16 Aug 2020

Rebecca Gibney - a lowdown criminal at last

From Standing Room Only, 1:45 pm on 16 August 2020

The secret weapon in the upcoming comedy heist movie Lowdown Dirty Criminals is undoubtedly the woman who left New Zealand a raw Kiwi kid and became one of the most successful and most loved actors in Australia. 

She's not only the star of shows like Packed to the Rafters, Halifax and Wanted, but these days half the time she produces them as well.

Rebecca Gibney hasn't made a New Zealand feature film since she played the challenging role of "Clive's secretary" in Mr Wrong back in the 1980s.

Gibney tells Simon Morris she only went to Australia for a holiday and walked into an agency on the off-chance she’d get some work.

“They thought it was hilarious because you didn’t just walk in off the street. Normally you had to make an appointment, but I didn’t know that. She thought because I had a bit of gumption, she brought me in for a couple of shows and I got offered both of them.

"But before that I’d already gone home and come back to Wellington because I was home sick and just before Christmas in 1994 I got the phone call ‘well, you got both of the jobs that you went for, which one do you want?’ That’s how it all started.”

At the time Gibney had very little acting experience, playing a minor role in a children’s movie Sea Urchins and had mostly worked as a model. She had also been offered a role in newly-launched Neighbours, playing a Kiwi stripper, which she duly declined.

After acting in the children’s hit series Zoo Family, she took up her lead part in the mini-series The Great Bookie Robbery and her career took off at pace. After learning the ropes in these projects, Flying Doctors came next.

“I was in Flying Doctors for three years and that’s where I really learned acting, kind of. I mean, even at the end of that I kept thinking ‘they’re going to find out I’m faking it at some point.”

Moving back to Dunedin recently, she isn’t shy about reminding people she’s a Kiwi, although she holds an Australian password and she’s thankful of the opportunities the country has given her.

The queen of day-time TV says the role most suited to her was dear to her heart and one that coincidentally brought mega-success. No one knew how popular the series would be, but those involved knew there was something special about the script and chemistry of the cast.

“Probably the most comfortable role for me was playing Julie Rafters in Packed to the Rafters. When I read that script and I was completely enamoured with it. It was such a beautiful show and it was the right time.

“It was about a normal family going through normal family stuff and it was so relatable. Everyone loved that show and I based the character on all my sisters and I played it for seven years. Interestingly I’m still playing her because I’m doing Back to the Rafters.”

Her character is Lowdown Dirty Criminals is a break from the lovable girl-next-door personae she’s used to. The producers decided she would be good for the role of malignant female criminal and she was happy to oblige.

“I have played villains but not to this extent. I told my mother isn’t allowed to see this film because she won’t cope at all. I do things in the film that I’ve never done, but look, it’s a comedy, so it’s funny but it is very Tarantino-ish . It’s violent and I swear.

“I showed a little clip to my brothers and sisters – three of them couldn’t watch it and two of them laughed their heads off,” she says.

She has been involved in producing for over a decade too, learning the ropes from a female director who invited her to co-produce a show, where she picked up all aspects of the technical side of game.

“From there I started writing my own characters,” she says, with her material featuring famously on Wanted.

Gibney attributes her continued success in the industry to doing the basics well, as well as being a decent human being to those around her.

“A famous Australian actor who was on Flying Doctors, one of the first things he said to me was ‘the most important thing in this business is you show up on time, you know your lines and you’re nice to people. And that will get you further than anything else.

“That’s something that stuck with me… I treat people how I want to be treated and I think that’s got me a long way.”

Not only will Julie Rafter be returning to Australian screens soon, so too will her character Jane Halifax, with a new series Halifax Retribution on air in two weeks, after 20 years.

“We filmed it in Melbourne last year for a few months. It’s a weird feeling now of course because Melbourne and Victoria. They are pretty much a city under siege, that’s exactly what we filmed a year ago, so the time I’m a bit nervous about… but it was a joy to go back and do that.”

Lowdown Dirty Criminals opens nationwide on August 20.  And expect to see Back to the Rafters and Halifax Retribution on TV later in the year.