Peter Jackson says —
"My co-producer Fran Walsh and I employed Miranda to work with us in Philadelphia during the shoot of The Lovely Bones as the coach for the young New Zealanders Rose McIver (Lindsey Salmon) and Carolyn Dando (Ruth Connors) as they worked alongside Hollywood stars Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci. Miranda’s skills as an actress and coach place her at the top of her field. The work she does is unique anywhere in the world."
ABOUT MIRANDA HARCOURT, ONZM
Prisons, psychiatric hospitals, working with Hollywood stars, learning sign language, devising and publishing a literacy and numeracy system for children — these experiences are all distilled into Miranda’s work with actors and communicators.
Miranda’s first short film as a director, Voiceover, written and produced by Stuart McKenzie, won Best Short Film at the 1997 NZ Film and Television Awards, and her first play as a director won a slew of awards at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards including Best Actor and Best Set Design.
As an actress Miranda has twice been awarded Best Actress at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards (A Doll’s House and Biography of my Skin) and is a 5-time finalist for Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress at the NZ Film and Television Awards. She was awarded a NZ Suffrage Medal in 1993 and in 2004 Miranda was made ONZM for her services to theatre and the community.
Initially trained as an actor at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School, Miranda then starred in the iconic 80’s TV series Gloss.
In 1990 she was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to study drama-therapy at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
On her return to New Zealand, Miranda devised the now-classic play Verbatim with William Brandt, touring it to every prison in the country — as well as to prisons, schools, theatres and festivals all over the world.
The Sunday Star-Times described Verbatim as “a small miracle of dramatic theatre”. And the NZ Times said Miranda’s performance was “frightening in its stamina and emotional range”. In The Guardian, renowned reviewer Michael Billington praised Verbatim as “a remarkable solo show about violence.” Act of Murder, Shirley Horrocks’ documentary about the play and the tour, won the inaugural NZ Media Peace Award across all media, judged by John Pilger.
For seven years Miranda was Head of Acting at Toi Whakaari – NZ Drama School. Her tenure there is celebrated for establishing a close connection between the training institution and the wider industry. Her students and graduates are remarkably well-represented amongst New Zealand’s premier actors and directors. Her work at the school was recorded in the acclaimed documentary series for TVNZ Tough Act.
While at Toi Whakaari, Miranda worked alongside husband Stuart McKenzie to bring to the screen the low-budget feature film For Good, based on their stage play Portraits, which in turn had been drawn from interviews they conducted with rapists, murderers and victim’s families. In the NZ International Film Festival program, Bill Gosden described the film as “a volatile, claustrophobic psychological thriller that mines New Zealand tabloid mythology to provocative effect.” He said Harcourt and McKenzie “are deeply familiar with their material and the film throws out enough ideas about the way society generates, contains and exhibits its demons to keep audiences arguing for hours.” North and South magazine described Miranda’s performance as “bloody brilliant”. And Margaret Agnew in the Christchurch Press wrote, “Harcourt’s raw pain and anger is awe-inspiring.”
In 2005 Miranda was contracted as on-set acting coach for Gabor Csupo’s film Bridge to Terabithia, shooting in Auckland. She seized the opportunity to coach AnnaSophia Robb, Josh Hutcherson and Bailee Madison, all of whom have since built successful careers in Hollywood.
Bridge to Terabithia reached the number two spot in the US box office. Produced for $28 million, it grossed $140 million worldwide.
The ensemble cast, lead actor and lead actress all won awards for their work at the US Critics’ Choice Awards. The success of Bridge to Terabithia opened the door for Miranda to make acting-coaching core to her career.
In 2010 she worked again with AnnaSophia Robb as her on-set coach in Hawaii on the Sony Pictures production Soul Surfer. This film also went to number two at the US box office. Shot for $18 million, Soul Surfer has grossed over $50 million theatrically and opened its iTunes release as the number one download. Sony/Affirm Vice President Rich Peluso said about Miranda’s impact on the success of the film, “I truly believe Soul Surfer would not be Soul Surfer without you. Thanks so much for all you’ve done to lift the spirit and performances of our cast.”
For the last decade, Miranda has coached for screen internationally and at home in NZ, including Jane Campion’s Bright Star and Top of the Lake, Sean McNamara’s Soul Surfer, Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia, Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones and Gaylene Preston’s Home By Christmas.
Sometimes she prep-coaches one actor for their role, as she has for comedian Rhys Darby. Sometimes she is dedicated to one or two particular performances — for example, Rose McIver and Carolyn Dando in The Lovely Bones. Sometimes she is a rehearsal coach supporting the director as in Bright Star and Top of the Lake. Sometimes she coaches actors in ADR — for example, Taika Waititi’s Boy. And sometimes she coaches the entire young cast — for example Bridge to Terabithia, Soul Surfer and Kaitangata Twitch.
Miranda also runs workshops and seminars for actors and directors, most recently at AFTRS (Australian Film, TV and Radio School) in Sydney, for Australian Equity in Sydney and Melbourne and at Toi Whakaari — NZ Drama School.
Miranda also works via skype with a number clients around the world. From London to LA to New York to Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, skype allows Miranda to reach her clients whenever, wherever.
PRODUCING AND DIRECTING
As well as coaching, Miranda continues to work closely with Stuart McKenzie in film and theatre. Their production company MAP Films has made a number of award-winning short films. And for two years Miranda, Stuart and business partner Neil Pardington ran the inaugural NZFC Talent Development Initiative, executive producing a number of successful short films including, Brita McVeigh’s Thinking About Sleep, Paul Swadel’s Accidents and Andrew Bancroft’s Home Kill.
As a theatre director Miranda has worked for Downstage Theatre, the Auckland Theatre Company and the NZ International Festival of the Arts. Her productions have won popular acclaim and a number of Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards, including Best Production and Best Design (Much Ado About Nothing); Best Actor for Tim Balme (Much Ado About Nothing); and Best Actress and Best Newcomer for Danielle Mason (Collected Stories).
In theatre, Miranda and Stuart are acknowledged internationally as pioneers of verbatim theatre. Their collaborations Portraits (1998), Flowers from My Mother’s Garden and Biography of My Skin (2009) have all toured nationally to great acclaim.
With Stuart, Miranda has written and published the literacy and Numeracy tools Miranda's Alphabet and Miranda's Numbers.
Verbatim (VUP) and Flowers From My Mother's Garden (Penguin) have also been published; and Miranda's essays and interviews have been published in various anthologies and collections.
Some years ago, Miranda brought Margaret Mahy’s classic teen novel The Changeover to Stuart’s attention as an exciting project to adapt for screen. As co-producer and acting coach Miranda is passionate about making a film that engages its audience through powerfully naturalistic performances. As a mother of three children in or approaching their teens, Miranda shares a vision with Stuart to tell this great story on screen.