ROSE McIVER AT THE STANDARD, DOWNTOWN L.A., FEBRUARY 2015. PHOTOGRAPHY: GUY LOWNDES. STYLING: SEAN KNIGHT. MAKEUP: SAGE MAITRI AT THE WALL GROUP FOR CHARLOTTE TILBURY. HAIR: NIKKI PROVIDENCE FOR JED ROOT.
In Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, Rose McIver plays Lindsey Salmon, a young woman carrying the weight of the brutal rape and murder of her older sister Susie. Over the course of filming in her native New Zealand, McIver became friends with the actress playing the forever 14-year-old Susie, Saoirse Ronan. Seven years later, and the two remain close. They do, after all, have a lot in common: both McIver and Ronan began acting when they were still children in English-speaking countries with a much smaller entertainment industry than the U.S.
Now 26, McIver is an industry veteran with a résumé that includes everything from The Piano and Xena: Warrior Princess to Once Upon a Time, Masters of Sex, and indie films like Brightest Star. Tonight, McIver’s new show iZombie will debut on the CW. The premise might sound a little silly—McIver stars as a crime-solving zombie who works in a morgue and eats the brains of murder victims—but, helmed by Veronica Mars’ Rob Thomas, the series is clever and fun.
SAOIRSE RONAN: Rosiepops! Can you hear me? You sound really far away.
ROSE McIVER: Yeah, you sound like you’re talking through a hedge. It’s like that Louis C.K. thing—it’s a miracle we can even talk like this.
RONAN: I know. Mam was telling me about when she moved to New York in the ’80s, and how terrifying that must have been to have no communication with the people that you were going to visit or anyone at home.
McIVER: I always think about the settlers who moved to New Zealand in the 1800s. They hadn’t even been to the place before. They just packed their bags and shipped over knowing they’d never see their family again or be able to speak to them—they’d maybe get a letter if they were lucky. It makes me feel guilty that I even complain about being homesick when I talk to my parents on Skype every week and I go home twice a year.
RONAN: How was it being home?
McIVER: So nice. I spent every day at the beach. I got two and a half weeks. The first week was catching up with a million people, and then the second week and a half was spent at the beach pretty much every day.
RONAN: As we all know Rose, you’re a pretty popular gal in New Zealand…
RONAN: I feel like Carrie and Saul from Homeland are listening in to our conversation right now. We’re being bugged, and we have to watch what we say.
McIVER: I know. Don’t say anything wrong, okay?
McIVER: I can’t even kick you under the table to stop you from asking things.
RONAN: I’m going to embarrass you big time. Big time. Tell me how you started acting? Did you start when you were quite young?
McIVER: My brother was scouted for a commercial when he was three, and it was just because he could speak clearly and was well behaved, basically. I don’t think he had any amazing acting ability at that age—although he is actually a great actor.
RONAN: He was shit when he was three, but whatever.
McIVER: He was rubbish, but he blossomed. In New Zealand, the acting and film, theater, and television community is so tiny, it was some friend of a friend who made a short film and was like, “Oh, that kid was kind of well behaved, could he be in this one?”
RONAN: “We want the least amount of trouble on set as possible.”
McIVER: I say regularly, I never got into this because I was talented. When I was about five, I could do a vaguely decent American accent—straight through kind of decent—and Hercules needed some kids. I definitely wasn’t a good actor.
RONAN: You were always a good actor. It’s in you. How did you expose yourself to different accents? Was it just from TV and movies?
McIVER: Yeah, a lot of it was television. As you know, I have a flawless American accent. My Irish accent is from being around you.
RONAN: It’s like listening to myself. Am I having an interview with myself, right now? Am I in iZombie? Do I have a new show coming out this month?
McIVER: I think listening to people is helpful.
RONAN: For both of us, in order to have had any kind of career outside of the country that we’re from, it was essential that we were able to do accents. It’s a technical thing. Before I really know an accent well, I find it quite technical—it’s almost like learning a new instrument or something.
McIVER: I think it also helps that the New Zealand accent is so unattractive. I love our country, but it’s a terrible accent.
RONAN: It’s my favorite! That and the Scottish accent.
McIVER: It was a nice excuse to shake it. I’ve been trying to shake it since I was 10.
RONAN: How does it feel now that you’re in L.A.? Do you feel like you’re a Kiwi actress there? I know you’ve got a lot of mates there that are from home and you’ve got a bit of a Kiwi, Aussie community there. Do you feel that you’ve still kept in touch with you’re roots?
