Michele Bryant, 53, is an artist who met her husband Jonny Brough, 47, a senior painter at Weta, while they were working on The Lord of the Rings movies. They live in Island Bay, Wellington, with their children Jack, 17, and Evelyn, 13, and two big rabbits, Rusty and Cloud.
Michele: I was quite fragile when I met Jonny. My five-year-old partner had just died and my sister died in a car accident. I used to teach art in Auckland but Richard [Taylor] and Tania [Roger] asked me to come to work Rings So I returned to Wellington, where I spent four years making armor for the costumes of the main actors.
Jonny was in the painting department at Weta, so we worked together. We were both with other partners, so the first two years we were just friends. But Jonny always stood out at work because he was so unfazed in stressful situations. He’s incredibly funny and would defuse tension with humor, a skill I really admire.
Once we had an emergency costume situation with actor Viggo Mortensen and while Viggo was pacing around the apartment, we quickly fixed his costume. Jonny was so calm and capable which made everyone feel at ease.
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We finally got together in 2001 at Jonny’s parents’ bach in the south. Like so much of our relationship, this happened organically. Jonny is really handsome and incredibly talented – he can fly an airplane, make lead windows, exhibit his drawings and paintings, and he’s a great cook. But he’s never boastful or arrogant about his talents. Jonny also hates when people or animals are treated unfairly and he always stands up for the little guy.
We were working on the Tom Cruise movie The last Samourai in New Plymouth when I found out I was pregnant with Jack. I had been a vegetarian for ages, but saw a slice of steak in the catering tent and really wanted it, so I knew something was going on.
When Jack was 2 years old, we got married at the Massey Memorial in Wellington. The wedding flowers were supposed to be at our reception hall, but when we got there we couldn’t find them. I ended up climbing a tree in my wedding dress to grab a pōhutukawa branch. Jonny thought it was hilarious, but I was born and raised on a farm in Hawke’s Bay, so I guess it’s the practical farm girl that comes out.
I have been a full-time artist and printmaker for 17 years and work very long hours, especially in preparation for an exhibition. I don’t really do weekends and Jonny always tries to relax more. I try to achieve this balance.
We’re happy to be together without talking – we don’t have to fill in the gaps through conversation. Even though we’ve been together for 20 years, our relationship is still fresh. We are always very attracted to each other and we laugh a lot. This is the key for us, as well as giving each other space to have our own interests.
Jonny: I was at Weta a few months before Michele joined the team. I wouldn’t say it now, but it was a different age then – so when Michele caught my eye, I said to someone, “Wow, who is that?”
I was reading a story at work about the then French ambassador saying Kiwi women dressed as if they were in the military when Michele walked through in overalls and work boots. But she looked amazing. I read the story to him and we laughed. It was probably our first conversation.
Michèle encouraged me to come back to my own art. I had always done it as a hobby, but Michele was the first artist I had met to make a living from art. She said, “Why don’t you paint?” This is what I did and had a few exhibitions. The only problem is that when I come home from work, especially when we work long hours, I’m usually too tired to paint.
There is no tension with two artists under the same roof. We both criticize each other’s work and are always honest with each other. When you’ve been looking at a painting for six hours, it always helps to have a new set of eyes to look at your work. I take Michele’s advice very seriously because she instinctively knows when a board works or not.
We never really talked about getting married but one day when Jack was 2 we were walking around the Botanic Gardens and attending a wedding party. The groom ran past us, sweating and screaming into his phone and clearly stressed. We looked at each other and thought, “Our marriage will never be like this.” So I said, “Do you think we should get married?” And Michele said yes. I probably could have done a better job with the proposal.
Michele is beautiful and she is incredibly loyal to her family. She puts family before everyone else, sometimes including herself. But everything she does is for me and the kids. She’s also incredibly hardworking, a work ethic she gets from her farming parents. This extends to all aspects of her life, as Michele does nothing by halves.
Which can backfire sometimes because her brain is often five minutes behind her body, so she’ll do things like leave the front door wide open or we’ll move on to one of the kids’ activities to find out it’s is next week.
We make each other laugh a lot. I always believed that if people weren’t laughing, something was wrong. Every time Michele has a bad day, I work my magic by massaging her back and neck. I can get myself out of a lot of problems by doing this.