LIFE IN THE CAST HOUSE FOR THE TRIBE Interview with House Mother – Saranne James

We are very lucky to have talked to the House Mother from The Tribe. She lets us get an insight as to how life was off-set for the cast during filming of the Tribe. She has got to know many members of the cast over the years and has got to know them very well.

While filming is in the downtime for The Tribe she manages to keep in touch with many of them, most of whom she has created a close relationship with.

As a job she has described it as being a full time (24 hour 7 day a week) mother role and often trying to cater for not just the Tribe Cast, but their friends and extra guest cast members also. In a sense she was the leader of The Tribe (outside of work), and played an essential role in maintaining a most normal as possible lifestyle for these young actors.

Due to the Cast members young age they are required not only by company and agents policy, but for piece of mind for their parents, to be chaperoned everywhere, and looked after just as they would in their own house. Only when they are over 18 are they required to find their own accommodation and look after themselves. Even then, the cast who live separately in this case are still picked up and taken to and from work at set times to be ready for filming.

Check out some of the Tribe cast out of costume in Wellington

How many people would be staying in the house at once?
8-ish, but guest cast often come and stay aswell.

Then is it a big house? Yes. There have been several houses used over the years, and they have all been big, to accommodate the number of people we have in them.

Does everyone have separate rooms?
We try to, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, especially when guest cast arrive. The main cast have their own rooms but cast get on really well so there are no problems.

Where do the cast come from? Other than Wellington, they mainly come from Auckland, but also, Whangarei (further North) and Nelson (South Island).

How often would they return home? Once maybe every six weeks. They usually get 6 flights home per series. Once there was a stint of 13 weeks without a break!

Do you plan activities for spare time? Or do they pretty much organise themselves? The older ones tend to take care of themselves, but the younger ones have to have everything planned for them. ie, video evenings, karaoke nights, and they would invite their friends around a lot!

Other activities may include, trips to baches @ Riversdale (Beachside town), Day trip excursions, Zoos, Shops, Movies, some parties.

The aim was to keep up morale and ensure they did not get homesick.

Do you have to assess how they are going while away from home?
We write a weekly report – based on their behaviour/work, ie if they are learning their lines, doing the household chores, general attitudes, sleeping etc. We would prepare a meal plan also, which is mainly for the parents so they know that their children are eating well. The in-house school teacher also writers a report/assessment weekly to monitor schoolwork, and show they are getting through the right amounts of work, and what standard they are achieving.

Here Jennyfer Jewell and Tori Spence do their school work in the classroom at Cloud 9.

Do the cast all get on well together, or are there some better friends than others?

It was interesting from House Mothers point of view to see them develop from children to young adults, bearing in mind that over the three series, two and a half years have gone by.

In Tribe I everyone got on really well with everyone. In the beginning there was a boys house and a girls house, and they always got on better when they were not living together. They would visit each other in weekends but still have their private ‘space’.

In Tribe 2, as the Series evolved, some became closer friends than others while some cast had left to finish their schooling etc. Small groups developed and some were better friends than others. This probably reflected the fact there were several different age groups of children.

Tribe 3 is where they had all grown up considerably. The pressures and responsibilities of living away from their families and dealing with a ‘working’ life at such a young age. They grew up fast, living the life of adults: getting to work on time, learning lines, budgeting, and knowing that spare time was important.

A typical day?

Generally it is described as a mothering day for the house mother!

  • Wake-up at 5.30am
  • get the kids to eat breakfast
  • out the door for their pickups
  • washing, housework, groceries, doctors, dentist, singing lessons,
  • entertain kids if they have a day off
  • ensure they go to bed on time
  • Cooking for an army!! FOOD FOOD FOOD
  • make sure they phone their parents every evening
  • They get used to lots of ‘perks’ and ‘freebies’ during a day so they need to keep their feet firmly on the ground and that’s what house parents are there for.

    “Aim is to treat them normally to keep their feet on the ground so it would lead them to an unrealistic level of expectation when they join the real world.”

    “Was a huge task but heaps of fun.”