who they are, but when you find these concrete, tangible pieces, it’s like the outside of the character informs the inside.”

This was certainly the case last year when Antonia was working with costume designer Jaindra Watson to realise the character of Rita West for Westside, the prequel to the Kiwi classic Outrageous Fortune. “We were both figuring out who Rita was together. At the first costume fitting nothing I tried on was right and we both knew it. We were doing these really stereotypical 60s dresses with geometric patterns and it just wasn’t working. Then I tried on a miniskirt, boots and a low-cut top and we both just went, ‘Yes! That’s it! I know who she is now’.”

Antonia Prebble

Antonia seeks that eureka moment when shopping at her favourite vintage stores in Los Angeles (Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads are two she recommends). “I don’t purport to know anything about fashion, I just know what I like. Generally things that are slightly different and inspired by previous eras; that’s why vintage appeals.” The upshot of Antonia’s long-time love of vintage is that people often mistake her clothes for costumes. To be fair, it sounds like the line between the two does occasionally get blurred. If it didn’t, her closet would not contain a very Rita-esque pair of wide-leg, high-waisted H&M trousers, purchased just after wrapping Westside last year. “I definitely think I’m influenced by whatever environment I’m in,” she confesses. “I’m a very spongy person.”

When it came to playing Outrageous Fortune’s Loretta West, this was not always for the best. Not only did she find herself swearing far more liberally in real life than she ever had before, she realised she was bringing a little too much of Loretta’s character to new roles she was auditioning for. At one read-through, she turned a “light and fluffy and gorgeous” character into “a total bitch”. “The director kept telling me to soften it up, and I realised I was being subconsciously influenced by Loretta. I had to pull myself back from that perceived neutral to actual neutral.”

Auditioning is something she’s been doing a bit of lately. Earlier in the year, Antonia was in Los Angeles for pilot season (the period from January through to March, when pilot episodes of new TV series are made before being shopped around). The experience, she tells me, is more manageable and less daunting than it sounds. “I was expecting to arrive in this frenzied, frenetic place of so much activity, but it’s actually not that at all. The number of auditions increases exponentially but it’s the same process, there’s just more of them.”

Antonia Prebble

Having clocked up three months in LA this year alone, she’s beginning to think of it as a second home. True to her sponge-like nature, Antonia spends her time there happily immersed in the world of green-tinged juice and Aura Cycle – “it’s like a less fancy SoulCycle!” – while a community of Kiwi actors provides a crucial support system. Antonia is philosophical about the inevitable rejections that actors face: “It’s par for the course, so the emotional rollercoaster isn’t as intense as you might think. And it’s not personal. Most of the time you’re only in the room for two minutes – they don’t know you at all!”

While she came home without landing a role, Antonia is enjoying being the freest she’s been in years. She’s just watched The Godfather for the first time. “It’s ridiculous,” she says, of the films she has not yet seen. “For someone who is in the industry I’ve hardly seen any!” In any case, this free time is about to be cut short. As we chat, she learns that Westside has been renewed for another season on TV3, and she’s thrilled. “I had such a good time filming that show, the character was so interesting and complex, and it was just this wonderful combination of the novel and the familiar.”

It was also a challenge given that the Rita West mythologised throughout Outrageous Fortune “was quite different to the person she actually is, so I did come in with ideas of who she was, and I had to unpick those and start again”. Another challenge for the actress, who began her career at 12 years of age, was reconciling with Rita’s sexuality. “Every week I’d email my mum and say ‘Sorry, brace yourselves, it’s not a good one!’”

She also grappled with her character’s emotional maturity. “She’s this grown woman who’s really sure of herself, and I’m not quite there in my own life yet, so it was a stretch to find that and embody it. Of course, one of the things I love about acting is being able to play these challenging roles where you do have to stretch yourself. But getting stretched hurts sometimes.”


When pressed if she’d ever consider doing a reality show such as Dancing with the Stars, as did her former Outrageous co-star, Siobhan Marshall, Antonia admits to being an okay dancer, but says if she was to partake in a reality show it’d be travel oriented. “The Amazing Race would be my ideal… even though I have a terrible sense of direction, I’d have to work on that!” For now, though, she’s not giving up on the American dream. “The next goal for me is to establish a career in America. I love New Zealand and I don’t want to leave but there’s not really enough work to sustain a career here and I want to keep acting, so it’s the inevitable next step.”

As far as how this step will affect her personal life, she and partner of six years, fellow actor Gareth Williams, will cross that bridge when they get to it. Although it’s not ideal, the couple is accustomed to being apart and making it work. A long-term goal is to have a family. She’s holding out hope of one day “magically discovering the formula of being a mum and an actress who’s able to travel overseas and still have a really happy home life, which doesn’t sound like a tall order at all,” she laughs.

In the meantime, she’s learning “to go with the flow and trust that life is unfolding as it should. I can definitely always benefit from telling myself that. Trust the process, trust the timing, know that it’s all going to be okay. It’s okay not to know everything.”

Words: Phoebe Watt
Photos: Meek Zuiderwyk
Stylist: Tyla McKenzie