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Shorty star Ngahuia’s big move to comedy

After nine years of Shortland Street drama, the beauty has a funny bone to crack

When someone is as well-known as Shortland Street actor Ngahuia Piripi, you wouldn’t think they would have to beg anyone for a part in their show.

But that’s exactly what she did to be in some episodes of Only in Aotearoa, a comedy sketch show screening on Whakaata Māori (Māori TV).

“I literally begged them to let me come and play with them,” she says. “I knew that one of our directors on Shortland Street was over there directing. And I knew that they were filming on a weekend, so it wasn’t going to be a conflict with my Shortland Street scheduling.”

Ngahuia was also quite motivated because having played her character Esther Samuels for nearly nine years, she wanted to have a go at comedy.

“I just wanted to go over there and do something funny, and something different,” she explains. “To be able to dust off a bit of Esther and try something new. I think it’s good to break out of the Ferndale walls every so often, and breathe some different air and sharpen your acting skills.”

The third series starts on May 23 and Ngahuia is in episodes one and six.

Having persuaded the producers that she should be in the show, Ngahuia says no one should expect to see her on the comedy circuit anytime soon.

“I discovered I’m not very funny as an actor. But it was good fun and I got to take the piss out of myself for a few days.”

Ngahuia’s partner, former Shorty actor Teone Kahu, who played Hawks Logan, has also appeared on the show, so she knew what she was getting into and the third series, Only in Aotearoa: Wāhine Edition, was written by an all-women team, including former Shorty actor Kura Forrester, who played Desdemona Schmidt.

Ngahuia is fluent in te reo Māori and loves being able to use her culture in her work.

“I grew up speaking te reo thanks to my mum Poto Dunn. She was from Christchurch and didn’t speak it as a child. So I was sent to total immersion schools kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa and did kapa haka.”

Schoolgirl Ngahuia with mum Poto and dad Haami.

Ngahuia says her dad Haami would speak te reo in the home, but not a lot.

“Then one day, I heard him on a work call and he was speaking really well, like next level Māori. Until then, I thought I was the best speaker in the whānau, but he was really good.

“I remember asking him how he knew how to do that and he said, ‘It’s my job.’ Turns out he was the CEO of the Māori Language Commission!”

Ngahuia has passed the language down to her own children. Owairea who is 14, has Māori as her first language, and Niau, two, and Aewa, one, are spoken to in both Māori and English.

“Owairea spoke only Māori until she was about four and it was never an issue. I never worried that she wouldn’t be able to read or spell in English and now she does really well in both languages.”

A family outing with partner Teone, Niau and baby Aewa.

Ngahuia says she speaks to Niau and Aewa in both languages, but mostly Māori.

“At the moment, Niau counts in four languages.”

Ngahuia and Teone, who she has been in a relationship with since 2018, are managing the work/life juggle that so many parents have with careers and children to deal with.

“I won’t try to sugar-coat it – it’s been beeping hard.”

Aewa was born on Boxing Day 2022, which is the same day as Ngahuia’s birthday. The mum worked at Shorty right up to her daughter’s birth.

“We finished on Christmas Eve, so I thought I’d be able to take it easy for a while. But no. We got through Christmas Day and she arrived the very next day. I had one day off!”

Ngahuia feels lucky she has a very good “village” around her.

“Teone is very supportive and we’re both actors, so in between jobs, he’s able to help out,” she tells. “And even when he’s working, I don’t know why, but I just seem to prioritise my work and tell him he has to pick up the slack!”

She says she appreciates that he is super-supportive and a really great father.

“Then I’ve got my teenager Owairea, then my Mum, and I have a couple of aunties who help as well.

“Those are the people I depend on to help pick up the slack. The babies are now in kōhanga reo, so that’s good for them too.”

Ngahuia says they considered getting a nanny, but she feels more comfortable knowing her children are with family.

Ngahuia with (from left) stepdaughter Neila, Teone, baby Niau and Owairea.

“You can be brutally honest with family,” she explains. “You can say, ‘No, I don’t want you to do that. No, I would really prefer you to do this.’ But also, they know you well.

“You’re not going to fuss so much about adhering to all the guidelines that you might need to when you have nannies. I like the idea of them being raised by family.”

Ngahuia says Owairea is great with the babies.

“She loves her brother and sister, but not every day,” she laughs. “She’ll say, ‘Oh, my God, please get out of my room!’ and, ‘Mum, how do I get this off the wall? He scribbled on it.’”

There have also been days when Ngahuia turns up for work with very little sleep.

“That’s when I really appreciate the panel beaters, which is what I call the make-up team. They deal with my baggy eyes and the fact that I’m a bit scratchier than I was the day before.”

Ngahuia says the only time she became a bit of a bad-tempered diva was during lockdown when the Shorty cast had to do their own hair and make-up. “I was having the biggest meltdown, saying, ‘I can’t do this! I’m not a make-up artist!’”

Sitting in the make-up chair and going over her lines is something she cherishes about her job.

A cliffhanger scene with Jayden Daniels.

She has also had to dash out to the work carpark and do a quick breastfeed because she hadn’t been able to organise time to express milk.

“I don’t really bring the kids into work unless I have somebody else who can watch them,” she tells. “I think I’ve only brought them in a couple of times because I try very hard to keep my work life separate from my private life.”

Ngahuia copes with the bad days by taking every day as it comes.

“I try not to sweat the small stuff,” she shares. “Even though it might be a never-ending list of small things that you’re worrying about, you can only control so much. And if you focus on the things that you can control, then I suppose that’s my way of looking at things as half full rather than half empty.”

It’s clear that Ngahuia loves her job on Shorty. She has every intention of being there for her 10th year and even beyond.

In the hot seat with Shorty co-star and newlywed Courtenay Louise.

“I want to be on the show long enough for Esther to become prime minister,” she says. “Don’t get me wrong, that’s not in the storyline for the show, but I’m manifesting it to happen.”

Ngahuia says that unlike other Shorty actors who have come before her, she has no desire to try to make it in Hollywood.

“I never really had that dream and I discovered that early in my years at Shortland Street. For a lot of my other castmates that was definitely the dream. However, I had a child at that point.”

Ngahuia gave birth to Owairea when she was 19 and so when she started on the TVNZ soap at the age of 25, her daughter was school age.

“I’ve always been a parent on Shorty, so working overseas has not been something I’ve chased because I want her to live here. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take a role if it came up, but it’s not in
my plans.”

Something she would like to spend some time planning is her wedding.

“Teone and I aren’t actually married, so hey, tell him to ask me!” she laughs. “I’m waiting to be asked. Actually, we’re practically there – I call him my husband.”

At the moment, Ngahuia is taking a break from social media. She has a huge following of more than 65,000 people on Instagram and she sometimes posts paid content.

With her Shorty idol Ben, aka TK.

“I’ve been off since Christmas, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go back to it. There’s no set rule, but every so often I have a little bit of downtime from it before reappearing. It’s my way of trying to feel like I’m focusing on parenting.

“When you live two different lives, one that’s fake and one that’s real, sometimes you like to just remove yourself from everything else and live in your own little bubble for a bit.”

Meanwhile, Ngahuia can’t think of a better job than the one she has on the country’s most-loved soap.

“I love it because it’s always been around and I vividly remember growing up with it,” she says. “Not just in my own home, but at my grandparents’ or my uncle or my friend’s home. I used to love TK [played by Ben Mitchell] and it’s nice to think that I’m a female version of TK!”

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