Pregnant with her second child, Antonia Prebble’s priorities in life have reached a turning point. The Westside star talks to Sophie Neville about slowing down and embracing the unknown.
A couple of months ago, Kiwi actor Antonia Prebble received the job offer of a lifetime. It was an exciting role in an international film, working alongside high-profile British actors who she hugely admires. At any other point in her life, she would’ve grabbed the opportunity with both hands. This time though, heavily pregnant and with a toddler at home, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
“It would’ve meant flying to Croatia with a six week-old baby and a two-year-old,” tells the former Westside star, sitting down to chat over a cup of English Breakfast at a café near her Auckland home. “I ran the idea past my mum and she was like, ‘That sounds like a complete nightmare!’ Throw into that the fact we’re in the midst of a pandemic – it really was just impossible timing.”
That’s not to say the 37-year-old and her fiancé Dan Musgrove didn’t briefly consider it. They did. But in the end, motherhood won out. “If you’d told me a few years ago that I’d turn down a role like that, I wouldn’t have believed you, because it really was a dream job and would have been such a fantastic next step in my career,” she says.
“But that’s the interesting thing about motherhood, isn’t it? It changes you so much in ways you can’t anticipate beforehand. For me, one of the biggest things is that now my priorities in life are totally clear. They’re simple, and in the right order, and everything is focused around my family. Decision-making is far more straightforward now I’m a mum.”
On the morning we meet, she and Dan, 38, have been up in the attic, dragging down Freddie’s old baby gear. Due to give birth any day now, the clock is ticking and Antonia admits that the imminent arrival of baby number two has snuck up on them a bit. At this stage in her first pregnancy, she and Dan had already set up a nursery, packed a bag for the hospital and were totally ready to meet their baby boy.
“This time is so different,” she laughs, pointing out that getting anything done around the house is a lot harder now they have little Freddie, who turned two in July. “Funnily enough, he’s not that helpful when it comes to building cots and washing baby clothes.”
Antonia isn’t in the least bit stressed though. In fact, she’s welcoming this more relaxed approach, which extends to the baby’s birth as well. After an emergency caesarean with Freddie in 2019, she is hoping for a natural delivery – but she knows from experience there are some things in life you simply can’t control.
“I’ve always been someone who wants to have all the experiences available in life and a natural birth is one of them, if possible. But I’m only holding on to that idea very loosely, because we all know that won’t be something I can control on the day. I really feel for women who are disappointed about how their births go, because it’s an absolute fallacy that a caesarean is any less of a birth than a natural one.”
She’s also doing her best to channel a stress-free approach when it comes to managing a newborn. “With Freddie, I was hung up on the idea of doing everything ‘right’,” she explains, “which was definitely unhelpful, because it just added stress. I was obsessed with what the right way to get Freddie to sleep was, and then how long he should be asleep for, and I really bought into that ‘establishing bad habits’ rhetoric.
“I now know none of that really matters and that every baby and every mum has different ways of doing things. I feel far more relaxed now about it all. Sometimes I do wonder how on earth you manage the logistics with two children, but we’re not the first people to do it, so I’m sure we’ll work it out.”
After 15 years starring in iconic Kiwi series Outrageous Fortune and its prequel Westside, filming wrapped last year, bringing to an end a momentous part of the Wellington raised actor’s life. Antonia admits the following months were something of a rocky ride.
“Initially, I felt good about Westside finishing up, because we were going out on a high, and I was also really close to being cast in three other fantastic projects, which would have meant steady work for the next year. But over the course of a few weeks, they all toppled over one after the other, and I was left with nothing on the horizon. I experienced a bit of a malaise after that.
“After so long with such stable work, I felt a bit rudderless. When your identity is so much part of what you do, and all of a sudden that becomes uncertain, it was tough. There were a few months when I didn’t feel great in myself.”
When your identity is so much part of what you do, and all of a sudden that becomes uncertain, it was tough
The best antidote, however, was her happy home life – not to mention the wonderful news that she and Dan were expecting a second baby. It helped keep her mind from wandering into unhelpful territory, she says, admitting that she’s been known to have “an anxious mind” at times.
“I have always had a tendency to overthink or ruminate about the future, but the reality is there just isn’t the time for that anymore. When you have a little person to take care of, or a baby to look forward to, you just have so much less time to be neurotic, which is a great thing!”
