On my radar: Thomasina McKenzie’s cultural highlights

The New Zealand actor on compelling Korean TV, a chilling true-crime podcast and sticky eggplant with quinoa

Thomasin McKenzie was born in 2000 and raised in Wellington, New Zealand. Acting since the age of nine, her first starring role, in Debra Granik’s 2018 film Leave No Trace, as the daughter of a traumatised war veteran living off-grid in Oregon, won her the National Board of Review award for breakthrough performance (previous winners include Timothée Chalamet and Jennifer Lawrence). In 2019, she had supporting roles in Jojo Rabbit and True History of the Kelly Gang. Now she plays the lead in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, as the aspiring fashion designer Eloise Turner. She lives in New Zealand.

1. Book

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The author Hanya Yanagihara
‘The most heartbreaking book I’ve read’: Hanya Yanagihara, author of A Little Life. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

I heard so many people talking about this so I had to read it and I got completely immersed. It follows the life of a young man named Jude, who is incredibly smart and a quite beautiful human being, but he’s been through a lot of really horrible trauma. It’s the most heartbreaking book I’ve ever read and the most harrowing. You feel like the memories of the characters start to become your own. I read it during the most recent New Zealand lockdown and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

Black Hands podcast

2. Podcast

Black Hands

This is a New Zealand true-crime podcast about a man called David Bain who went to prison for killing his family, but was released because there was ongoing doubt about whether he was guilty or not. I was interested to listen to it because I’m playing a character later this year who’s really intrigued by dark stories. I’m not naturally intrigued by those things, so it’s been good to listen to it. But I think I need to maybe take a step back because I had a nightmare last night that I was being followed by a creepy man – so maybe I’ve been overdoing it on the horror stories.

3. Song

Vienna by

Billy Joel

Listen to Vienna by Billy Joel.

I listened to this a lot recently while filming the BBC TV series Life After Life, and I really love it. For me, it’s a reminder to take my time and not feel pressured to get things done, but to enjoy the journey. Because of Covid, I’ve been thinking a lot about the passing of time, and trying hard to be in the present as much as possible, to enjoy spending time with friends and family. I was singing it in the car with one of my best friends the other day, so I’ve got nice memories associated with it as well.

4. TV

Squid Game

Squid Game
Squid Game: ‘It’s pretty gruesome.’ Photograph: Youngkyu Park/Netflix

I really enjoyed this Korean series on Netflix. It didn’t get picked up for years and the writer had to sell his laptop to pay his bills, but once it did get made, it became a huge hit. It’s pretty gruesome. It’s about a big group of people who are selected to participate in a game to win a lot of money – they’re playing children’s games, like What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? – but they don’t realise that if you lose you’re murdered. There’s a lot of blood but it’s very compelling. I watched it all within three days.

Sesame eggplant with jasmine rice.
Sesame eggplant with jasmine rice. Photograph: myfoodbag.co.nz

5. Food service

My Food Bag

My family and I started ordering this meal kit service created by Nadia Lim, who won MasterChef New Zealand. They send you all the ingredients and recipes and you make dishes at home. Tonight it was a sticky Korean eggplant dish with quinoa and rice. I’ve been cooking it for my family because I want to feel like I’m contributing in some way while I’m still living at home. Because I’m overseas so often, it seems a little bit pointless to get my own place and never be there, but it’s definitely about time for me to start moving on.

6. Video game

The Sims 4

The Sims 4
The Sims 4: ‘It’s nice to feel you’re able to escape.’ Photograph: EA Games

This is a bit geeky, but I’ve been playing a lot of The Sims, where you create virtual characters and design their lives. [We’re living in] such a crazy world, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so it’s nice to have something where you feel like you have some control, and be able to escape. My best friend is a big fan as well, so we play it together and get excited about all the new packs that come out. The most recent one was University Life, which is very fun – you send your characters to university. I’ve been thinking recently about going to university myself, so it’s kind of testing that idea out.


Killian Fox

The GuardianTramp

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