McIVER: Yeah, absolutely. I do think of myself very strongly as a New Zealander, but when I moved out to the States I was aware that I didn’t want to just live in a satellite community of only other New Zealanders. It’s nice to have support and I have great friends from home, but I think it’s so limiting not to be able to plug yourself in and actually meet people from the community and the place that you’re living in. [But] I get so much more national pride than I would being at home. I remember I went to some industry event that involved New Zealanders and so they had a thing called a PÅwhiri, which is a native New Zealand Maori welcoming ceremony—the haka is performed. You would have experienced that when you came over. When I saw a PÅwhiri over here, it was so significant and emotional and made me very proud of where I come from. It was interesting being home these last couple of weeks, I just spent so much time outside—there’s a real appreciation for our surroundings. We grew up going to surf lifesaving lessons. You had to do that as part of your school education because it was assumed that you were going to spend a lot of time in the water.
RONAN: Have you felt since you moved to L.A. that it’s kind of been hard to hold on to the true essence of what you do? Or hold on to the reason why you love acting so much? It can be such an industry-focused town, which in some ways is really positive but you can drown in it a little bit. Have you felt that struggle since you’ve been there?
McIVER: You said it. It is a total dichotomy. On the one hand it’s the most meetings and auditions you can have about great projects—it’s rife with opportunity—and so part of me get’s really excited about that. But the other part is that Hollywood is where entertainment and art meets commerce, and I think you can feel that as well. It’s a business. It’s not just artists roaming around, creating stuff they love, it’s thinking about box office and thinking about audiences and the ability to get in magazines and all of these kinds of things which in New Zealand hadn’t occurred to me.
RONAN: Well, it’s not really a priority at home, is it? New Zealand doesn’t rely on show business in the same way Ireland doesn’t.
McIVER: Yeah, exactly. But at the same time, you realize that the fact that they’ve generated this industry here has created an ability to make a lot more work. If you move here, and you want to work in this scene, you have to understand it and be able to make sure that it serves you and it serves your art. It’s about understanding it and not being walked over by anybody or taken advantage of.
RONAN: Yeah, and I do think it’s incredibly important as well to get to that stage. If you started when you were quite young—like we have—you get to that stage in your career and your personal life as well where you have to have a little bit more of an industry mind. You have to be aware of how it operates in order to survive.
McIVER: When I first moved to L.A., everybody gave me the impression that this was “my time” and I had to really focus and make the most of opportunities. And you start working on various shows or you get some momentum, and then this is the time that you really have to capitalize on. Now I’ve got the show coming out, and I’m so excited about it, but you can continue to be wrapped up in, “This is the only opportunity, this is the only moment,” and I think it’s really important to draw a line at some point and say, “I need to look after myself and my family and my personal life as well.” I don’t think [people in] other industries are asked to compromise quite in the way that we are in terms of time away.
RONAN: You come from an artistic background—your dad’s an artist isn’t he?
McIVER: Yeah, Dad’s a photographer and Mum’s a ceramicist. Mum and Dad live on a cliff by the beach and they’ve got chickens, which is just the most ludicrous existence. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Mum puts these great red gumboots by the door to scare the chickens away. Apparently the spotty red gumboots or Wellingtons—what do they call them here?
RONAN: I call them “wellies.” But you’ve got mad names for everything over there. What do you say for flip-flops?
McIVER: Jandals. The one that I keep saying without thinking—and I always get a laugh out of it—is “chilly bin” for a cooler.
RONAN: [laughs] What?
McIVER: A chilly bin!
RONAN: I don’t know what that is Rose.
McIVER: Because it’s cold!
RONAN: When is the show coming out?
McIVER: It comes out on March 17th.
RONAN: Patty’s day!
McIVER: Yeah, exactly. You’re not allowed to have a Guinness before you concentrate on my show.
RONAN: I’m going to be on a different time zone, so please don’t put that kind of pressure on me. I’m going to be pissed by the time I watch your show: “It was amazing! You were so good in it!”
RONAN: So you shot that up in Vancouver. What was it like growing up in New Zealand, moving to a place like L.A. a few years ago, and then spending months and months on end in a fabulous place like Vancouver?
McIVER: The only hard thing was that it was just after I’d started to feel like I had my feet on the ground in L.A. and built a bit of a community. That’s the life of an actor!
RONAN: Don’t I know it!
McIVER: But as far as somewhere else to have to go, it’s great. Vancouver is a lot like Auckland; it’s a city on the water, people do lots of different jobs. One of my childhood friends lives up there, and she’s in finance and works nine to five. For me it’s like, “That’s great! I don’t have any friends in Hollywood who work nine to five!” I knew her when I was three ’til seven, and our mums stayed friends. When I was going up to Vancouver to shoot, my mum was like, “You should go catch up with Eden!” and I was like, “Mum, that’s like an awkward blind date. We’re probably going to hate each other. What if she’s a bigot or something?” Now I have a friend in Vancouver who has nothing to do with acting.
RONAN: Aww. So will you fill me in on what the show is about? For all the readers out there, Rose and I actually talk about once a week, but we haven’t properly discussed the show.
