Working on Shortland Street has long been known as New Zealand's most gruelling acting gig. The hours are relentless and the pressure on the cast of the hit soap is intense. It's not a role for the faint-hearted.
A tough and often changing schedule demands endless energy and enthusiasm, which is why there's never a shortage of goodies and coffee on hand.
But today, in Shortland Street's fictitious suburb of Ferndale, three of the show's best-loved actresses – Sally Martin (who plays Nicole), Jacquie Nairn (Wendy) and Amelia Reid (Bella) – are facing a dose of reality.
They are replacing their usual chocolate and cakes with chickpeas and coconut, as they prepare to live on only $2.25 worth of food a day.
The trio are participating in the Live Below the Line challenge, in which they will survive for five days on the New Zealand equivalent of the international poverty line, in aid of the Fred Hollows Foundation.
"Yeah, it's not going to be easy!" laughs self-proclaimed foodie Sally (28).
"I'm not too confident," adds Amelia (26). "But it's for an amazing cause."
At first, the actors weren't sure they'd be able to get through a 12-hour workday without their usual caffeine injection and chocolate kick, but they've embraced the challenge, with some help from good mate Simon Salt, a chef and restaurateur.
"Simon's been great. If you've got someone who knows what they're doing with food, it really helps," says Jacquie (41).
"And it's amazing what food and meals you can create with next to nothing."
"Honestly, I thought we'd be living on white bread and rice for a week," says Amelia, looking down at the delicious dishes Simon has made for the Weekly photoshoot. "This is better than what I normally eat!"
While Sally, Jacquie and Amelia will miss their comfort foods (fresh herbs, meat and olive oil are the things they'll pine for the most), Jacquie says preparing for the challenge has given her a good dose of perspective.
"So many people in the world live on this or less," she says.
"For us to consider this a challenge for five days, it makes me feel kind of guilty."
"It's just taking things back to basics," adds Amelia. "We have food as a luxury, it's a pleasure."
Amelia plans on making a few phone calls to friends in Cambodia for some recipe ideas for the week. It's a place she considers her spiritual home, and where she honeymooned after her wedding to husband Shadon last January.
"I was eating the most amazing meals when I was there, and they were made with next to nothing," she says. "Everything revolves around food over there."
And for the cast's resident baker and seafood fanatic, not being able to use fresh herbs and produce will be a huge effort for Sally.
"I went to get a tomato the other day, and it was $1.75," she exclaims. "I couldn't believe it. It's a sad state of affairs, isn't it? Doing this challenge really makes you think about the value of food."
Though the recipes Simon has cooked up are intended to help the girls get through the week, they are also a good example of how shopping more wisely can help with the weekly bill, Jacquie insists.
"Bulk food places and fresh fruit and vege stores are great," she says. "We've done a few practice shops in the lead-up to the challenge, and it's been an effective way to re-educate ourselves."
As the days count down – most participants start on Monday, September 23 – the trio are exceptionally happy to have each other's support.
"I'd be a bit nervous without these guys doing it too, and it's easier with more people – you can pool your money and resources," says Sally.
And as for the coffee problem, Amelia has a solution.
"We'll just have to put in for a group coffee in the morning," she jokes, as the others laugh.
"I'm sure it'll work. Right?"
Here's three below the line recipes:
Photos: Caren Davis • Make-up: Kate Smith
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