The rage in Robyn Malcolm

After losing out on roles to younger actors, Robyn Malcolm co-created After the Party, with a flawed, character who wasn't written to be well-liked.

It was after she missed out on a role to a younger actress that New Zealand’s Robyn Malcolm conceived After the Party with writer Dianne Taylor.

While that was before the pandemic hit -which understandably stalled the project- they were responding to trends in casting.

“We started talking about this thing which they call ‘aspirational casting’, which is if a character is written for a 50 year old woman we were being told that 50 year old women in the audience don’t want to see themselves played by a 50 year old woman. They want to see themselves played by a 35 year old woman,” says Malcolm.

“The role was going to actresses 15 years my junior”

“If there’s a 70 year old character, 70 year olds want to see themselves played by a 50 year old woman.

“I had three separate experiences over a two year period where I had gone into audition for a character which on the page was my age, but the role was going to actresses 15 years my junior.

“And I had friends my age who were going out and auditioning for 70 year old characters.

“So Diane, I had a very long conversation about why that should be and why older women playing themselves seemed to be a problem in western storytelling at the time.”

Films like It’s Complicated with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, or Something’s Gotta Give with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson were full of women in large white collars.

“As you get older you’re you’re becoming more ‘disagreeable,’ so how can we make you ‘agreeable?'”

“It seemed to be that middle aged woman in America could only be seen on screen if they wore white and laughed a lot. Because we as you get older you’re you’re becoming more ‘disagreeable,’ so how can we make you ‘agreeable?'” she continues.

“We talked a lot about middle aged female rage and how there’s so much that goes on within the middle ages of a woman that is really unpalatable and kind of wonderfully unpalatable.”

There have been improvements in casting in more recent years, Malcolm agrees, but not so much when After the Party was in its genesis.

“The two that came out when we were in development, were Olive Kitteridge and Mare of Easttown, both stories of middle aged women who weren’t written to be well-liked. I’d always been very lucky with my career having come up through more as a sort of character actor, you know. I’d always played the interesting side-character to something,” Malcolm observes.

“Cheryl was such a massive character”

“That changed when I was an Outrageous Fortune, but Cheryl was such a massive character. I always felt that she was she ‘character actor’s character’. That has kind of kept me in work all the way through, but what I was noticing and it wasn’t a direct response to not being cast in Di’s film, but not being cast was how we met.”

Pandemic delays notwithstanding, the product of their collaboration is 6 part drama series After the Party in which Malcolm stars as teacher and mother Penny who loses everything when she accuses her Phil husband (Peter Mullan) of a sex crime and no one believes her. Five years later, he returns from Scotland and moves in with Penny’s daughter Grace and grandchild.

The series produced by Australia’s Lingo Pictures with NZ’s Luminous Beast filmed in Wellington and features Tara Canton, Dean O’Gorman, Ziggy O’Reilly and Catherine Wilkin.

The duplicitous nature of the scene which serves as the catalyst for Penny’s marriage split from Phil proved to be complex, and deliberately grey for the audience.

“We didn’t want to tell a story about a bad guy and a good guy”

“It’s very deliberate. Because what we’re asking you to do is trust this woman as an audience. In life do you trust what you’re told? Do you trust face value? It’s about perspective. It’s about truth. It’s about all that stuff. She knows her husband, but does she know her husband? So it’s also about what kind of truth exists within a marriage,” she explains.

“We didn’t want to tell a story about a bad guy and a good guy. And we didn’t want to tell a simple linear story which is about hero and antihero. We really wanted to dig into what makes people tick, the complexity of that and also what exists within a marriage. So the unfolding of information is in a lot of ways really slow.”

“I have to know what happened! I’ll drop your mortgage if you tell me!”

Such were the accolades for Malcolm’s performance as the conflicted, flawed Penny that she won an acting award from the prestigious Series Mania television festival in France.


It follows from critical acclaim in New Zealand where audiences were provoked and polarised by what they were watching.

“I had my bank manager in New Zealand ring me up halfway through the show airing and said to me ‘I have to know what happened! I’ll drop your mortgage if you tell me!'” she recalls.

“People became absolutely desperate to know the the outcome because they’d become invested in a whole bunch of stuff. But they didn’t know as an audience, whether they were right in being invested in the right thing, which again, was deliberate on our part.

“We think we know the story in life and so often we don’t. So that was the intention.”

After the Party premieres 8:30pm Sunday April 28 on ABC (all episodes on iview).

4 Responses

  1. Robyn nailed it in one. The crux of the issue lies with many females themselves. Their obsession with looking younger and consequently demanding younger women play their own age group. Yes, conditioning by males contributes, but at the end of the day the viewer can vote by watching more females playing their own age group. Good to see ‘Under the Vines’, ‘Mother and Son’, ‘Fisk’ and ‘Darby and Joan’ showing a way forward. Needs to be many more.

  2. Really looking forward to seeing this and love her acting from past shows. Totally agree woman playing their age not someone 15 years younger.

  3. I am also looking forward to this. I have been a fan of Robyn since Upper Middle Bogan. I wish the ABC would bring that back – would love to see what the Wheeler Family are up to now.

  4. Looking forward to it David. Appreciate the write up on Robyn. Loved her in Outrageous Fortune. Here’s hoping there are more TV shows featuring women like her on our screen that represent this age bracket. I would have thought in this day and age it’s what audiences want. I don’t want a women 15 years my junior representing someone my age. It’s not realistic and I thought we were moving towards a more ‘real’ representation of women on TV, e.g. Claudia Karvan and Justine Clarke for example.

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