“She’s a no bullsh*t lady, but I think she’s definitely got a good heart,” laughs Cian Elyse White.
She’s talking about Hannah, her character in the new comedy-drama 800 Words. Hannah is a fearless surfer and one woman you definitely don’t want as your enemy.
Talking on the phone from Australia, Cian sounds poles apart from her character. She is warm and friendly as she enthuses over the 800 Words cast and crew and the connections they made working on this Australia-New Zealand co-production.
“We became such a big family. Everyone’s just so down to earth and chill and really loves and respects each other.”
That’s just the kind of stuff you’re very unlikely to hear Cian’s alter ego, Hannah, say anytime soon.
As newspaper columnist George Turner (Erik Thomson) discovers, not only is Hannah as tough as nails, she’s not especially welcoming either.
When George drags his family across the ditch from Sydney to the tiny seaside town of Weld, New Zealand, he soon finds an abundance of women waiting to take him and his family under their wing. Except for Hannah.
George’s motivation to cross the Tasman is to help his family move past their grief at losing their wife and mother, but secretly, George also has a dream to relive his childhood summers, surfing the waves at Weld.
While Hannah’s prickly personality gets their relationship off to a rocky start, she and George soon form a bond through their shared love of surfing. However, they are at wildly different skill levels; she’s a pro and he has some way to go to standing upright.
Cian learned to surf back in 2009 while in Bali, a skill that would prove invaluable 7 years later when she landed the role of Weld’s most adept surfer.
“As soon as I got Hannah I started surfing out at Muriwai as much as I could,” says Cian, who also stars in the mini-series, Tatau.
Ironically, Cian says in reality it’s her co-star Erik Thomson who is an expert at riding the waves.
“Oh he’s amazing. Is there anything that man can’t do?”
“He was like, “Oh yeah, I surf a bit,” and I was like, “oh a bit, ok cool. So how long you been surfing for?”
“Oh just 30 years.”
But Erik’s surfing expertise was also to be his downfall, as pretending to be an amateur proved to be his biggest challenge.
“He had to pretend to be terrible and I said, “ooh, Erik, you’re doing some bad, bad surfing acting because he’s just so good.”
800 Words was filmed out at West coast beaches Piha and Muriwai, both notorious for big surf and rips. But Cian says she never felt in danger during filming as there were safety officers on boards and boats nearby, plus they had their own celebrity lifeguard on shore.
“Erik’s like a dad on set because he was always, “Are you ok?” “What do you need?” “Tell us if you need anything.”
“You just feel really safe and its good freedom for acting and performance.”
While her character might play up the tough girl act, Cian hints that there is a gentler side to Hannah that might be revealed as the series progresses.
“I feel like Hannah has a really soft centre that she shows when she needs to but she doesn’t like being vulnerable around people.”
While Hannah is younger than the other eligible women of Weld, Cian says she and George are “quite kindred souls,” and their connection is one that could potentially turn to romance.
“Erik and I had quite a good chat about this, how actually Hannah’s quite an old soul even though she’s young and she’s nonchalant.”
Despite being a co-production between two rival countries, Cian says there was very little trans-Tasman taunting amongst the Australian and New Zealand cast and crew.
“We all gave each other sh*t every now and then, but it was with love.”
The fictional community of Weld in 800 words is a tight knit village of friends and family and Cian says that atmosphere flowed into real life on set too.
“At the end of it, we all sat together at Erik’s and we had some food and drink, he doesn’t drink but he brought it all for us, and we sat there and watched episode one and talked about it and we said, “Whatever happens, if this succeeds or not, you know what, we don’t care.”
“We all were so grateful that we got to experience the last four months together and made something we’re all really proud of.”
But fortunately the feedback from 800 Words has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I think there are so many things that happen in the story that are like, “oh god, I’ve experienced” that, so it’s quite relatable in that way.”
800 Words has already proven extremely popular in Australia, where it started airing in September and a second series has been commissioned.
“If I had anything to say to audiences it would be stay with it, stay with it because I just think it gets so fun as you go in.”
800 Words debuts Thursday 5 November on TVOne at 8.30pm