By: Brittany Keogh
It’s been a whirlwind start to 2018 for teenage Kiwi actor Thomasin McKenzie – last Monday she was in the US promoting her new film and two days later she had returned home to Wellington for her first day back at school.
The 17-year-old – who plays the lead character Tom in the independent movie Leave No Trace – travelled to the US for the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah last week.
“It was amazing just to be in the audience seeing it on the big screen and seeing everyone’s reactions to the film,” she told the Herald on Sunday.
“It was the first red carpet I’ve ever walked on with people taking my photos and saying ‘look over here’, ‘smile, smile at the camera’. That was exciting and crazy and scary.”
McKenzie has previously starred in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and played Pixie Hannah on Shortland Street in 2015, but Leave No Trace (previously called My Abandonment) was her first American film.
Directed by Debra Granik, the film is based on the novel My Abandonment.
It explores how the lives of 13-year-old Tom and her war veteran dad (played by Ben Foster) are changed forever by one small mistake that happens in the temperate rainforest in Portland, Oregon, where they’ve made their home.
McKenzie’s performance in the film has been widely acclaimed by critics.
A Financial Times review published the day after the premiere predicted McKenzie was likely to follow Jennifer Lawrence – who starred in Granik’s 2010 film Winter’s Bone – “into the A-list firmament”.
“[She is] another another young, self-aware actress with a wisdom beyond her years,” the review said.
The Hollywood Reporter praised her “steadiness and poise”.
“The young actress…has a sweet, girlish voice that belies Tom’s steely determination, as well as an inquisitiveness that seems to blossom before your eyes,” wrote its reviewer Jon Frosch.
McKenzie told the Herald on Sunday it had been “kind of crazy” to read the reviews.
“It’s really surreal, really encouraging to hear that kind of feedback.”
She spent 10 days in the US on her promotional visit and met top acting agencies like UGA and WME in Los Angeles – although she is yet to decide which agency to sign with.
Her mother, actress and acting coach Miranda Harcourt, director father Stuart McKenzie and 11-year-old sister Davida travelled with her.
The family flew back to Wellington last Tuesday and McKenzie started her final year at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Karori the following day.
2018 is bound to be a busy year for the young actress, who has a couple of leadership roles at school, including head of drama.
She has also been cast in the Australian movie True History of Kelly Gang alongside Russell Crowe, with filming expected to start mid-year.
She says going back to school immediately after a project or promotional tour helps to keep her grounded.
“You get a lot of attention when you’re filming or when you’re an actress on set. People are always coming up to you saying ‘are you hungry? Are you warm enough, cold enough? Are you okay?’ A lot of attention is on you.
“But going back to school and not having people constantly making sure I’m alright is really good because it keeps me grounded and humble.”
Harcourt said she and her husband were “incredibly proud” of McKenzie and her achievements.
“I’m also very proud of her as an acting teacher. That’s my job: I’m an acting coach and so it’s also pretty epic to have someone achieve this level of success.”
However, their eldest daughter’s rise to international stardom also meant the family would have to make some potentially life-changing decisions.
“Alongside that pride you just go ‘well what does this mean for the future of Thomasin, the future of the family? Are we all going to have to move away? Can she just go over [to the US] now and again and do projects and then come back? How do you sustain a career while living in New Zealand?’ All of those questions…. Everything’s just kind of thrown up in the air.”
Narelle Umbers, principal at Samuel Marsden, says Thomasin is a “delightful and happy” pupil and staff and students are proud of her achievements and pleased to be able to support her.
“As a school we are very protective of Thomasin, as we are of all our students,and aim to provide her with a sense of normality, a warm place surrounded by her friends and a familiar routine, with staff supporting her to be the best she can be.”
Source: NZ Herald
Banner image: Thomasin McKenzie, 17, pictured with co-star Ben Foster, stars as 13-year-old Tom in the film Leave No Trace. Photo / Scott Green, supplied by Cinetic Media