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How marriage has strengthened actress JJ Fong’s relationship

The Friends Like Her actress and her cinematographer husband are a perfect match
Actress JJ Fong opens up about her marriage to cinematographer Marty SmithPictures: Jenna Todd

Whether it’s starring in Step Dave, making global headlines with Creamerie or working on new local series Friends Like Her, JJ Fong can rest assured the camera’s always capturing her best angles. It’s one of the perks of having husband Marty Smith working as cinematographer on many of her projects.

“I love it because my face is in the hands of someone who can light me really well, knows my angles and always makes me look really good!” laughs the Wellmania actress, 37. “I don’t have to worry, ‘Is my hair out of place? Do I look OK?’ And he’s just so good with actors – always knowing what to say and understanding the emotional mindset we have to get into.”

JJ has enjoyed working with Marty, 53, ever since the two met on local comedy Step Dave. Nine years later, they’ve marked their first wedding anniversary. And, for the first time, JJ’s sharing snaps from the big day and opening up about their romance.

Actress JJ Fong opens up about her marriage to cinematographer Marty Smith

While the couple were conscious of keeping things professional when they met, JJ says they soon bonded over their passion for supporting Kiwi film, TV and talent. They also both loved running and dining at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The former Celebrity Treasure Island contestant found an ease with Marty she hadn’t experienced in previous relationships.

“Actors do 10 to 12 hours on set and night shoots, so it was always hard dating someone with a nine-to-five job and trying to explain how I can’t reply to texts when I’m on set. I found it easier dating someone in the industry because there’s an automatic understanding.”

Marty, meanwhile, hit it off with JJ’s whānau and adapted to Chinese customs, like taking shoes off at home.

“I have a big family, so he’s become used to big, rowdy gatherings and lots of opinions,” she tells. “The first time they met him was at a restaurant and they thought he was cool. Nine years later, here we are, married!”

Actress JJ Fong opens up about her marriage to cinematographer Marty Smith
JJ says they’re so professional on set, people often don’t realise she and Marty are married!

JJ never wanted to go down the traditional route of marriage but warmed up to the idea of celebrating their love with friends and family. So, she didn’t hesitate when Marty proposed during an enchanting moment at home.

Having picked up the ring, Marty wanted to pop the question before a pre-Christmas family gathering later that evening, so they could break the news there. Unsure how to proceed, he was chatting with JJ when the perfect moment arose.

JJ recalls, “In through the window flew one of those little fairies you make wishes on. Since we live in an apartment that’s three storeys high, it’s rare to see something like that, so we both went, ‘That’s bizarre!’ I said, ‘We have to make a wish.’ He held it in front of my face while I made my wish, then when I opened my eyes, he had the ring box open with a beautiful sapphire.”

JJ’s now filming another season of Creamerie. “We’re bringing back more comedy,” she says.

The two wed in an Auckland event space, with JJ walking down the aisle to Simply Red’s If You Don’t Know Me By Now in a slinky halterneck gown by Kiwi designer Judy Gao. While they ditched customs like a bridal party, they incorporated the Chinese wedding tradition of a tea ceremony.

“I had my mum, dad, auntie, uncle and grandmother, then Marty had his auntie, uncle and cousin,” smiles JJ. “It was really special.”

Actress Antonia Prebble, who Marty worked with on Outrageous Fortune and Westside, officiated the nuptials. JJ tells, “When Marty proposed, we were both like, ‘Toni has to officiate – it can’t be anyone else!’ because she’s such a dear friend. She did an incredible job – she cried a little, though!”

Actress JJ Fong opens up about her marriage to cinematographer Marty Smith

After dancing the night away to a live band, JJ concluded that although she never envisioned getting married, it was “hands-down the best day of our lives”.

She adds, “I had no expectations. I was really chill and figured that whatever happens happens, but the day turned out to be incredible. There was just so much love and joy, and when you’re the person receiving all that love, it’s insane. I thought it might be similar to being on set and having all eyes on you. But it was 100 times better because I had a personal connection to everyone.”

One year on, marriage – like her wedding – has exceeded expectations. JJ shares, “Weirdly, for someone who didn’t want to get married, I’ve found it’s brought us closer, which is special. We’re more of a team having cemented it in front of friends and family.”

Filming a scene with former Shorty star Amelia Reid.

Friends Like Her saw JJ and Marty relocate to Kaikōura together. The thrilling local drama follows Nicole (Mean Mums star Morgana O’Reilly), who becomes a surrogate for her pal Tessa (Home And Away’s Tess Haubrich), only for their relationship to take a dark turn.

“I love watching toxic relationships and friendships play out on screen, especially between these two women, so it was quite an intriguing read,” says JJ, who plays Nicole’s pal Jools. “And working in Kaikōura was such a highlight. I’ve never shot down there. It was snowing and beautiful, and we had some of the best cast and crew I’ve ever worked with. It was an incredible bonding experience with the community and an experience I don’t think I’ll get again.

“I went to Melbourne to shoot Gold Diggers straight after we got married. It was nice for Marty and I to go to Kaikōura together. It’s funny, though, because Tess had no idea we were together since we’re so professional on set. She was like, ‘That’s your husband? I had no idea!’”

As for whether JJ could ever become a surrogate for a friend, she’s doubtful.

“If I can’t do it for myself, I don’t think I could do it for a friend. Not because I don’t love them, but it’s such a major thing to put your body through – so selfless!”

As for the future, JJ’s now developing content for her production company and working with the Creamerie team on season three.

“There might be some Aussie flavour,” she teases. “And we’re bringing back more comedy. The second season was really emotional, so we’re going to lighten the mood.”

Friends Like Her screens 8pm Mondays on Three and streams on ThreeNow.

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