Her character may be dead and buried, but Natalie Medlock has not moved far from the Shortland Street set. However, these days, instead of playing nurse Jill Kingsbury, former CEO Callum McKay's girlfriend, Natalie is holed up in a room with the soap's storyliners, plotting the twists and turns that are to come for each of the show's main players.
"I've always been interested in writing," Natalie explains. Shortly after she found out Jill was to meet a grisly end during a drug robbery at the end of 2011, she asked for a shot behind the scenes. "I went down and pitched the idea, had a trial and said, 'Can I have a go?' I wrote a test episode and they called me back."
She and several other actors had sat in on a storylining session, so she knew what she was in for – hard work in a team that churns out an episode a day. She says it's fascinating to see how the production works. "I really like coming up with the story." Being behind the scenes has helped build her passion for theatre, film and TV.
The move has also helped other areas of Natalie's acting work. She's due to take the stage later this month in Yeti is Dead/I am Tom – a surreal story of a love triangle between a married couple and a yeti – as part of this year's New Zealand International Comedy Festival. She's working with playwright Tom Sainsbury and Daniel Musgrove, who played the lead in Underbelly. The play opens in Auckland on April 28.
Daniel and Natalie met at drama school in Wellington and she says it was when they were watching crowds going in and out of The Classic comedy bar on Auckland's Queen St that they realised the key to getting a sellout show was to do comedy. The experience writing for Shortland Street has helped her, Natalie says. "It's good to have the skill of writing really fast."
She will be storylining for a bit longer but is contemplating what the future might hold. Natalie has come to terms with the idea she'll never completely shake her connection to the long-running soap, but says, "After being on Shortland Street for so long I'm champing at the bit to do something different."
She isn't worried about audiences thinking of the play as a story about Jill and a yeti – she says those who see her in one role may not see her in the other. The 26-year-old hopes to try her hand at writing dialogue for Shortland Street when her storylining stint finishes. "The workload [of storylining] is just amazing. The amount they push through... it's the fastest turnaround in the world!"
Will having been written out of Shortland Street herself make her less likely to inflict the same fate on other characters? Natalie says no. "There's no consideration for the actor. You have to put the story first. Some characters are untouchable, but storytelling is the most important thing. Ego doesn't really come into it."