Geraldine Brophy knew from a young age that she wanted to be an actor. While growing up in Birmingham, England, she saw her very first production, a pantomime of Dick Whittington. As the lights went down and the curtain went up, she fell in love with the craft.
Her first experience treading the boards was in a nativity play, as the Archangel Gabriel. “I really wanted to play Mary, as everybody does, but instead I was given the part of the trumpeter of the Good News."
Her early career was spent on stage, first in theatre companies in Palmerston North and Dunedin, then a longer stint in Christchurch at the Court Theatre, where she had lead roles in everything from Medea to Uncle Vanya, and won The Press Best Actress award several times.
In the early 80s, Christchurch was still a humming hub for television production, and there were opportunities for actors, particularly in comedy. Brophy made a number of appearances on weekly comedy show McPhail and Gadsby where she would "pop in for half a minute, every so often.”
Her big break on-screen came with Fiona Samuel telemovie Home Movie, which screened as part of TV One's Montana Sunday Theatre series. It was Brophy’s first major on-screen role; as writer/director Samuel writes here, casting Brophy as screen daughter to Ian Mune's character made for a perfect fit. Critics agreed, and she took away the 1998 New Zealand Film and Television Best Actress award for her role as Bridie.
Home Movie led on to what has become arguably Brophy's most famous role: as bubbly receptionist Moira Crombie in Shortland Street — a role which saw her nominated for Best Actress at the 2000 NZ Film and TV awards. Brophy was happy to be playing a rare working class character on-screen. Moira made her exit in 2001 when sweeping changes to the core cast meant her time on the show was up.
"When I left Shortland Street it was part of the great broom sweep," says Brophy. "Twelve of us left at once and I was left with a great big hole in my life.” She talks more about Shortland in this video interview.
After Shortland Street Brophy was determined not to rely on others for work, so she set about creating her own second act – as a dramatist. In 2003 she debuted her acclaimed play Viagra Monologues, followed in 2004 by Mary’s Gospel and Confessions of a Chocoholic.
The mid-2000s were a busy time for Brophy. She had roles in several feature films, but it was Paul Murphy’s debut feature Second-Hand Wedding that scored her a Qantas Best Actress Award. Brophy played garage sale-loving mother Jill Rose. She also appeared in edgy television comedy Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby as school inspector Marion Patterson. “I like to be involved in things that are provocative. Gormsby was satire. Tom Scott is one of the few satirists left in NZ and when satire is working, it’s the most piercing and necessary comedy you can have in society.”
Despite battling a number of physical ailments over the years, Brophy decided to throw caution to the wind after being asked to appear on hit reality show Dancing with the Stars in 2009. “I thought it was important to do – I had a lot of physical issues to deal with like arthritis and I wanted a physical challenge, but I also wanted to do something that felt like a risk. Actors have a strange dichotomy where they sometimes are attracted to humiliation as much as success.”
Brophy was an audience favourite, and came fourth in the competition. But the show came at a personal cost: she needed surgery on her leg following an injury on the dance floor.
In 2017 she took on the role of Betty Benning in black comedy How to Murder Your Wife, for which she won Best Supporting Actress at the New York Film Festival. The TV movie was based on a true-life crime; the role was a challenging one for Brophy, who found portraying an unsympathetic character in a sympathetic way had its difficulties.
While she has effectively bridged barriers between stage, small screen and silver screen, Brophy says it’s film that holds a special place in her heart. “I love film. I like the requirement to focus immediately and deeply in film. You must fall in to the right emotional depth immediately.”
Brophy lives in Wellington with her husband, Ross Joblin. They have two daughters: Zoe and Beatrice, who also work in the creative arts.
Profile written by Zara Potts
Published on 29 May 2018
'Geraldine Brophy: Character actress...' (Video interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaed 19 January 2010. Accessed 29 May 2018
'Michele Hewitson interview: Geraldine Brophy' - The NZ Herald, 24 August 2013
'Geraldine Brophy', Karen Kay Management website. Accessed 29 May 2018
Talia Carlisle, 'The real Geraldine Brophy' (Interview) - The Wellingtonian, 30 January 2014
Unknown writer, 'Geraldine Brophy' TVNZ website. Accessed 29 May 2018