McIVER: In our personal chats, we talk about love, life, and laughter.
RONAN: Let’s not go into the nitty-gritty of it, please.
McIVER: [laughs] The show is about a girl, Liv, who I play, who is turned into a zombie about six months prior to the show beginning. Nobody knows she’s a zombie, and she gets a job at a morgue so she can eat the brains of people who have already died. She’s ethical like that—she doesn’t want to kill people.
McIVER: Within the first episode, her boss, Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti—best character name in television—finds out that she’s a zombie and agrees to help her try to find a cure. He also encourages her to use her newfound skills for good. She is able to help solve people’s murders because when she eats these brains, she can see what happened to that person before they died.
RONAN: That’s so cool.
McIVER: She becomes a socially response zombie.
RONAN: [laughs] The best kind of zombie. I didn’t know this, but isn’t the creator of the show the creator of Veronica Mars as well? The one Kristen Bell is in?
McIVER: Yeah. Following in some enormous footsteps right there. I wish that she’d been rubbish, but she’s so good.
RONAN: Everything she touches turns to gold, and she can’t help that. As golden as her hair.
McIVER: On top of everything else, she just has to be a lovely person too.
RONAN: Yeah. She’s got lovely hair. And she was in Frozen! She’s Anna! You can’t really top that, to be honest. Although I love Idina Menzel, I would have liked to have seen more performances from Kristen Bell when Frozen came out. I think she’s got an amazing voice. You’ve got a great voice. You used to sing to me, in a non-romantic way.
McIVER: Maybe I was trying to seduce you and you just missed it completely.
RONAN: It was definitely more romantic than sexual. It was tender. I remember we were in a shopping mall shooting something for The Lovely Bones, and you just came up to me out of the blue—I think I was a bit tired—and you started to sing Sinead O’Connor, randomly. [laughs] Ah, the good old days. It’s funny—I think about this sometimes, I’m actually older than you were when you did The Lovely Bones.
McIVER: I know. That’s so weird! You’re my little sister. I see you wearing these modern women’s skirts and things.
RONAN: I’m not a skirt-wearer.
McIVER: Fine, long trousers and a nice turtleneck.
RONAN: [laughs] Slacks! I wear a lot of slacks now! With loafers. I basically wear exactly what I wore in The Lovely Bones. Those yellow bellbottoms. I was trying to come up with questions for you—I got a few example questions, but I wanted to come up with my own. I was thinking about Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when everyone asks, “What is your name? And what is your favorite color?” So Rose, what’s your favorite color?
McIVER: Oh my god, what a segue! Sounded very natural. It’s a tough call. Green or blue. I just can’t decide. And it’s not turquoise; it’s not between the two. It’s one or the other.
RONAN: And why have you picked those colors? Are those colors that you respond to or do they represent who you are?
McIVER: They are fresh and alive and I feel like I respond when I see them. If I see too much blue, though, I think you can get melancholy. I think there’s a reason that those things are linked. After too much blue you need a little green to see some fresh trees coming through.
RONAN: You’re very good at this; you’re very good at these interviews.
McIVER: If you could do a different career, what would it be?
RONAN: When I was a kid, I wanted to be either a waitress or a hairdresser, and for a long time I was an actress who wanted to be a waitress. But then I grew out of that. Since I’ve started to do publicity, I’m really fascinated by radio broadcasting. I think it’s really fun. I’ve always really liked using my voice and using that as an instrument. That’s something I’d like to do.
McIVER: We should do a top-secret podcast and we’ll just do different voices and not tell anybody who it is.
RONAN: I’ll be you and you be me. [in a New Zealander accent] “Yeah, so I love New Zealand, and I go back there as much as I can.”
McIVER: [laughs] [in Irish accent] “Top o’ the morning to you. Saoirse Ronan from Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.”
RONAN: You always sound like a little chipmunk whenever you do my accent! A little Irish chipmunk.
McIVER: “I don’t sound like a chipmunk, Rose, what are you talking about?” I know you think you sound like Morgan Freeman, but you don’t.
RONAN: Okay, the last question that I wanted to ask you before we wrap up is what are you going to make me for dinner when I come and stay at your house in three weeks time?
McIVER: What don’t you like?
RONAN: You should know this. We’ve been friends for about seven years now.
McIVER: We’ve always been in random hotels! This is one of the first times you’ll be able to stay and I will be able to cook for you.
RONAN: Well, what are you going to cook for me?
McIVER: Alright, cheeky! I was going to do a roast chicken.
RONAN: That sounds nice.
McIVER: I made Pad Thai while I was in New Zealand.
RONAN: Oh did you? You do know I love Thai food.
McIVER: Yeah, I do know that. We’ve had that together.
RONAN: We are friends.
iZOMBIE PREMIERES TONIGHT, MARCH 17, ON THE CW.