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Shavaughn Ruakere: Why I had to leave

After an emotional and unexpected exit from Shortland Street, the Kiwi actress prepares for her biggest challenge yet.
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After a dramatic cliffhanger ending in Shortland Street, Shavaughn Ruakere has been constantly asked whether or not her character, Roimata Ngatai, would survive the deadly blast at the bach. She had to keep mum about the fact that, after being injured in the explosion, the heroic nurse died on the operating table in the next episode.

And she’s also had to stay quiet about the exciting new plans she has for this year, because talking about them would have made Roimata’s fate obvious.

“It’s been so hard,” says Shavaughn (35). “Wherever I’ve been – the petrol station, the beach, just out on the street – people keep coming up to me and saying, ‘So did you die?’

“They’ve been begging me on Facebook and of course I couldn’t tell them. I’ve just had to say, ‘My lips are sealed’. It’s a relief that I can finally say something about leaving, and what I am planning on doing.”

Keen to try something new, she’s going to be making a Kiwi miniseries, that starts filming soon, and then will head off to Los Angeles in search of work.

The bubbly brunette’s eyes light up with excitement as she talks about both ventures – although going overseas means she’ll be living apart from her partner of three years, radio DJ Clarke Gayford.

Clarke (36) will remain in Auckland while Shavaughn tries her luck in Hollywood.

“He’s got a new challenge so he wants to give it everything,” she says. “And he understands how important it is for me to give the LA thing a go. He has never made me feel bad about wanting to pursue this – he said, ‘You’ve got to go for it’.”

And she’s quick to point out she is not going away for good.

“I’m going to the US to get work and make contacts. While I may have to be based there on and off, I will still be living back here in New Zealand. This will always be my home.”

She adds, “When it comes down to it, it’s a small world and LA is just a 12-hour flight away. Plus, in this day and age, it is so easy to keep in touch with things like Skype. I’m really going to miss Clarke, but we’ll cope.”

Plus, the sooner she tries her luck overseas, the sooner she can move on to one of her next goals – starting a family. “I know I am not getting any younger, and my biological clock is starting to go, ‘Hello!’ I do want kids, but I also want to do this, and I at least need to try. Then we’ll have a think about kids.”

Clarke will make a great dad, reckons Shavaughn, who smiles every time she talks about him. “Although he says the reason he wants to have kids is so he can embarrass them.”

But that will have to wait as Shavaughn takes the next step in her acting career. Never one to stay still for too long, when her Shortland Street contract came up for renewal last April, Shavaughn saw an opportunity.

“They asked me to sign on for another year, but I couldn’t commit as I wanted to be free to head overseas. I didn’t know what would happen to Roimata and I didn’t ask. When I found out that she was getting blown up, I thought, ‘Yup, all good’. Nothing like a big exit!

“I have had three wonderful years on Shortland Street and I will be forever grateful for the experience it has given me,” says Shavaughn, who was best known as a presenter on kids’ TV show What Now and as a C4 personality before getting her first full-time acting job on the long-running soap.

“It’s a fantastic place to work and I learnt so much. I have been lucky to have had some powerful storylines – one that involved my character being sexually assaulted by Zac [Mike Edward] was an amazing challenge and I’m proud of the way the show handled it.”

She says her final scenes for Shortland Street, including the explosion at the beach house, were an incredible way to end her stint on the show.

“My last two days were pretty epic, with all the pyrotechnics and drama. I love that stuff.”

But her final scenes, in which Roimata was dead and being farewelled in the mortuary by her friends and colleagues, were more overwhelming than she expected.

“I was supposed to be a corpse, but I couldn’t stop crying,” she admits. “It’s much harder to play dead than you think it is going to be. I was in a body bag, but they wrapped me in a swaddling cloth first, and that made it seem so sad.

“There is a change in atmosphere and I could feel it. My eyes kept streaming and the make-up lady had to stand by with the tissues. I think we got through a whole box.

“I was lying there trying to think about GST and singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in my head so I wouldn’t cry!”

She thinks the writers did a great job with the storyline and is pleased Roimata got to die a hero after saving TK.

“I think they sent me off in the most beautiful way.”

The emotion continued when production was stopped afterwards for the cast and crew to officially farewell her.

“I was a complete wreck – I made everyone look at the ground when I gave my speech because I couldn’t handle them looking at me,” she recalls.

As sad as it was to leave, Shavaughn doesn’t have any qualms about Roimata being killed off.

“I feel that when you are finished, you are finished and that is it. It is time to move on to the next thing.”

After filming her last scenes, she went to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks to check out work options. She met up with some former Shortland Street castmates who are now based in the US, such as Fleur Saville, who played Libby Jeffries, and Ari Boyland (Brodie Kemp).

“There is a really great community of Kiwi actors in LA,” says Shavaughn.

“Everyone has had to start at the bottom so they know what it is like. Fleur was so helpful – we went straight to her house and even though she wasn’t there she left us a key.”

But most of her time was spent driving around to see agents and managers.

“It was pretty full on, and luckily my friend Jeremy Dillon went with me. It was really useful and went really well.”

Shavaughn has already landed an agent, who has been sending her auditions to do. She has been taping them here, then sending them back to the US. “It’s not the same as being on the ground, but it is a really good start,” she says.

Shavaughn is expected to return to LA this month for the start of the three-month “pilot season”, in which there are more acting opportunities as the TV networks make pilot episodes of potential series.

But she has delayed her return after being offered a great role in a six-part miniseries, When We Go to War. The period drama is set during World War I and is “very, very different to Shortland Street”.

“It completely came out of the blue. It meant delaying my plans, but I couldn’t say no. It is an incredible opportunity. The scripts are amazing.”

She’s prepared for the fact that, when she gets to LA, finding work in a city swarming with tens of thousands of other actors looking for a break could be tough going, but knows she has to try.

This won’t be the first time she has taken off overseas in search of opportunity – after leaving What Now she headed to London where she landed a prestigious job as a presenter on British kids show SMTV.

“I believe failure comes in not attempting things, as opposed to trying but not succeeding,” she says. “If you want to do something, then it is up to you to make it happen.”

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