Miranda Harcourt, ONZM, has certainly practiced what she preaches. Aside from a long career acting and directing for the stage, her CV includes acting roles in a run of films, TV series and shorts, and seven years as head of acting at drama school Toi Whakaari.

The daughter of actor Kate and late broadcaster Peter Harcourt, Miranda began acting early: at the age of four she played a young Katherine Mansfield in a documentary for television. Aged 20, fresh from a small role in 1981 feature Bad Blood, and with a number of radio and stage roles already on her CV, she auditioned for New Zealand drama school. After graduating, she began a two-year apprenticeship at Dunedin's Fortune Theatre.

It was the role of Gemma, the sophisticated city slicker in Gloss, that would rocket her to national fame. Harcourt spent three years on the show charting the character's journey from innocent to "unbelievably horrible" arch-manipulator. The role saw her being spat at and insulted in public; it also made her realise how acting for stage and television was "like the difference between peeling potatoes and playing the piano; you still use your hands but they're totally seperate skills". Harcourt was nominated in the 1989 Film and TV Awards for best actress for the role.

The same year she teamed up with Annie Whittle to star in urban morality piece The Shadow Trader on television. Whittle and Miranda Harcourt played chalk and cheese café-owners, facing off against a scheming property developer who fantasises about wrecking balls.

Harcourt leveraged her television profile to initiate a sellout national tour of Oracles and Miracles (playing an eleven-year-old Christchurch girl, opposite Fiona Samuel) and a return season of her one woman show Kaz - A Working Girl. The NZ Times described her performance in the latter as "almost frightening in its stamina and emotional range".

In 1990 Miranda won grants to spend a year at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, studying the use of drama and movement in therapy. During her time in England she worked in psychiatric institutions, and with the deaf and disabled, and found herself growing increasingly interested in drama therapy in prisons. Harcourt had previously learnt sign language for play Children of a Lesser God, and worked on 1989 kidult series Strangers, as a dialogue coach for deaf actor Sonia Pivac.

After England, Harcourt got to work on solo piece Verbatim, devised with writer William Brandt. The play is based on interviews with prisoners involved with violent crime. Harcourt performed it in prisons and theatres across New Zealand, plus the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Excerpts from her performance can be seen here, in prizewinning Shirley Horrocks documentary Act of Murder. Verbatim and later show Portraits would feed into 2003 feature For Good (see below), which Harcourt helped develop and produce.

The last half of the 90s proved especially busy in terms of screen acting. Harcourt played husband to the late Kevin Smith in Auckland ensemble drama City Life, based around a group of apartment-dwelling 20-somethings. She was nominated for a best supporting actor award for a guest role on Duggan tele-feature Death in Paradise, appeared in the sixth episode of the acclaimed Cover Story, narrated the animated Hairy Maclary, and appeared briefly in the movie version of Topless Women Talk About Their Lives.

In 1997 Harcourt made her directorial debut with the short Voice Over, an experimental documentary inspired by her radio announcer father. Pavement described the film as "fascinating, provocative, yet surprisingly personal". Voiceover won the award for best short film at the 1998 NZ Film and TV Awards.

That year Harcourt began a seven-year stint teaching acting at Toi Whakaari, which can be glimpsed in behind-the-scenes series Tough Act, directed by her husband Stuart McKenzie. During this period Harcourt made another short, co-directing with fellow drama school teacher Rawiri Paratene: 40s-era short Needles and Glass was invited to the Montreal Film Festival.

Harcourt is a partner in the company MAP Film Productions, alongside McKenzie and producer/director Neil Pardington. She has appeared in short films directed by each, including Pardington's The Dig (which was invited to Cannes as part of a special NZ showcase) and McKenzie's darkly comic Ends Meat.

The trio would later work together on McKenzie's feature debut For Good, the story of a young woman who grows fascinated with a convicted murderer (Tim Balme). Harcourt also acts in the film, playing the mother of a murder victim. Christchurch Press reviewer Margaret Agnew praised Balme and Harcourt's "superlative" performances, adding that "Harcourt's raw pain and anger is awe-inspiring." North and South called her "bloody brilliant".

Harcourt is also seen in docu-drama Clare, playing cervical cancer whistleblower Philidda Bunkle — and amongst the cast of Maurice Gee ensemble drama Fracture. She went on to act in Raratonga shot series Paradise Cafe, 1981 Tour recreation Rage, and played mother to Rose McIver's character in tele-movie Tangiwai - A Love Story. On stage, she won rave reviews and a 2009 Chapman Tripp theatre award for autobiographical show Biography of My Skin.

Harcourt also has worked as acting coach on a number of productions. In early 1993 she was given a short period to put teenage discovery Melanie Lynskey at her ease, and help determine whether Lynksey had the acting talent to pull off a demanding lead role in Peter Jackson's matricide drama Heavenly Creatures. Harcourt has gone on to coach young castmembers for The Lovely Bones, the Under the Mountain remake, Gaylene Preston's Home By Christmas, Jane Campion's Bright Star, and Kiwi-shot fantasy Bridge to Terabithia.

In 2002 Harcourt was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for her services to the theatre and the community. In 2011 she was appointed to the board of organisation Film New Zealand, which markets the country to overseas filmmakers.

 

Sources include
Miranda Harcourt
Miranda Harcourt Performance Coaching website. Accessed 20 June 2014
MAP Film Productions website. Accessed 11 July 2013
'Miranda Harcourt' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen Website. Director Ian Pryor (Uploaded 14 August 2009). Accessed 17 August 2009
Margaret Agnew, 'Delving Deep into Crime, For Good' (Review of For Good) - Christchurch Press, 6 March 2004
Graham Ford, 'Miranda Harcourt' in 'Performing Arts' - NZ Listener, 24 June 1989, Page 28
Miranda James, 'a working girl' (Interview) - Salient, July 1990
Ruth Laugesen, 'Miranda's in Control' (Interview) - Evening Post, 3 February 1990, Page 27