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Shortland Street couple’s off-screen bond

The Kiwi soap veterans are forging a future in Hollywood.

Few of their fans, while watching from the comfort of their couches at home, would have realised it, but when Shortland Street characters Libby Jeffries and her new husband and best buddy, Gerald Tippett, bid friends and family farewell, packed their bags and headed for the United States in 2010, their off-screen alter egos, actors Fleur Saville and Harry McNaughton, were doing the same thing. In a case of life imitating art, Fleur (27) and Harry (24) are still best friends and living together in Los Angeles. But following in Libby and Gerald’s footsteps and getting hitched? That’s where they draw the line. Both have partners back home in New Zealand.

The pair worked together on New Zealand’s longest-running soap for three years, but had met through mutual friends seven years ago. They grew closer during their appearance on the show and were firm friends by the time they both had to hang up their Shortland Street name tags for the last time. When Fleur and Harry realised they both harboured ambitions to try their luck in the Los Angeles acting scene, they decided to follow in their characters’ footsteps and make the move together. Since then, they have been virtually inseparable – although the airline did have a go at dividing them on the flight over.

Harry was upgraded to business class and Fleur was left back in economy, but some sweet talking on Harry’s part meant Fleur was able to sneak into the front of the plane when she wanted some shut-eye. They deal together with all the challenges life in LA throws at them, and both say that having someone close to lend a helping hand or sympathetic ear is invaluable. One of the hurdles they share is maintaining long-distance relationships with their other halves, who are still in New Zealand. Fleur says online call site Skype is a godsend and Harry says cheap toll calls make things a bit easier.

Between them, they clock up hours on the phone and travel regularly back and forth between New Zealand and LA. Fleur hopes she will eventually be able to spend some time in LA with her partner, but Harry’s resigned to the fact he’s going to be spending a lot of time in planes for a while to come. As the pair hunt for work around the city, Fleur and Harry live with friends in LA, moving between different suburbs and occasionally house-sitting. Harry says, “We’ve never had to sleep on a couch yet.” Being a Kiwi in the “City of Angels” is something Fleur says is a novelty. She says they are always being mistaken for Australians or Brits, and not to mention that “Harry gets ‘Prince William’ a lot.”

But Americans seem drawn to the natural openness and honesty that comes with being a New Zealander, she adds. On the work front, both are positive about their prospects. In his most recent stint to the US, Harry was attending auditions and getting to know important people in the city’s entertainment industry. “It was a shorter stint this time [of a few months], just trying to get contacts sorted.” Meanwhile, Fleur recently took a turn on the other side of the camera, producing a film. “It has been an incredible experience, working over there with American crews,” she says. She says it really helps to have someone who knows her so well close at hand. “It’s good to have a sounding board with someone who knows you, who’s going through the same experiences. It’s a sensory overload in LA. Nothing is easy.”

Harry agrees, “It’s so fast and so shallow. It’s hard sometimes to know which experiences and opportunities are real. You do need someone to share it with and have the journey together.” But Harry says sometimes it’s important not to get hung up on ticking off the professional boxes. “It’s easy to just get into thinking, ‘Exactly who do we need to meet and which auditions do we need to go to?’ Just to be there and have the opportunity to experience awesome things is amazing, and having the opportunity to share it with a friend makes you realise how lucky you are.”

One thing they’re not missing out on is a chance to try out lots of different foods. Harry is a self-confessed foodie, and he and Fleur are working their way around LA, sampling “the best of the best and the best of the worst” food. Fleur is also a big karaoke fan, belting out Prince’s Purple Rain wherever and whenever she gets the chance. “It’s gotten to the point now where we’ll walk into a bar and I’ll put her song on while she gets the drinks,” says Harry. “It’s a great deal for me – especially since I’m not a get-up-and-sing kind of guy.” All in all, it’s a wild ride in the US that both can’t get enough of. But for now, they are back in New Zealand, gracing our screens for two weeks as part of the Shortland Street 20th anniversary special. The pair are also staying to work on other projects – Fleur for at least a few weeks and Harry a few months.

Returning to the hospital set, Fleur says it’s like they never left. “We slipped back in, it’s like riding a bike.” She’s really pleased they are able to come back, and that neither Libby nor Gerald has been written out permanently. “I’m just happy [Libby] hasn’t died – I love her!” she says. After venturing into the unknown, Harry has learnt actors in New Zealand can forget how lucky they are. “It’s rare to be as close with your co-stars off screen as on. Shortland Street’s cast and crew are amazing.”

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