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FishHead Magazine shoot: October 2013 issue. Hobbit wives feature story. Museum Hotel, Wellington. July 24, 2013 Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comLoc­ated three storeys up inside the icon­ic Museum Hotel, the Hip­po­pot­amus Res­taur­ant & Bar is an ornate din­ing and drink­ing space if ever you saw one. Win­dowed walls to the left give way to an expans­ive view of the Wel­ling­ton water­front, while to the right is a dec­ad­ently stacked bar with taste­ful chan­deliers hanging over­head. Down the middle of the room sit marble-topped din­ing tables, throne chairs and plush vin­tage couches.

I’m here with pho­to­graph­er Mark Tan­trum, who is set­ting up for a photo-shoot and inter­view with a group of women dubbed the ‘dwarf wives’, all of whom are part­ners of act­ors play­ing dwarves in The Hob­bit film tri­logy. After all, if their part­ners get to dress up in chain mail and cloaks, wear extra­vag­ant beards, and wield impress­ive medi­ev­al weapons, why shouldn’t the ladies act up a little too?

While Tan­trum pos­i­tions his equip­ment and takes light­ing test shots, Nicole Chester­man Kirch­er, Gwen Isaac, Yolan­de Brophy and Aileen Dav­id­son – respect­ive part­ners of Wil­li­am ‘Bifur’ Kirch­er, Gra­ham ‘Dwal­in’ McTav­ish, Jed ‘Nori’ Brophy and Peter ‘Glóin’ Hamb­leton – arrive. As those with an interest in fash­ion may care to note, they’re dressed in Soph­ie Voon, Vin­tage Heav­en, Kate Sylvester and Wild Pair.

Set­tling in for a sig­na­ture Hip­po­pot­amus high tea, we take our seats as the French maître d’ brings out a selec­tion of amuse-bouches, mini-sand­wiches and mignard­ises on a tiered tray before tak­ing our drink orders – tea for most, and far too many long blacks for me.

When togeth­er socially, the dwarf wives have an easy and inform­al friend­ship, one that for Kirch­er, Brophy and Dav­id­son dates back long before The Hob­bit. “We met because our hus­bands acted togeth­er in theatre,” Brophy explains. “Ori­gin­ally we were first-night buddies.

After the cast­ing was announced, we got togeth­er and real­ised that some of the act­ors would be bring­ing wives, part­ners and fam­ily from the oth­er side of the world for a year, and they wouldn’t know any­one,” Dav­id­son con­tin­ues. “So we had morn­ing tea at my house and made a plan. I con­tac­ted the pro­duc­tion office, asked for a van, and we went over to the Wair­ar­apa for a winery lunch with some of them. Gwen had fam­ily in the Wair­ar­apa, so they looked after the chil­dren. After that, we all star­ted meet­ing reg­u­larly for cock­tails, or lunch in each other’s homes, just to get a sup­port net­work going. Our part­ners were work­ing long, long hours.”

As they built up a col­lect­ive friend­ship, so came a broad­er per­spect­ive of the impact hav­ing a sig­ni­fic­ant oth­er cast in a cine­mat­ic pro­ject like The Hob­bit can have on a family’s life. The ripple of effects stretches from funny moments such as learn­ing to deal with people mak­ing rude jokes about your part­ner on the Inter­net, to stranger situ­ations such as walk­ing through Hob­biton with a sari-attired Indi­an woman who speaks and reads flu­ent Elvish, and of course very close encoun­ters of the celebrity kind.

What we go through is quite a weird thing,” Kirch­er muses. “Not many people have to deal with the kind of exper­i­ences we have to deal with. Also, because our hus­bands work with fam­ous people, we know those people, and they become very nor­mal people. We don’t put them on ped­es­tals. They are not ‘gods’, they are fathers.”

They’re just old,” Isaac jok­ingly inter­jects, eli­cit­ing a moment of group laughter.

Speak­ing more ser­i­ously, rising to the sur­face is a genu­ine pride in see­ing their part­ners excel as act­ors. With that – exhaust­ive long hours not with­stand­ing – has come the abil­ity to pay off fin­an­cial debts, and in the case of most of these women, devote more of their time to work or pro­jects they’re per­son­ally pas­sion­ate about. “You can­not pre­dict how life-chan­ging some­thing like this can be,” Isaac admits. “Those moments on the red car­pet at the premi­ers are amaz­ing, and the whole thing is such a machine, such an army. Thank­fully, it’s one that gen­er­ates jobs for tal­en­ted people here. It’s been a priv­ilege to be able to ride those coat-tails.”

