Alongside Anna Paquin and Martin Henderson, Rose McIver is part of a small troupe of New Zealanders who began acting early, then kept at it. For McIver acting was just part of growing up."Some kids played hockey in their school holidays and I just worked. Acting was always more of a hobby than a serious pursuit."
Born in 1987 to a ceramic artist mother and photographer father, Rose McIver followed her older brother Paul into acting. Rose was 18 months old when she debuted in Aileen O'Sullivan's short film The Joker. By age five, she'd played a hydra and daughter to Hercules in a trio of Hercules TV movies, acted on Shortland Street, and already had one classic film under her belt — a brief role in The Piano saw her in angel wings, as a performer in desperate need of the toilet.
Post Piano, McIver was having her first encounters with an American accent. She played preppy schoolgirl roles in a number of American productions filming downunder. At the 2002 NZ Television Awards she was named Best Juvenile Actor for an episode of Hercules spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess, after playing a dying girl whose body Xena inhabits.
In 1998 McIver starred in short film Flying, as a young girl who finds a kindred spirit in her dying grandmother. Credited as Rosie McIver, she was nominated for an NZ Film Award.
At age 17, McIver got an even bigger break: the lead role in Margaret Mahy fantasy Maddigan’s Quest. After a crash course in archery, juggling and tightrope, she spent four months of her summer holidays as the "confident, adventurous" Garland Maddigan. The character is part of a travelling circus troupe, the last member of the family line. Winner of a 2007 NZ Screen Award for Best Children’s Programme, Maddigan's Quest also aired in England and the United States.
McIver followed it with neighbours at war series Rude Awakenings, which offered a rare chance to play nasty. As manipulative teen Constance Short, she donned spectacles and had her hair coloured brown. "That's what I like about acting," she told NZ Herald writer Rebecca Barry Hill. "You can step into someone else's personality for a while and then leave it and not have to treat people like that."
Next came Peter Jackson’s 2009 adaptation of novel The Lovely Bones. McIver played Lindsey Salmon, sister of the missing girl upon which the story revolves. McIver's character ages eight years over the course of the movie. Website Movieline called her “one of the film’s more grounded and enjoyable elements: part Nancy Drew, part budding action hero”. One nail-biting scene saw her sneaking into the house of a suspected killer shortly before he arrives.
In-between doing some arts papers at Auckland University, McIver headed to mid-winter Taranaki to play an innocent teen caught up in blackmail. The movie was Predicament, based on a book by Ronald Hugh Morrieson. She went on to cameo as a cheerleader in Madeleine Sami showcase Super City, and did time on the Power Rangers franchise.
After co-starring in telemovie Tangiwai - A Love Story, she was nominated for an acting award at a television festival in Monaco. McIver played Nerissa Love, lovestruck fiancee of a famous cricketer (Ryan O’Kane). She boards a train bound for disaster on Christmas Eve in 1953. The Dominion Post's Linda Burgess praised McIver (and O'Kane's) acting as "consistently excellent". The same month Tangiwai screened in August 2011, McIver moved to Los Angeles, attached to one prospective film, and hunting for more.
The Lovely Bones helped. As she told The Sunday Star-Times in 2011, "when I go into a room of people there’s at least a glimmer of recognition.” The gap between arriving in Hollywood and winning a major starring role would bef three years. Many auditions and forgotten projects awaited before she scored roles in fantasy show Once Upon a Time (she was allowed to keep her Kiwi accent, as Tinkerbell) and Golden Globe nominee Masters of Sex (as daughter of the university provost).
In 2014 McIver got her big Hollywood break: the starring role in "ridiculously likable" (The New York Times) series iZombie. Based on a comic strip, the genre-crossing show revolves around an overachieving trainee doctor Liv Moore (McIver) who becomes a zombie, then starts eating the brains of murder victims. This allows her to temporarily take on their identities, and help solve crimes. McIver was craving some comedy; she told website Collider that as a little girl, she wanted to "live a million lives in one. That's why I became an actor. And Liv gets to do that. She gets to experience things from different perspectives."
In August 2018, the fifth and final season of iZombie began filming in Canada. In-between ingesting more brains, McIver squeezed in three more starring roles. In early 2018 she returned to New Zealand to co-star in a big screen version of acclaimed Kiwi stage musical Daffodils. Directed by David Stubbs, (Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses), the romance mixes classic Kiwi pop songs with music by Lips. McIver's performance won praise from The Listener and The NZ Herald.
McIver also starred in a trio of Christmas Prince features for Netflix, as a wannabe reporter who falls for a prince while working undercover. Meanwhile indie romance Brampton's Own saw her co-starring as the small-town girlfriend abandoned by a failed baseball player. The film's setting reminded her of growing up in Titirangi, on the edge of Auckland.
Profile written by Ian Pryor; updated on 12 March 2020
Seth Abramovitch, ‘The Verge: Rose McIver’ (Interview - broken link). MovieLine website. Loaded 18 January 2010. Accessed 16 August 2011
Linda Burgess, 'Powerful retelling of a tragedy' (Review of Tangiwai - A Love Story) - The Dominion Post, 16 August 2011
James Croot, 'Kiwi actress Rose McIver is about to become dead famous' (Interview) - The Dominion Post (Your Weekend pullout), 28 February 2015
James Croot, 'Daffodils: Crowded House, Bic Runga songs feature in New Zealand's first-ever movie-musical'. Stuff website. Loaded 1 November 2018. Accessed 8 November 2018
David Farrier, 'Rose McIver: Bewitched' (Interview) - Metro, October 2014
Neil Genzlinger, 'Review: 'iZombie', the Undead as a Force for Good' - The New York Times, 15 March 2015
Rebecca Barry Hill, ‘Rose with no thorns’ (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 17 August 2010
Stephanie Holmes, ‘Test of character’ (Interview) - The Sunday Star-Times, 14 August 2011, page 13
Christina Radish, 'IZOMBIE's Rose McIver Talks Liv Moore, Favorite Season 1 Moments' (Interview). Collider website. Loaded 26 March 2015. Accessed 8 November 2018
Maddigan's Quest press kit