Nicola Murphy graduated from drama school Toi Whakaari in 1989. Six years later she made her feature film debut, in the offbeat fantasy Jack Brown Genius. Directed and co-written by Tony Hiles, the film follows an inventor (Tim Balme) who attempts to fly, after discovering the spirit of a thousand-year-old monk dwelling in his head.
Murphy played Eileen, who although romantically-involved with the hero's best friend, gets caught up in the inventor's life and adventure. Jack Brown was one of the first movies to feature special effects from Wellington company Weta, later to win fame for their work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Murphy followed Jack Brown Genius with a number of shorts. In bad taste romp D.S.B she plays a satanic fantasy figure with a deep voice and a disconcerting habit of morphing into Ian Mune. She also makes a brief appearance as Kiwi chick Chantelle, who is disappointed to find that drinking possibilities have been abruptly curtailed.
In The Hole Murphy co-starred opposite Scott Wills as one half of a couple who hear strange voices, from a hole they have recently drilled. The Hole made it into competition at the highly-regarded Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival in France.
Murphy's second feature was the little-seen love story Wild Blue. Set in central Otago, the film stars Murphy as a solo mother of a teenage son, who falls for a visiting American topdressing pilot (played by Beverly Hills Cop actor Judge Reinhold). The movie was made by Auckland filmmaking team Dale and Grant Bradley.
Murphy followed Wild Blue with arguably her strongest role to date. The quirky ensemble drama Magik and Rose (1999)saw her playing a woman who discovers that she is infertile and "just can't accept it. She becomes chewed up and embittered and blind to everything but her desires."
Magik and Rose was the first feature from writer/director Vanessa Alexander. According to Alexander, the character played by Murphy has some heavy emotional low points. But Murphy "managed to take Rose on a journey through comedy and tragedy without ever seeming disjointed."
New Zealand Herald critic Peter Calder praised the "unaffected and generous" performances of Murphy, and co-star Alison Bruce. Calder argued that though she played the story's more thankless role, Murphy "is everyone's idea of a stitched-up small-town girl who blossoms into the story's big adventure".
In American showbusiness mag Variety, David Stratton found Magik and Rose colourful and lively, "a delightful female buddy pic with a small-town setting and deeply felt emotions".
The same year Murphy joined the cast of Shortland Street, as Jean Burroughs. Her television appearances also include joining Alison Bruce on Being Eve,acclaimed drama Cover Story, and and two longrunning shows in England: Eastenders spin-off Ricky and Bianca, and a 2002 episode of hospital drama Holby City.
Peter Calder, 'Magik and Rose' (Review) - NZ Herald, July 2000
David Stratton, 'Magik and Rose' (Review) - Variety, 4 June 2000
Magik and Rose Press Kit