Gavin Strawhan and I had made up this bunch of characters, who were all losers in love. We liked them a lot, but we didn’t have a frame, a way to connect them.
Then I went along to pub quiz with my brother, and it was competitive, silly, strangely uplifting — and entirely inspirational... So love’s losers became team Sex on A Stick, and each week they went to pub quiz at The Beagle, to answer small questions — while, in the rest of their lives, they struggled with the big ones.
It wasn’t high concept. It was essentially a rom-com for grown-ups about second chances. The characters were old for television, and (shock) more middle class than others we’d written. It was a bit of a luxury to be able to write about people who were closer to my advanced years and concerns.
The other upside of having characters in their 30s and 40s was our wonderful cast. The core five were all seasoned pros: actors at the top of their game. Tandi Wright, Shane Cortese, Nicole Whippy, Blair Strang and Debbie Newby-Ward were, and still are, amazing. Because it’s New Zealand and the acting pool is relatively small, I’d worked with all of them at one time or another, from Shortland Street onwards.
And this is where sometimes you get that sniffy complaint of ‘oh, not just more people off Shortland Street’. I think we have a strange attitude to casting and actors in New Zealand. In other countries, they have a name for actors who are well known: they’re called stars. Here they seem to be resented for making a living, and getting better at their craft.
Yes, it’s nice to see up and comers and new faces, but I can tell you that there aren’t a lot of 40-year-old actors sitting in their bedrooms, honing their craft and waiting to be discovered.
I like working with actors again, but I can assure you it’s not out of any kind of favouritism. I am extremely ruthless when it comes to casting. The character exists in my mind and I am looking for that one right actor who will bring them, magically, to life. Sometimes I might have an actor vaguely in mind, but if someone does a better audition they’ll be instantly forgotten. Like I say, ruthless.
But Nicole, Shane and Blair had all passed through my mind while we were developing the show. It is a great pleasure to see good actors get leading roles; a bigger chop to chew on. Nicole and Shane had spent years providing stalwart support in Outrageous Fortune (as Kasey and Hayden Bloody Peters). The same for Debbie Newby-Ward, whose best-known character before Emma was probably that lady in the insurance commercials.
Tandi had just been in This is Not My Life (another show we’d made, which Nothing Trivial replaced). It’s quite amazing to think of that now, because the two roles couldn’t be more different. Tandi is a chameleon, and a true leading lady.
Blair had been out of the acting game for a while, and is now a lawyer. But it was great to have him back on the team. And he and Shane gave very good bromance (it may have helped that they are mates in real life.)
And this cast really did have to play as a team — because technically, it was a surprisingly difficult show to make. The pub quiz scenes were only achievable because these actors could learn screeds of lines and shoot many scenes in a row — first one side of the table, then the other. Along with Will Hall and Aaron Ward, they all had to have perfect timing and continuity. This is skill; this is craft. And these people are consummate professionals.
We did three seasons of Nothing Trivial, and a telefeature to wrap it up. I was sad to say goodbye to these actors and these characters, because I was very fond of them. Shane Cortese, who gets about a lot, tells me that he is still much feted for the show, particularly in the regions.
I like the fact that Nothing Trivial went down well in the heartlands. It was a very heartfelt show.
- After starting her career as an actor, Rachel Lang has gone on to co-create a long line of television dramas, including Outrageous Fortune, The Almighty Johnsons, Go Girls, Filthy Rich and Mercy Peak.