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Sara Wiseman


Sara Wiseman may be best known as Dr Nicky Somerville, the city doc who went rural in the three-season TV series Mercy Peak, but for the past year and a half she has played an impressive range of characters in an impressive range of theatre projects - a tarty stripping teacher in Ladies Night, a mathematician's daughter in Proof and early New Zealand "inspirational lectress" Lotti Wilmot in Stephanie Johnson's Strange Children. She is currently holed up in a Wellington hotel while she performs Fiona Samuel's Lashings of Whipped Cream: A Session with a Teenage Dominatrix at Downstage, although she made a flying visit to Auckland for the New Zealand Screen Awards.

How's the recovery going after the screen awards? I am a bit hung over! It was a fantastic night. It was so good of the Screen Directors Guild to put it back on, as there wasn't one last year, and a lot of people made mention of that. It was really cool. It was such a lovely night, with so many lovely people and the quality of the nominations - In My Father's Den, Sam Neill - so it was really good.

What do you make of the fact that the industry has had to put on these awards itself? It's quite disheartening. Especially with the quality of the work. Judith Tizard was there and she was acknowledging the quality. So it is frustrating, but at least someone stood up and did them.

Do you think TV should get over itself and broadcast them? Oh, they couldn't have broadcast last night! There was that freedom. There definitely should be coverage, even if it's just highlights. They do the music awards, so it would be really lovely to see the film and TV awards being recognised on TV. Maybe it's that TV3-TVNZ thing.

So, you were nominated for Mercy Peak - it must seem like a lifetime ago. A long time ago. Our last episode screened in 2004, a year and a half ago.

Would you have carried on with Mercy Peak or did it come to a natural end? I'm in two minds about that. They'd written the last series with a really wonderful sense of getting the characters on that arc so that they could close it off the way they wanted to. It was really nice to leave it on a good note rather than a cliffhanger. I enjoyed the 60th episode of Nicky and the journey she went on. But it was such a good company to work for with regards to the crew and the cast and the writers and when it's such a wonderful sense of family you don't really want to stop.

Since then you've done a lot of theatre - have you been non-stop? As non-stop as theatre gets. There was a bit of a down-time in between, but that's when you start learning lines for the next one.

How different is it to TV and screen? Quite a different muscle to screen. It's very demanding. Unfortunately, theatre money isn't screen money. But it's good for the soul.

Do you prefer theatre to film or TV? No, I prefer a good script, really. I do love screen. All three of them are quite different, so it's really good to be able to swap between the three.

Now you're doing a one-woman play. Is it like a rite of passage for an actor? It is one of those things that you can tick off. The script has quite a lot of audience interaction and there are other characters coming in.

I suppose, with the concept of a dominatrix, people are going to have an immediate assumption as to what that is, because it is such a shrouded area. I know I did when I saw the title. There's a documentary by David Blyth called Bound for Pleasure, which is fascinating and a really good insight into dominatrix life. I've been in contact with a couple of dominatrixes as well.

What insights did they have? Even though the play is a comedy, there is a lot of texture to the character and it's really important that I honour and respect the people who work in that profession. They're real people and this is their craft, which they're very proud of, and there's incredible skill in what they do.

What's the costume like? My character has a strong inclination towards leather. A lot of leather. Pants and a leather bodice kind of thing and these incredible boots with steel heels.

You haven't tripped? No, I'm quite used to them now. I've been wearing them through rehearsals, so they're part of me.

Please tell us that the cream bun is still part of the act. Yeah. The doughnuts are still alive and well and kicking.

It's not really about the leather, though, is it? You get an insight into the world of a middle-class, I would call her, DIY dominatrix, but what I like is that you get to meet the person behind the dominatrix - so the endearing qualities, her philosophies on life and the way that she looks at people in the world. It's really beautifully written like that. A lot of humour and a lot of naivety.

What's in your future? There are a couple of options potentially. I'm looking forward to getting back on screen. My film's about to be released, I think. It's just been in a festival overseas. It's a New Zealand digi-feature called Luella Miller, which was shot at the beginning of the year, and I had a really good time being back in front of the camera.

Lashings of Whipped Cream, Downstage, Wellington, until September 17.