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Shorty star Charisse: ‘I was raised by a village’

The multi-talented actress reveals her unconventional family dynamic
Charisse with her mother and grandmotherPictures: Kellie Blizard

Gorgeous former Shortland Street star Charisse Uy radiates happiness as she poses for our camera with her mum and grandma by her side. Turning to her mother, she squeals, “Aww, you look so gorgeous, Mama!”

Her mum Tina blushes. Charisse’s grandmother Ruth chuckles, “I’ve never had my makeup done before,” then complains the Woman’s Day team isn’t eating enough of the snacks she’s laid out.

Though this may seem like a simple whānau photoshoot featuring three generations, Charisse’s family story isn’t exactly straightforward. Legally speaking, her grandmother is her mum and her mother is her sister.

Born in the Philippines, the 27-year-old – who played nurse Lovely Rivera on Shorty, and has also starred in Raised By Refugees, Cowboy Bebop, The Wilds, The Legend Of Monkey and The Shannara Chronicles – was mostly brought up by her grandparents Ruth and Ben, whom Charisse calls “Mommy and Daddy”.

Charisse with her mother and grandmother
Grandmother Ruth raised Charisse with mum Tina’s blessing.

She recalls, “They used to bathe me in the river where they did the laundry. We’re from a farm. That’s why when I see country houses on shows like Bridgerton, I have an affinity with that, even though ours was nowhere near as big!”

When it comes to how Charisse came to be adopted by her grandparents, her mother Tina picks up the story.

“My parents took good care of Charisse while she was still a baby, so they adopted her. We were busy working at night. Because she stayed with them for so long, they asked, ‘Can we adopt her? We’re going to New Zealand and we want her to be with us.’”

Charisse acting on Shortland Street
Charisse left Shorty to pursue other acting opportunities.

So when she was eight, Charisse followed her grandparents to Aotearoa, where they were chasing new opportunities, along with other members of the family. It wasn’t until she was about to start intermediate school that Tina, her husband Michael and Charisse’s three siblings joined her.

“They took such good care of her growing up,” says Tina quietly. “Their lives revolved around her, so it was better if they adopted her. But it’s OK.”

Ruth was a teacher in the Philippines. She homeschooled Charisse in New Zealand for a year before her student visa was sorted out.

“I was very much raised by a village,” tells the star. “I grew up with all my uncles and aunties in one house. SpongeBob SquarePants taught me how to write an essay!”

A group photo of Charisse with 20 other family members on the porch of a home
Surrounded by family on her birthday.

Charisse also developed her love for drama in church plays and Tina says shyly, “I’m proud of her. As a child, I also dreamt of acting, but I didn’t make it. I am very proud of her.”

Her eyes welling with tears, Charisse reaches for her mum’s hand and says, “That means a lot to me. I had a stoic upbringing. I was the most emotional in the family. It’s only these days that my mum’s been more huggy. It means a lot to hear her say that.”

Although Charisse oozes positivity and joy, she admits she has to do “continuous work” on her mental health. She explains, “It’s important for me to make time for the people I love.”

Charisse confesses she sometimes struggles with the uncertainty of the acting industry – “and life in general”.

However, her Shorty co-star Courtenay Louise, who plays Monique Strutter, recently shared some words of wisdom, telling her, “You’re fine, babe. It wasn’t until I was 27 when I figured my life out.”

Charisse laughs, “I’m looking forward to feeling that!”

Charisse in a stone archway with her mum and sister
With mum Tina and sister Ina.

Looking at her girl, Tina declares, “She’s such a good person and not just because she’s my daughter! She has a kind heart.”

As the three women put their arms around each other while posing for our photos, their closeness is evident. Charisse giggles, “My mommy is 80 and my mama is a juicy 53 – she works hard and she looks good doing it!”

While the actress hasn’t been on our screens recently, it doesn’t mean she’s not busy. She recently studied at LA’s prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting and received funding as a producer for a short film.

“I’m also in a place in my career where I get to audition for projects both here and overseas that I feel excited by and that I’m a big fan of,” grins Charisse, hinting at a hugely popular international show that may be on the horizon. “I’m hungry for my next acting role!”

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