The Elephant Princess: articles

Emily Robins

Emily Robins took a huge liking to her co-star in The Elephant Princess.

Magical role for a young princess

EMILY Robins was excited when invited to audition for the lead role in a new Australian children's series in which she would both act and sing.

"I'd been singing all my life in musical theatre and competitions and stuff like that," says the 19-year-old from New Zealand, who plays a 16-year-old who discovers she is a princess from an exotic, mystical kingdom, in The Elephant Princess. "The fact that they were looking for a singer and an actor was perfect for me."

She faced an early obstacle before filming at Melbourne locations, including the historic artists' colony Montsalvat.

"They basically said if you can't do an Australian accent you can't do the show," says Robins, who spent a few hours a day for several weeks with a special coach who helped her learn Strine.

"I was quite quick to pick it up. The difference isn't that huge. We have a different rhythm. New Zealanders tend to just slip over all the words; Australians really say the words."

The Auckland-based performer, who has just voted for this first time (Labour) in her country's elections, has acted in the popular New Zealand soap Shortland Street and was named New Zealand's rising star in a contest hosted by a national TV guide.

She was in Melbourne from last October to April. Her boyfriend, David, flew out to join her and was given a role in the series as a music producer.

"My friends kept saying to me, 'You better not come back with an Australian accent'," she says. "I've shown them episodes and they can't believe an Australian accent is coming out of my mouth."

She says she heard plenty of "good-hearted" jokes about sheep and encountered interest in hearing her pronounce the words "fish and chips", but cast and crew were cautioned. "No one was allowed to hassle me for my Kiwi accent. It would make me feel like I couldn't be myself when I wasn't being the character."

She's the elder of two sisters; her mother is deputy principal at a primary school; and her father operations manager for a tour bus company. She says she has wanted to act since her first time onstage as an eight-year-old when she played a munchkin in a local theatrical production of The Wizard of Oz.

She was in an Australian production of Fiddler on the Roof, and Auckland Theatre Company's The Crucible.

Robins, who received operatic tuition while taking part in Les Miserables, sings in a neighbourhood rock band in the 26-episode, Jonathan M. Shiff (Thunderstone, Pirate Islands and Wicked Science) production, The Elephant Princess.

Character Alex Wilson's life changes suddenly after a visit from an exotic visitor called Kuru and a magical elephant. She discovers she is, in fact, Princess Liliuokalani Parasha Khaled Persphone Amanirenas of Manjipoor.

"Manjipoor is an exotic, mystical kingdom that exists very close to our world but not in it," the promotional notes state. "The nation was born 600 years ago when 'gifted' sorcerers, oracles and witches fled persecution and created their own territory, and then later moved it for their protection to a parallel existence by magical means."

Alex keeps her identity as a princess a secret, "but it's an ongoing problem concealing a wilful, sometimes-invisible elephant in her backyard".

Alex, says Robins, doesn't believe she's a princess until she notices that she now has unusual powers, including the ability to turn back time. She discovers, among other things, that way over in Manjipoor is "an evil cousin trying to destroy the kingdom".

Australian viewers have taken to bro'Town, New Zealand's first adult-targeted animated series; the Grammy Award-winning comedy Flight of the Conchords; and comedy/drama series Outrageous Fortune.

But Robins says opportunities for actors are relatively limited and she could not have gained a comparable role in New Zealand. She hopes to find ongoing work in Australia.

"The scale of the show is huge," she says. "There's nothing like that over here. It's hard for a New Zealander to break into the Australian market, for any role, especially the lead role."

The Elephant Princess premieres at 4pm today on Ten.

By Larry Schwartz
November 13, 2008
The Age