Alison Bruce was born in Tanzania, shortly after the country gained independence from English rule. Her father was a Kenyan-born Scot, and her English-born mother was involved in the theatre. The family moved to New Zealand when Alison was seven and a half.
Bruce imagined she'd grow up to be an actor, or something else; the actor part of the sentence never changed. At age 20, she started training at Auckland's Theatre Corporate. Since then, her theatre career has included starring roles in Cyrano de Bergerac (as Roxane), and a sweltering version of The Cherry Orchard performed without air conditioning, during the 1998 Auckland blackout.
Bruce has made more than 50 screen appearances, including starring roles in 2001 feature Magik and Rose, and award-winning turns in TV series Mercy Peak and 2005 short film Us. She made her screen debut in 1914 in Melanie Rodriga-directed teleplay The Minders, then got a small part as a runaway in TV's Adventurer.
Come 1990 she had sizeable roles in TV's Star Runner and movie User Friendly. In Star Runner Bruce was a tough but caring stable owner, whose star horse turns out to have a mysterious past. User Friendly is a madcap chase comedy; Bruce's character Augusta impulsively steals an unusual dog statue from her ex boss. She also 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.
Bruce enjoyed a number of cameos in the Xena/Hercules universe. After debuting in early Hercules episode 'Gladiator' as a "mad, nasty" seductress, she started getting fan mail for a single appearance as an Amazon queen on Xena, before joining a young Ryan Gosling on Young Hercules. The shows provided the chance for fight scenes, horse riding and "all this stuff you normally don't get to do in television". She was also called in to do read-throughs when other actors were auditioning — a good chance to practice the craft of acting "without worrying about whether or not you're going to get the job".
Bruce cameoed on this 1995 episode of acclaimed series Cover Story — as a woman caught up in a custody battle. She has done two stints on Shortland Street: as a cancer sufferer whose husband runs off with Nancy Brunning's character, and a longer role as a fill-in head nurse who does some eloping of her own.
Odd couple feature Magik and Rose (2001) paved the way for a wider variety of screen roles. Having played more than her share of "women in suits", 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".
Magik and Rose led to ongoing parts on TV's Mercy Peak and Being Eve. The latter show saw her trying on comedy, as eccentric but easygoing mother to teenager Eve (Fleur Saville). As for Mercy Peak, it won her two consecutive NZ TV Awards for Best Supporting Actor. She played the married personal assistant who falls pregnant, quite possibly to the doctor she works for (Jeffrey Thomas). Bruce was thankful for such rich plotlines. As she explains in this video interview, she got pregnant at the end of the first season, and the scriptwriters incorporated it into the show.
In 2006 Bruce won a NZ Screen award for her acting in James Blick short Us. Bruce and Alistair Browning were 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.
She went on to enjoy a Qantas Award nominated role in Ian Mune TV movie Life's a Riot — as long-suffering wife to unionist Jim Edwards. She was smartass PA to Charles Mesure on sci-fi thriller This is Not My Life, tenacious sorcerer Sister Verna on Legend of the Seeker, and on hit show The Almighty Johnsons played Agnetha — who by season two, is revealed to be estranged mum to the show's super-powered stars.
Since 2018, Bruce seems to have been especially busy. She has featured in a run of short films; one of them — mother, daughter and spa tale Hot Mother — was invited to compete at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. There have also been ongoing TV roles: comedy Golden Boy (as lesbian mother of the main character) and murder mysteries The Gulf (as a well-meaning Waiheke Island cop, who clashes with Kate Elliott's big city detective) and One Lane Bridge (as a wheelchair-bound woman who is secretly stashing money away).
Profile updated on 20 August 2020
'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) - The NZ Herald, July 2000
Brett 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' - Titan Mag #22, July 2002
Sarah Nealon, 'One Lane Bridge actor Alison Bruce's challenging role' (Interview) - TV Guide, 7 May 2020
Sarah Nealon, 'Golden Boy's Alison Bruce finds inspiration in The Gulf' (Interview) - TV Guide, 5 September 2019