Being present in her children’s lives is hugely important to Antonia, who credits her mum Nicky for being the best role model. The university teacher structured her work to be able to be there for her kids, and while Antonia hopes to do the same thing as her own children grow, ambition isn’t something you can just switch off, she’s found. So, after taking time with the new baby, she’ll be looking for projects that she can juggle alongside her children.
“It’s a dilemma that pretty much every parent faces. I want to be there for them, but I also want to retain that element of my life that makes me feel like I’m moving forward in my career. I love the creative process, it’s stimulating and energising, and I can’t imagine a life without it, actually.”
She says one of the best things about her craft is that it’s something you can continue to get better at. “There’s always more to learn, and the more life experience you have, the more you can bring to the work. I find that really motivating.”
There’s always more to learn, and the more life experience you have, the more you can bring to the work. I find that really motivating
Antonia fell in love with performing at a young age, auditioning for local productions at every opportunity as she grew up. No one else in her family had acting experience, but she knew deep down that this was going to be her path in life.
“I felt this spark inside me every time I was on stage,” she says. “As a child, I would look in the newspaper for any local audition announcements, and was very disappointed that my primary school only put on one production while I was there. It was pretty much the highlight of my school life!”
After secondary school, Antonia hosted kids’ TV show WNTV while studying law part-time at Victoria University. She then filmed the final season of The Tribe, which she had been acting in throughout her high school years, before a year-long lull in acting work, in which she focused on her studies. In 2005, her big break came with the role of Loretta West in Outrageous Fortune.
“I was over the moon and quickly packed up my life, bought my parents’ Volvo off them and drove a carload of stuff to Auckland to start a new chapter there,” she recalls. “It was totally life-changing.”
Recently, Antonia has enjoyed taking on guest roles – the first, on Lucy Lawless’ show My Life is Murder, followed by a part in an American TV show called One of Us is Lying. While she’s become used to hiding her pregnancies for her work, this time the US producers decided to embrace her bump.
“They pretty much looked at me and said, ‘It ain’t no thing,’” tells Antonia. “They decided my character, a lawyer, could also be pregnant. It didn’t change my storyline and the pregnancy wasn’t part of any dialogue or focus, which to me felt very progressive and cool – it was almost an acknowledgement that yes, female actors get pregnant and have babies, but it doesn’t mean being ruled out of roles. Why can’t an actor be pregnant and still work? It felt like a modern approach and I hope we see more of that.”
But as it did for many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic forced a rethink for Antonia, who’d planned to spend four months in America last year for the all-important pilot season. Pilot season, for the uninitiated, is when actors from all over the world converge in Los Angeles to audition for film and television roles. Antonia has done it several times before and was looking forward to lapping up the experience again – this time with Dan and Freddie along for the ride. But then Covid happened, borders closed and Antonia’s plans were turned on their head. It led to her and Dan – who played career criminal Lefty Munroe on Westside – teaming up to create their own TV shows.
Working with your partner isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Antonia is loving learning from seasoned scriptwriter Dan.
“I feels like the right time to have a more creative role in the formation of the projects I’m part of, rather than just coming in at the end as an actor. I love learning new things and having more strings to my bow. It makes me feel good about myself.
“And learning from Dan is such a nice way to start out – it’s a safe place to learn the ropes.” She knows that the arrival of a sibling will be a huge adjustment for her “chilled out, happy little boy” Freddie, but she hopes he’ll relish being a big brother. For Antonia, the expansion of their family is just another step on her and Dan’s journey together. While she’s always been someone who lives life in the fast lane, Antonia has learned to embrace the slower pace of domesticity.
“Ever since I was young – like really young – I had this sense and a drive towards living a really big life,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily know what that would look like or what it would involve, but I’ve always wanted to experience all the things, and embrace every possible opportunity that comes along. I really did think that pottering at home not doing much was a waste. If there was something on, or something to catch up with, I just had to do it. I had to go to every play, every concert, see friends… just be out in the world all the time.
“But that probably wasn’t the best way to live – filling my cup to overflowing – and I’m the absolute opposite now. I look at my empty calendar and it’s like a big, deep breath. It’s incredibly calming. I guess you could say my definition of a ‘big life’ has changed. Without wanting to sound trite, it’s about big love, and I feel so lucky to have that.”