It’s been amaz­ing being able to sup­port my hus­band in what he loves doing,” Brophy enthuses. “He has worked in Wel­ling­ton for a long time, and he has always been very com­mit­ted to doing work in New Zea­l­and, espe­cially theatre work. It was won­der­ful to be able to give him a sup­port­ive focus as well, and really be the rock on the home front, because it has been hard work.”

It’s giv­en them the oppor­tun­ity to work with some fant­ast­ic act­ors,” Dav­id­son adds. “It’s been lovely watch­ing my part­ner. He’s been act­ing for 30 years, and there is always more to learn. This has been an oppor­tun­ity to look at his skills and extend them. He’s been really sat­is­fied, and doing one job rather than three or four!”

With pho­to­graph­er Mark Tan­trum now sat­is­fied with his array of group and indi­vidu­al pho­to­graphs, we wind things down, cas­u­ally dis­cuss­ing celebrity paparazzi, the recent roy­al baby, altern­at­ive milk sub­sti­tutes, and the gen­er­ally polite and respect­ful man­ner of Lord of the Rings and The Hob­bit fans. Time being the pre­cious com­mod­ity it is, it’s time to say our good­byes so that every­one can get to their next appoint­ment. The wives will, not doubt, see each oth­er again soon: “When I arrive at parties, I look around, and if I see a mini clutch of dwarf wives, I head over to see them first,” Dav­id­son says. “Then I’ll do the room after catch­ing up.”


The Dwarf Wives

Aileen Davidson

Nation­al coordin­at­or of pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment and the Trav­el­lers pro­gramme at Skylight

Part­ner of Peter Hamb­leton (Dwarf Glóin)

FishHead Magazine shoot: October 2013 issue. Hobbit wives feature story. Museum Hotel, Wellington. July 24, 2013 Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comAileen Dav­id­son is one of those people you just feel com­fort­able around. Con­ver­sa­tion comes eas­ily to her. Chances are you find your­self open­ing up, and whatever she has to say back won’t be judge­ment­al – her obser­va­tions are thought­ful, con­sidered and clear.

Peter Hambleton copy            “My back­ground was act­ing,” she explains. “I taught clown­ing at Toi Whakaari, next I worked in the per­form­ing arts sec­tor for a long time.” A lifelong Wel­ling­to­ni­an, when Dav­id­son and her part­ner Peter Hamb­leton decided to start a fam­ily, she moved side­ways career wise, cyc­ling through inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment and aid, then com­munity devel­op­ment work. “It’s really dif­fi­cult when you’re both act­ors and have a mort­gage and chil­dren,” Dav­id­son recalls. Raised around the theatre, their daugh­ter Soph­ie is also an act­or and their son Joseph works in the loc­al film and TV industry.

With Hamb­leton hav­ing spent over 30 years act­ing, his entry into The Hob­bit has been trans­form­at­ive for the fam­ily. “We only just stopped pinch­ing ourselves this year,” Dav­id­son enthuses. “I think most of the Kiwis [in the film] are like that.”

From her com­munity devel­op­ment work, she became part of Sky­light, an organ­isa­tion that sup­ports adults, young people and chil­dren going through dif­fi­cult times. “Sky­light keeps me groun­ded in the midst of this fantasy thing that is going on around us,” she admits. “Work­ing with people who are deal­ing with trauma, loss and grief on a daily basis keeps you based in reality.”



Nicole Chesterman Kircher

Own­er of Pos­sum Tal­ent Man­age­ment, cov­ers singer

Wife of Wil­li­am Kirch­er (Dwarf Bifur)

FishHead Magazine shoot: October 2013 issue. Hobbit wives feature story. Museum Hotel, Wellington. July 24, 2013 Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comNicole Chester­man Kirch­er has put togeth­er the­at­ric­al shows involving naked gold-painted men for the army, staged drag queen revues at the James Cab­aret, hos­ted medi­ev­al and Vic­tori­an ban­quets, and held up a train in Feath­er­ston with ban­dits. Ask her to define her­self, how­ever, and this vibrant, spritely lady will give you an answer less ornate, but ulti­mately more import­ant. “Firstly, I’m a moth­er of four,” she says proudly, before whis­per­ing, “I’m a grand­moth­er as well.”

william-kircher (RIGHT) copy

While the résumé of pro­jects she’s been involved in is col­our­ful, so is her early back­ground. “I was born in Aus­tralia to New Zea­l­and par­ents,” Kirch­er explains. “Then I was raised in the United States and Fiji. I gradu­ated high school in the United States and have lived here in Wel­ling­ton since.”

