Who do you get to play paranormal inspectors?
How about a kindergarten teacher and a production assistant.
That’s who producers of “Wellington Paranormal” cast when they saw how good Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue were at playing cops sussing out paranormal behavior.
O’Leary, a kindergarten teacher in New Zealand for more than 20 years, had no intention of acting but one of the parents at her school was the show’s casting director and she “got me to have a chat…it turned out it was an audition.”
Minogue, meanwhile, was a driver on film and television productions. “I’d done it for about five years and somebody at my work asked if I wanted to audition for a movie, which I didn’t want to do,” he says during a Zoom conference. “I’d never been interested in acting.” Still, he read the lines, got cast, then got another offer “and I just went from there. Then I did a very serious role in an anti-apartheid police drama which ('Wellington' creator Jemaine Clement) saw and he goes, ‘Oh, this guy’s funny.’ Even though I was doing my best dramatic performance.”
“He looks like a cop,” Clement explains. “No matter what he’s doing. No matter what he’s wearing.”
The two were first cast in “What We Do in the Shadows,” a film about vampires. That led to "Wellington," a spinoff series that has been running for three seasons in New Zealand. Americans, however, got “Shadows” first (on FX) before The CW picked up the first two seasons of “Wellington.”
“It was originally intended to be scarier,” Clement says. “But when we did the second episode (about alien plants), the plants looked so silly when they moved you just couldn’t make them scary. And we leaned into that and made it sillier.”
Produced for much less than an episode of “What We Do in the Shadows” (Clement estimates it’s one-fifth to one-tenth of the budget), “Wellington Paranormal” relies on ingenuity to pull off its storylines. “We collaborate with different departments,” Clement says. “We sometimes get the VFX people in the writers’ room and just say, ‘We want to do this. Can we do this?’ Same thing with the prosthetics people. We’ll say, ‘What have you got laying around your studio?’ And they might have something we can use.”
To illustrate, Minogue says one of the props people found a plastic bag “and we probably got eight minutes out of that in one episode. We just had a plastic bag flying around that we mistook for a ghost.”
Adds Clement: “It was in the script, but I guess we went there.”
Now filming a fourth season, “Wellington Paranormal” producers have convinced O’Leary it’s not just an extra-curricular job. “I was still working full time at my early child center until just last September,” she says. “I was doing both jobs and then, also during COVID, I did the home learning channel. But I think they’re very complementary careers, to be fair. Teaching was a very good environment to work on creativity because children are the most creative people that exist. And, then, to be able to be on a TV show with Mike was just like being at a kindergarten because he’s so juvenile. But now I’ve become a full-time actor, so I pretty much don’t work.”