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US award for Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie

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Eighteen-year-old Wellington actress Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie has won the award for best breakthrough performance from the US National Board of Review.

She is also nominated for the best breakthrough actor Gotham Award, the best young actor/actress Critics’ Choice Award and the best supporting actress Spirit Award, and is a contender for a best supporting actress Oscar nomination.

The Hollywood Reporter says she has shot four films since the Sundance premiere last year of Leave No Trace, a drama about a PTSD-afflicted father living with his daughter off the grid; the film had its New Zealand premiere screenings in the NZIFF.

She says of the experience of seeing her American feature for the first time: “It is a slow-burner, and it’s really quiet and nothing massive happens. It’s not like a Marvel thing or anything where there’s explosions and it’s all building up to something. So I loved it, but I was nervous because I didn’t know how people were going to respond to it.”

More from the Hollywood Reporter:

McKenzie was born and raised in New Zealand, and is “a third-generation actress.” Her grandmother is still acting at 92, her mother transitioned from acting to coaching young actors and McKenzie, along with her younger sister, is now carrying on the family tradition. Up until five years ago, though, acting professionally was the last thing McKenzie wanted to do. “Since I’d been surrounded by acting my whole life,” she says, “I wasn’t that interested.” Still, she notes, “because of my family, I’ve had an agent in New Zealand for as long as I can remember,” and she had done voiceovers, commercials, short films and even a small “blink-and-you-miss-it” part in The Hobbit “for pocket money.”

The game-changer for her was a role she played at 13 in the 2014 TV movie Consent. McKenzie’s mom had been coaching other young actresses to audition for the part while McKenzie listened in, and then something about the social value of the project prompted the youngster to express an interest in auditioning herself. She did so and got the part. Five years later she explains, “That’s when I fell in love with the research, what acting can do, the effect that you can have on the world or on the audience — and also I fell in love with just the acting side of it, being able to transform into different people, have different experiences. I mean, I look at acting as a way of being able to understand people and understand lives that I don’t live.”