Alison Bruce was born in Tanzania, shortly after the country gained independence from English rule. Her father was a Kenyan-born Scot and her British-born mother was involved in amateur theatre. The family moved to New Zealand when Alison was around eight.
In 1982 she began training at Auckland's Theatre Corporate. Her theatre career has included productions of Cyrano de Bergerac (as Roxane), Hamlet (as Ophelia to Michael Hurst's Hamlet) and a Silo Theatre season of The Little Dog Laughed (as the manipulative Diane). She also survived a version of The Cherry Orchard in sweltering conditions during the 1998 Auckland blackout. Along the way Bruce has made more than 30 screen appearances, including starring roles in 2001 feature Magik and Rose, and award-winning turns in TV's Mercy Peak and short film Us.
Bruce made her screen debut in Melanie Rodriga-directed tele-play The Minders (1984), followed by a small part as a runaway in TV series Adventurer. In 1990 she won a sizable role in madcap chase comedy User Friendly, the first feature directed by Gregor Nicholas. Bruce played Augusta, a young woman pursued after impulsively stealing a a dog statue from a nutty ex employer (coincidentally played by her Minders co-star Judith Gibson).
In the same period she got a small role in the acclaimed An Angel at My Table, played boyfriend to Kevin Smith's character in Cannes-selected short film Mon Desir, and was one of the Greenpeace protestors in The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, which definitely wasn't.
Bruce also enjoyed occasional cameos on the Xena/Hercules franchise. After debuting in early Hercules episode 'Gladiator' as a "mad, nasty" seductress, she played an amazon queen on Xena, and acted opposite a young Ryan Gosling on Young Hercules. The shows won her international fan-mail, as well as the chance to fight, ride horses "and do all this stuff you normally don't get to do in television". She was also called in to help do read-throughs during auditions of actors — a good chance to practice her craft, "without worrying about whether or not you're going to get the job".
Bruce cameoed on this episode of acclaimed series Cover Story — as a woman caught up in a custody battle — and has done two stints on Shortland Street: as a cancer sufferer whose husband runs off with Nancy Brunning, and a longer role as a fill-in head nurse who does some eloping of her own.
2001 feature Magik and Rose marked a turning point in Bruce's career. After having played many serious roles as professional women, her new character was"bold, eccentric and not at all concerned about how others see her. It was a wonderfully liberating part."
Magik is a fortune-teller who arrives in Hokitika in a house truck, trying to find the daughter she gave up for adoption, years before. Magik tracks down Rosa (Nicola Murphy), and the two scheme to find a sperm donor for Rosa. Variety reviewer David Stratton praised Bruce and called the film "a small scale but quite delightful female buddy pic with a small town setting and deeply felt emotions".
It was a busy period for Bruce. Following Magik and Rose she won ongoing parts on TV's Mercy Peak and Being Eve. The latter show saw her stretching her comic talents as eccentric but easygoing mother to teenager Eve (Fleur Saville). Mercy Peak would win her two consecutive television awards for best supporting actor: as the married hospital PA who falls pregnant, quite possibly to the doctor she works for (Jeffrey Thomas). The rich plotlines were partly brought about by necessity: when Bruce got pregnant at the end of the first season, the show's writers incorporated it into the storyline.
In 2006 Bruce won a NZ Screen award for her acting in James Blick short Us. Bruce was front and centre in this tale of trust, loss and romance. The same year she showed her versatility in the 'Witch-Finder' episode of fantasy Maddigan's Quest, playing a village-conning witch.
Since then, Bruce has enjoyed "a great role" in tele-movie Life's a Riot — as long-suffering wife to real-life unionist Jim Edwards. She has also been smartass PA to Charles Mesure (on TV thriller This is Not My Life), appeared on four episodes of fantasy Legend of the Seeker, and joined the cast of The Almighty Johnsons as Agnetha, who by the start of series two has been revealed as the estranged mother of the show's superpowered stars. Next on the books: Jane Campion television series Top of the Lake, and a starring role in comedic short Dotty.
'Alison Bruce: on Being Eve, Hercules and Agnetha' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen Website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 27 February 2012. Accessed 16 December 2011
Peter Calder, 'Magik and Rose' (Review) - NZ Herald, July 2000
Bret Ryan Brudnick, 'An Interview with Alison Bruce'. Whoosh! website. Loaded May 1998. Accessed 14 December 2011
K Stoddard Hayes, 'Xena Magazine #22 - Interview with actress Alison Bruce' - Xenaville website. Accessed 16 December 2011
David Stratton, 'Magik and Rose' (Review) - Variety, 4 June 2000
Magik and Rose Press Kit