How we made The Tribe: Interview with Vanessa Stacey | 2018

Feb 09 2018

Each week we talk to an artist about their best-known work. This week, actor/musician Vanessa Stacey reflects back on the success of early 2000s drama series The Tribe .

“I was studying at drama school. It was a bit naughty, we weren’t meant to do any additional work, but we had a break and my agent rang and said, look there’s a role for you, so I auditioned for it. It was a big part. I was a guest character who was on screen for three minutes and 14 seconds for 24 episodes and they did a pole at the end of the series of all the favourite guest characters and I came in at the top.”

“I think they were as shocked as I was.”

"My character was funny, and quite aggressive, and also a trained actor. We didn’t choose (our costumes). It’s not like mufti. We used to always joke about it because after any apocalyptic event and the death of all the adults, obviously I just wanted to dye my hair and wear more makeup. That’s how we chose to grieve. We had a very hard working costume and make up department, believe it or not.

“I have no idea of the story line, doll. I have no idea what happened.”

"I didn’t read anyone else’s lines. It wasn’t water tight. It was some kind of chemical warfare that all adults over the age of 18, which is interesting because I was 23 at the time. No jokes, everyone was killed off. Hence it just being a world of teenagers. Which sounds like a nightmare, so of course we started living in a mall and wearing a lot more makeup and leather and colouring our hair and getting pregnant.

"Why did we talk that way? It’s a question I’ve been asked often, and a question I ask of myself. Those funny accents were meant to be American. The Tribe was a New Zealand produced television show for Channel 5 in Britain but they made us have American accents. No one knows - that’s an anomaly.

"At one point The Tribe was screening - I should be worth a fortune, darling - in 171 countries. As embarrassing as it is, it is the most successful export NZ has ever made - apart from obviously Lorde, but television wise. We don’t shout that about, because it wasn’t NZ made, really. Me and most of the cast are just like ‘ssssh, don’t talk about it’.

"There was a long time I used to cringe, now I just find it funny and I’m eternally grateful to The Tribe because it really was the beginning of my career and I’ve since gone on and done things that I’m kind of much prouder of, Out Of The Blue and you know. Films that are like, ‘yeah, that was good work’.

"It was the fastest turn around of television in the southern hemisphere - we were so productive, I mean let’s not talk about what we were producing, but we were so productive that Shortland Street actually took our blue print for scheduling and they started using the same sort of process of turn around because we were working with often two to three cameras. These kids were amazing, they were like little machines.

"It was filmed in the dizzying heights of Lower Hutt and all over Wellington, we did a lot of filming in Breaker Bay and sometimes we’d have to shoot on a Sunday and we’d use central city and set it up so it looked like it had been deserted.

"I would describe the show as a cross between Mad Max and Home and Away . It was made specifically but predominantly by teenagers for teenagers and they loved it, they just ate it up.

"Raymond Thompson who was the godfather of The Tribe , he had come from quite a well established BBC background, his son had aspergers and he wanted to write a piece for his son that he would get and understand physically for kids.

"My character Alice by nature was unlucky in love, she was madly in love with Lex but that was never going to happen, and she was funny and fiercely loyal and she was the one that went to battle for everyone so she had a broad appeal. I was always lucky that she was such a popular character.

“As much as you’re going, I want to be a Shakespearian actor, and part of me was going, ‘oh god this is just so cringy’. But the reality is, it’s the same thing - it’s love, loss, you know all drama is the same basis, it’s just it had a lot of costume and makeup and a lot of brightly coloured hair. Please put that I laughed hysterically when I said that.”

- As told to Dani McDonald on