In November of 2010 Robyn Malcolm appeared on television to say a heartfelt goodbye to Outrageous Fortune, the show about a Westie family that she had starred in over six seasons. It was just one part of an acting career that stretches back more than two decades.
After graduating from drama school Toi Whakaari in 1987, Robyn Malcolm worked extensively in theatre. In 2003 she won an International Actors Fellowship at the Globe Theatre in London.
Malcolm first came to the attention of television audience when she joined the staff of Shortland Street, in the show's third season. As nursing manager and mother Ellen Crozier, she quickly lost a husband, accidentally burnt the house down, and soon found herself caught up in a complicated love-life - not to mention the complications which ensued when an ex-boyfriend got married to her psychotic sister (Elizabeth Easther). During her five years on the show, Malcolm earned her first screen nomination for Best Actress at the 1998 Television Awards (six years after leaving Shortland Street she would score her first screen award for a show which surely drew some inspiration from the soap: satire Serial Killers, in which she played a stressed out scriptwriter).
Post-Shortland Street, Malcolm founded the New Zealand Actors' Company with Tim Balme, Katie Wolfe and future Outrageous Fortune director Simon Bennett. The company produced and toured successful stage productions throughout the country, before the failure of King Lear.
In 2002 Malcolm was nominated for playing the title role in television feature Clare, based on the cervical cancer experiment at National Women's Hospital. The film's inspiration was Clare Matheson, whose book Fate Cries Enough chronicles how over 15 years she became an unwitting participant in a medical experiment where carcinoma in situ was often left untreated.
In 2005, the same year she won for Serial Killers, Malcolm travelled to France to front documentary Our Lost War: Passchendaele, about the World War I battle in which her great uncle was one of many to lose their lives. 2005 was also the year that she first played Cheryl West, in Outrageous Fortune. Born in the mind of co-creator Rachel Lang as a brasher, more comical take on the white trash family she had created for Mercy Peak, the show would go on to become the longest running drama in New Zealand TV history.
Bringing her substantial experience to the part, Malcolm helped created an iconic character on New Zealand television: feisty, flawed and cleavaged to the hilt, the straight-talking Cheryl tried to keep the West whanau on the straight and narrow, while trying to sort her affections for her criminal husband Wolf (Grant Bowler) and policeman Wayne Judd (Kirk Torrance). By the show's third season, women were turning up in Kiwi hair salons asking for a "Cheryl West". Malcolm argued in 2007 that audiences liked the character "because she's so fallible... We're not so into that American ideal where everyone must play the hero and act with honour at all odds and be the winner on the day."
The final episode of Outrageous Fortune aired in November 2010, and rated better than any in the show's six season run. Along the way Malcolm has stacked up an impressive run of awards and nominations, including 2007 Air NZ Screen Awards for Best Actress, and Qantas TV Awards in 2005 and 2008.
In 2010 Malcolm took another centre stage role with The Hopes and Dreams of Gazza Snell, the first feature from award-winning Insiders Guide director Brendan Donovan. Malcolm played Gail, a woman who feels like an outsider in her own family, thanks to her husband's obsession with go-kart racing. Gazza Snell debuted in the 2010 round of film festivals.
Malcolm pitched her idea for Agent Anna, which debuted on television in January 2013. She was intrigued by the idea of basing a show around a middle-class Mum "with no hint of hero about her", who is forced to enter the highly competitive world of selling real estate.
She features in Jane Campion's acclaimed mini-series Top of the Lake (as an American chimpanzee owner seeking healing down under), and two Australian projects: chalk and cheese TV comedy Upper Middle Bogan (in which her screen family is again caught up in motor engines) and Sam Worthington surf drama Drift.
Jane Bowron, 'The crumbs around her mouth' (Interview) - The Dominion Post (TV Week pullout), 17 July 2007, Page T3
Diana Wichtel, 'Cheryl and me' (Interview) - The Listener, 28 July 2007, Page 27, Issue 3507
'Robyn Malcolm' (Profile). Outrageous Fortune website. Accessed 27 May 2012
'Robyn Malcolm joins TV ONE in Agent Anna' (Interview) TVNZ website. Accessed 11 March 2013