6 Jan 2024

Breakout star Tara Canton: life After the Party

From The Weekend , 8:14 am on 6 January 2024

After her breakout role as teen mum Grace McKenzie in the acclaimed local TV series After The Party, Tara Canton is one to watch.

The Wellington actor says she felt "like a complete sponge the whole time" watching veteran actors Robyn Malcolm and Peter Mullan at work.

"I've taken away lots and lots of stuff," she tells Susana Lei'ataua.

Tara Canton, breakthrough star in TVNZ's ‘After the Party’

Tara Canton, breakthrough star in TVNZ's ‘After the Party’ Photo: Dean O’Gorman

This audio is not downloadable due to copyright restrictions.

One "huge takeaway" from the experience, Tara says, was Robyn's advice that acting should feel like "walking downhill".

"It should never be hard, it should never be forced. [It's about finding] the ease and the truth of whatever it is you're trying to play."

Tara – who graduated from the New Zealand drama school Toi Whakaari last November – was in her second year of acting study when she made her (first ever) self-tape audition for After the Party.

Her real-life friend Ian Blackburn, who plays Grace's friend Ollie in the series, helped out with the technical side.

"I was really nervous because I knew how much of a big deal this part was and I was super into it ... [Ian] was the one who read the lines for me off-screen and helped me do the video, which is so exciting because then he was 'Ollie' and we got to be onscreen together as well … I really owe it to him because he kept me really grounded when I was really nervous."

Although Tara says she'd learned a bit about screen acting at Toi Whakaari, being on a professional set with top actors and an amazing director was like a whole new world.

She got a lot of guidance from the "amazing" Robyn Malcolm, who plays her mum Penny.

"She's so generous as a person and as an actor and so genuine and so funny and full of stories and it was just an absolute joy to work with her because she really she really took me under her wing.

"All my mum's friends and my mum were like 'Oh my god, you're working with Robyn Malcolm!' I was just like 'Yeah, I love her'."

Tara Canton and Robyn Malcom

Tara Canton and Robyn Malcom Photo: @tararubycanton

Grace – who Tara plays between the ages of 14 and 20 – is a young person with strength, vulnerability and "huge emotions", she says.

Emotional sensitivity and tenacity are two traits they share.

"She's very eyes forward, keep swimming or sink sort of thing … I can be in that mode sometimes of just really hustling and driving forward."

Although Tara says she wasn't sure how it would be playing the mother of a four-year-old, she and Ziggy Reilly (who plays Walt) bonded really quickly when they hung out before filming.

"He is just sunshine and he's super outgoing, super curious."

When she's not acting or working in a cafe, as she is this summer, Tara is a singer-songwriter.

"It's a big part of who I am. I would say as a person and as an artist."

You can listen to her songs on Spotify.