Take one look at her glossy locks, sun-kissed skin and petite frame, and you could be forgiven for thinking Kerry-Lee Dewing is your typical girly girl.
But you only have to catch a glimpse of her ballsy Shortland Street character, nurse Kylie Brown, to know the stunning South African export – who moved to New Zealand in 2002 – is much more than just a pretty face.
Last year alone, her TV alter ego was involved in more than a dozen physical altercations – including hostage takings and kidnappings – and kick-butt Kerry-Lee was right in the thick of the action, opting not to use a stunt double.
"Kylie is definitely not your regular nurse," smiles the 27-year-old. "I'm always told I'll be doing physical stuff in advance, but it's not unusual to learn I'll be getting shoved to the ground or have someone's hands around my throat.
"Kylie always seems to find herself in life-threatening situations, which is fine by me because I love all that physical stuff. I'm sure there are some actors out there that would choose to get a stunt double in case they get hurt, but if possible, I prefer to get amongst my own stunts. I'm 100% in!"
Kerry-Lee's commitment to the cause begins well before her 6am starts on set. To stay in shape for her punishing schedule, the athletic actress trains up to six times a week, combining running and high-intensity workouts. The gym junkie has even been known to take her scripts on the treadmill so she can learn lines while speed-walking.
"It makes for a pretty sedate workout, but something is always better than nothing," says Kerry-Lee, who was a competitive dancer as a child. "Exercising doesn't feel like a chore – it's ingrained in me and I rely on it for several benefits over and above the physical. It's a great stress relief, particularly when things are busy at work.
"But it's also a time to be a bit selfish. I find myself reflecting and processing things that I otherwise wouldn't stop to do in a day. I feel like the Shortland Street writers may have cottoned on to that and they keep putting Kylie in harm's way because they know I can handle it."
With such a vigorous exercise regime, it's little wonder Kerry-Lee looks so fit and fabulous at our summer shoot. But the screen siren insists health is her top priority – her foxy figure is simply a happy by-product of her balanced approach to diet and exercise.
"In my line of work, the assumption is that people are very conscious of their body and the way they look, but eating well and exercising regularly have always been constant in my life. I haven't changed anything just for TV.
"I'm not going to starve myself or train extra-hard because Shorty fans may judge me for looking bigger on screen. We all have our own issues and things that we want to work on, but as long as I'm healthy and feel good, I'm happy."
While Kerry-Lee has nursed a few bumps and bruises in her physically demanding role, it's the emotional burden that comes with playing Kylie that really takes its toll.
After five years on the soap, 2016 saw the actress endure her most challenging storyline yet – with her character forced to have a mastectomy after her mother Norelle, played by Luanne Gordon, died after a long battle with breast cancer.
As the poignant cancer scenes went to air, Kerry-Lee barely had time to catch her breath before she was slammed with more heavy storylines, including Kylie's ectopic pregnancy and her rocky relationship with on-off partner TK Samuels, played by Ben Mitchell.
"It was incredibly draining," she recalls. "I was required to go to pretty dark places every day – and every night when I'd take my scripts home to learn. I try to tell myself I'm going to leave work at work, but it's easier said than done."
Fortunately, the star got all the support – and home-cooked meals – she needed from her devoted mother Pam. An only child, Kerry-Lee's father left the family when she was 18 months old, so she and her mum have always shared a close bond, which has only strengthened over time.
"Mum and I moved to New Zealand together, so inevitably we have a close relationship, but it's more than that," the star tells. "Mum is my rock and all of my family. When it comes to some of the more challenging storylines, our relationship has been my inspiration. Her selflessness and resilience never cease to amaze me. She is my role model and absolute hero."
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