While still studying, actor Ian Blackburn has picked up roles in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and now Robyn Malcolms stunning Kiwi drama After The Party. He talks to YOUR ex about dream roles, powerful storytelling, and the arts beyond acting. 

Where did you grow up, and what was growing up there like for you?

Im born and bred in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. My parents met working backstage in the theatres there. Many of their siblings also spent time working in the theatre, front and backstage. My Nana was an opera singer, and my grandfather is an actor too. So I was lucky enough that the arts never felt out of reach for me. My mum even worked on shows with Robyn Malcolm when she was starting out, and its quite cool to see that somewhat come full circle with this show.


What was coming out like for you?

My family is, on the whole, very open and accepting. I’m very lucky to have had a much more welcoming upbringing than Ollie (Ians character in After The Party) did. Sexuality never felt like an obstacle in our household, not intentionally anyway. Fortunately, my only battle was with my own self-imposed pressures.

When did you know that you wanted to be an actor?
Growing up, I first remember wanting to be a painter. It was my friend who was more interested in acting. We used to make murder mystery films together, and it was through the writing, performance, and editing of those projects that I discovered my passion for acting. I still dont know if I want to be an actor. Sam Neill says its not being an actor” but doing acting.” I would still like to explore my passion for the visual arts, most likely still within the film and theatre world. It makes so much sense in my head that young queer youth are drawn to this profession based in escapism and human excavation. Queer people have often put years into self-discovery, honing their curiosity and ruthless attention to detail – skills that lend themselves so well to being great artists.

Ian Blackburn plays Ollie in After The Party.

What has the experience of studying at Toi Whakaari been like for you?

I am so glad I made it into Toi Whakaari back in 2021. I feel so lucky to have spent the last few years there. Coming off Rings of Power, there was definitely encouragement to pursue a career without formal education, but I knew in my gut that I would always feel that something was missing. Filming Rings of Power, I often felt wildly out of my depth. I wanted to have a solid grounding in craft and a wealth of theoretical knowledge that I would be able to call upon in similar moments of self-doubt. Toi has kept me consistently working – and evolving. The people I have met through my time there are some of the strongest connections that, I know, will only grow over our careers and continue to feed the work we make over the coming years…

In our third year at Toi, its required that we get some industry experience doing internships. Thankfully, the dates lined up well, and I was able to use my time (filming After The Party) as a large chunk of my internship too, getting to do this work alongside my classmate – and dear friend – Tara Canton, who plays Grace in the show, which has been such a joy.

After The Party revolves around the question of whether Ollie has been sexually molested by an older man. What was it like to tell such a confronting and important storyline?

At Toi, we talk about this idea of ‘who do you play for?While Im fortunate enough to have had a very safe and sheltered upbringing, I had moments of doubt about whether I was the right person for this job. Whos story is this to tell? But what was certain in my head was that I would hate to put a person who had been through such experiences in a position that might bring up past trauma to be captured on film. So while I understood the weight and responsibility of the role, I tried to give myself the space to feel confident and help spread awareness for an issue that gets swept under the rug far too often. If this show can spark a conversation of truth, vulnerability, and bodily autonomy, then I have done my job.

What was the experience of working with Robyn Malcolm like?

Going into production, I knew Robyn would be at the top of the game craft-wise, but what I didnt count on, is how much of a beautiful and powerful spirit and kind heart she brings to every part of the work. She is a staunch advocate for actors, especially young actors like Tara and me, which was so empowering to witness – such a privilege to share space with someone with such strong morals, a generous heart, and a real passion for the work.

What are your dream roles?

Ive always loved playing a villain. Of course, theyre such delightful roles for actors. Its so enticing to be able to channel a level of fear and rage within yourself and use it as a form of catharsis. Adding the nuance and complexity of their nature is always a fun challenge too. Going to shows as a kid, I always loved the villainous characters because they seemed to be the ones having the most fun.

After The Party is steaming now on TVNZ+