            A former act­or turned film and tele­vi­sion agent by day (and some­times night), she has been rep­res­ent­ing act­ors and extras since 2000 through her Pos­sum Tal­ent Man­age­ment agency. When she isn’t hand­ling paper­work, she also moon­lights as a cov­ers sing­er in four dif­fer­ent bands: The Cali­for­nia Dream­ers, Rock Machine, Way Out West and The Hol­ly­woods. “I’ve always been able to sing,” Kirch­er recalls. “I didn’t actu­ally want to be an act­ress; I wanted to sing. I took my friend to an audi­tion, and at the time I had a very strong Amer­ic­an accent. The dir­ect­or asked me to come in and audi­tion and I actu­ally got the part my friend was going for. It all star­ted there. That was when I was 19.”


Gwen Isaac

Dir­ect­or and pro­du­cer at Mid­night Swim Productions

Wife of Gra­ham McTav­ish (Dwarf Dwalin)

FishHead Magazine shoot: October 2013 issue. Hobbit wives feature story. Museum Hotel, Wellington. July 24, 2013 Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comGwen Isaac is a thought­ful observ­er, one who helps us under­stand oth­er ways of life through doc­u­ment­ary tele­vi­sion and film. A freel­ance dir­ect­or and pro­du­cer, she’s fol­lowed Sylvester ‘Rambo’ Stal­lone into the jungles of Thai­l­and, unmasked the cast of cult con­tem­por­ary TV series Her­oes, and tailed Lind­say Lohan on her jour­ney to India to invest­ig­ate child traf­fick­ing. She’s also a wife, a moth­er of two, and a New Zealander.

 McTavish           “I’m from the Bay of Islands ori­gin­ally,” Isaac recalls. “I lived in Lon­don for ten years, and then we lived in Los Angeles to ful­fil my husband’s dream of act­ing with the big boys.”

Three years ago, they moved back to New Zea­l­and with their first daugh­ter in tow, so that McTav­ish could act in The Hob­bit. With this came the oppor­tun­ity for Isaac to take a break from the com­mer­cial film and tele­vi­sion work she had been engaged in for many years, and begin work­ing on a spe­cial project.

Where There is Life is an obser­va­tion­al film about a woman with a ter­min­al dis­ease, who has a very unortho­dox approach to dying,” she explains. “It’s a med­it­a­tion on life.” Intro­duced to her sub­ject at the gym, Isaac has been film­ing for two-and-a-half years and is now seek­ing fund­ing to com­plete the project.

After spend­ing over a dec­ade over­seas, Isaac has enjoyed recon­nect­ing with her fam­ily and revis­it­ing the cul­tur­al iden­tity of New Zea­l­and. “I nev­er thought I’d be mov­ing back, but it has been great,” she enthuses.

Yolande Brophy

Organ­ic garden­ing skills course coordin­at­or at Te Rito Gar­dens, Porirua

Wife of Jed Brophy (Dwarf Nori)

FishHead Magazine shoot: October 2013 issue. Hobbit wives feature story. Museum Hotel, Wellington. July 24, 2013 Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comYolan­de Brophy is the out­doors­wo­man of the dwarf wives; their very own earth moth­er. “I want to live a life of sub­stance, not con­veni­ence,” she enthuses. Born in Auck­land, she moved down to Wel­ling­ton with her hus­band Jed Brophy when they were 19. This year they cel­eb­rate their 25th wed­ding anniversary, their eld­est son’s 21st birth­day and their young­est son’s 17th birthday.

Jed Brophy            Hav­ing com­pleted a degree in theatre and film at Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity, Brophy also had a career in theatre, film and TV before focus­ing on moth­er­hood after the birth of her eld­est. In more recent years, how­ever, she man­aged a café in Rau­mati until Jed was selec­ted for The Hob­bit. “I often say I haven’t focused on a career,” she says. “I’ve focused on a life­style which allows me to devel­op dif­fer­ent skills.”

When Jed star­ted on The Hob­bit, Yolan­de took the oppor­tun­ity to begin volun­teer­ing for dif­fer­ent organ­isa­tions. “I volun­teered at the Rugby World Cup and the SPCA,” she recalls. “Cur­rently I work with an organ­iz­a­tion in Pori­rua called Te Rito Gar­dens. I’m also going to be pro­du­cing a show at BATS [theatre] in Janu­ary with my hus­band in it.”

A weekly organ­ic veget­able mar­ket and garden, Te Rito engages dis­ad­vant­aged or dis­en­fran­chised youth to grow food, and in the pro­cess gives people a feel­ing of own­er­ship. As part of her work there, Brophy coordin­ates organ­ic garden­ing skills courses. “It’s a ten-week course,” she says. “Two-hour ses­sions, once a week. The next one starts in spring.”


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