Acclaimed actor Todd Emerson speaks to Levi Joule about his role on the new hit TV3 show Westside.

After only three episodes, it has quickly become clear that Westside is must watch Sunday night viewing. Written by Rachel Lang and James Griffin, the award-winning creators of Outrageous Fortune, Westside takes fans back to where it all began.

This six-part series tells the story of legendary safe cracker and career criminal, Ted West and his wife, Rita. Combining real events and the rich folklore of the West family and associates, this is rollicking history, and a tempestuous romance, set against a backdrop of great social upheaval.


Openly gay actor Todd Emerson plays the closeted Bjelke Van Heeder (known as Bilkey) who is part of main protagonist Ted West’s ‘gang’ which travels across Auckland on heists.

Just before the show premiered, Emerson told express, that Westside would be offer a social commentary and reflection of 1970’s New Zealand. “It is quite a political show” Three episodes in and numerous references to how much Ted hates Robert Muldoon and with last week’s episode featuring the dawn raids, viewers can see that Westside does indeed mark a significant departure in tone to Outrageous Fortune. As Emerson notes “The comedy is more darker, more grittier in Westside than Outrageous Fortune”  

“The sexism and racism through the show – the writers are defiantly trying to prove a point about it.” Emerson says.The issue of homosexuality is also explored through Bilkey’s character, although perhaps in a much more subtle way than sexism and racism is.

“It’s an interesting time for the character of Bilkey… He has two or three different girlfriends in each episode, but his sexuality is still  made clear. I think for him at that time, I don’t think he identified with words like ‘gay’. I think in his mind he would know he was a homosexual. “ Emerson tells express.

Emerson says it’s not the first time he or his character Bilkey have come into contact with the Wests. he played a small part in the fourth season as Cheryl’s court appointed lawyer for one episode, “Cheryl fired me. I was in and out within a day”

As for Bilkey, he goes on to become much more flamboyant in Outrageous Fortune where he works for a handbag company run by Ted West’s second wife. The Bilkey character in Westside is almost polar opposite to his older counterpart, matching the difference between the two shows.

Are there any similarities between Emerson and the character he plays? “None at all.” the actor tells us. “I love him though. He was so fun to play. That greatest thing is to play a character with a secret and he carries his secret with him everyday.”

There were downsides however in the filming process. “I made a decision pretty early on that Bilkey would be a smoker, so I spend the whole shoot smoking pretty much and drinking this 0% beer that tastes like bubbly piss.” Emerson tells us.

A second season depends on how Westside rates, but if the show was to be renewed, Emerson says that viewers should expect to see some major developments for the character of Bilkey as New Zealand society radically changes through the eighties.

“I think that it will be interesting if we do go to a second series and we get closer to the time of homosexual law reform. He wouldn’t even imagine the possibility of falling in love or getting into a relationship.”

 Article | Levi Joule.