In My Father's Den Interview: Emily Barclay

Emily Barclay

Cheeky Actor Type

"Isn't that your boyfriend?" she says, nodding her chin in the direction of a guy sporting black stovepipe jeans, a long black headscarf tied over a grey beanie and two dishevelled pink ponytails. "Oh, um..." I stutter. "It's okay," she whispers, "I won't tell anyone - keep it an 'off campus' kinda thing." Meet Emily Barclay: light, effervescent and really rather cheeky.

Meet also one of the key cast members of New Zealand's next great film hope, In My Father's Den, written and directed by Brad McGann. Barclay plays the role of 16-year-old Celia, whose desperate desire to experience the world makes her small town reality feel overwhelmingly suffocating. This feeling reaches its zenith when Paul Prior (Matthew Macfadyen), an international photojournalist, returns to the small town to settle his deceased father's estate. The two first meet in the den of the film's title - a den Celia has been slipping into to write, a den that Paul used to slip into to witness the secret, 'other' life of his father. After a gruff warning to stay away, Paul softens as he realises that Celia is cut from the same relentlessly questioning mould as he is. When the two begin to meet in the den and muse on the world together, the age difference between them and the fact that Paul used to date Celia's mother (Jodie Rimmer) generate the most salacious of small town whisperings. After Celia disappears, their friendship becomes even more dubious and Paul finds himself cast as the prime suspect in a dark 'whodunit'.

For this, critics have called the film "brooding and dark", and full of "the grievous consequences of silence and secrecy". They site a subject matter that ranges from Oedipal complexes, mental illness and family violence to voyeurism. Apart from Barclay's black jeans, black hoodie and black hair, it's a darkness that I wouldn't have thought she had in her. So how did she prepare for the role? "I found out who she was and developed the character ... I built on an inherent empathy that makes characters believable. Like for a serial killer, you find something in common … and that connection makes them believable."

While the dark element may have been out of character for Barclay, it has become one of the defining features of New Zealand film, and is something she feels is to be encouraged: "I think there is the risk that we are going to get boxed in as a country that makes dark films ... but that's not a bad thing. Mostly everyone I know has a dark side and New Zealand does have that, you know. Film is such a great medium because it can explore the dark side and it's good that we can bring the darkness out; if we don't explore the shadows in society we can't bring the lightness out."

The layers of social commentary in the film are one of the reasons Barclay thinks people should approach In My Father's Den as a 'whydunnit' rather or as well as a 'whodunnit'. If it is a 'whodunnit' then all we have to do is follow the twists and turns of the film until we are delivered at a grand conclusion where all our questions are answered. If the film is a 'whydunnit' then the answers aren't delivered to us - they come from our experiences, our rationale and our perception of New Zealand's culture and society. Harder work, but as Barclay points out, getting immersed in these layers is part of what makes the film so dark, so mysterious and so watchable.

The role of Celia is one that Barclay has been building up to through parts in Mercy Peak, Shortland Street, Spin Doctors and two US television dramas - No One Can Hear You and Terror Peak. Unlike many actors who lament the time they spend doing the 'small stuff' Emily was just chuffed to be doing something she loved; any part was a part and any part gave her that bit more experience, that little bit more exposure. When she read the script, she realised she had to have the role of Celia: "I really, really wanted the part and I psyched myself into that frame of mind ... it had a good script and good characters that weren't typical. I thought: 'I love this character, I love this girl'."

In My Father's Den opens early this month and, as yet, Barclay hasn't really felt the film creep into her daily routine; she is still at University, she still works in a video shop and she still hosts a show on 95bfm. When I ask her about buying glittery dresses and high heels she lets out an animated laugh. "I haven't thought of that stuff yet”

So she didn't blow her paycheque on racks of fantastically expensive new clothes? "No, I went to the USA for two months ... friends, shopping, records, it was fantastic. It was also the first and last thing I did with my paycheque".

Perhaps that paycheque is blown but given her love for acting and the impact she has made on the critics with her performance in In My Father's Den, I would hazard a guess that she will have to get around to buying that glittery dress and those high heels at some point.