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Shorty Street’s Hannah Gould’s act of love

Actress Hannah Gould is all about juggling her two passions.
Hannah Gould

For eight years, actress Hannah Gould won our hearts as Sam, a young girl navigating life’s challenges as the child of newly separated parents in the famed “Fernleaf family” TV ads.

As a nation, we were hooked and watched as Sam – and Hannah – grew up before our very eyes in the iconic ad campaign that first popped onto our screens in the ‘80s.

Now, some 25 years later, Hannah is back on our tellies, this time reprising her role as midwife Marnie Dougan for Shortland Street’s highly anticipated cliff-hanger week. She has juggled the part with the joys of new motherhood, having welcomed her bright and bubbly boy, Ben, 22 months ago.

It’s a role that Hannah adores. “Motherhood changes you in that everything you do, you now do for your child,” says Auckland-based Hannah (36), who is also mother to Issac (13), Mia (11) and Lily Bianca (10).

Hannah says she’s been pretty lucky with Ben, who beams and giggles throughout our entire photoshoot. “He really is a happy chappy!” she says.

While Ben, whose dad Andy is also actively involved in his life, is a little too young to really grasp the idea that his mum is on telly. “He’ll look at me on the TV, but I don’t think he’s made the connection yet,” she says, adding that he’s more interested in the remote control. “He’s a typical bloke!”

Hannah says she’s hit the jackpot with happy-go-lucky Ben.

But Hannah is certainly a familiar face to many, and strangers still recognise her as Sam after all this time. Though lately, more often it’s been for her Shortland Street role, which has seen her play a holistic healthcare worker who had a controversial tryst with a much younger man earlier in the year.

For Hannah, one of the things she’s enjoyed most is the positive, friendly reaction she’s received from teenagers who’ve recognised her on the streets and asked for autographs or pulled out their cellphones to get a “selfie” with her. “They’re so respectful and lovely,” says the mum of one. “It’s a bit of a change for me. The hard part about being Sam was adolescence, because, back then, people my own age would yell at me across the street and it wasn’t nice. I did experience bullying back then.”

Hannah says it was difficult when others failed to differentiate her from Sam, because although it was only a job that required around a week’s worth of filming each year, the entire country saw her beamed into their homes most nights and came to think they really knew the youngster.

Young Ben hasn’t quite grasped the idea of having a famous mum yet, but Hannah’s in no rush to push it!

“When you’ve been in their lounge room each night, people feel they can fire stuff at you, which I don’t blame them for, but you have to be quite strong-willed to get through that,” she says. “At the time, it didn’t really affect me, but maybe it’s something I’ve had to deal with after the fact.”

When she took on the role, at just 10 years old, she thought the idea that she would be a familiar face would be fun, but didn’t really grasp the enormity of what would follow.

“When I accepted the job, I was sitting with actor Bruno Lawrence and director Lee Tamahori and Bruno said, ‘Do you realise your life is about to change?’ And I said, ‘Yip!’ He said, ‘People are going to know you wherever you go – are you okay with that?’ And I said, ‘Yip!’ But I didn’t really understand what that meant.”

Hannah says people would get confused and often stop to talk to her about how she was coping with her fictional parents’ divorce. In reality, she was cared for by her hardworking mother, a defence lawyer, in a loving home in Wellington. “I’m from a solo-parenting situation with my mum, although I know my dad really well – he’s a good mate,” she confides. “I was a pragmatic choice – my mum wanted a baby and so they decided to have one on ‘friendly’ terms.”

Hannah’s mum spotted her daughter’s acting talent early on.

Although her father is also an actor, it was her mother who spotted a creative, performer streak in Hannah, and got her involved in the arts early on. After landing the ad role, Hannah went on to study dance, eventually becoming a teacher in English, drama and dance. She continued to take on the occasional acting role, including an acclaimed performance in the drama The Hothouse, which saw her nominated for Best Actress in the 2007 Qantas Awards.

Now Hannah hopes to continue with the dramatic arts, but in the short-term she is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with her family, particularly now that Ben can understand what it is all about.

“Last year, he was interested in the wrapping paper, but this year he’ll be more interested in what’s beneath it!”

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