The Gone star Acushla-Tara Kupe reveals her romantic proposal and tough new role

Newly engaged Kiwi actress Acushla-Tara Kupe and her fiancé Paul have their honeymoon planned, but the wedding still needs some work

By Fleur Guthrie
Everyone close to Kiwi actress Acushla-Tara Kupe knew that if her long-time partner Paul Waggott ever proposed to her without prior discussion, it'd be a "hard no". In fact,if it hadn't been for a forced
six-month separation due to the pandemic – she spent lockdown in New Zealand, while Paul, also an actor, stayed at their former home in East London – it'd probably still be a no.
"He'd been pitching the idea of marriage for a while," recalls the star of TVNZ show The Gone. "I was like, 'Hmm, I dunno.' Not that I didn't love him, but because I didn't know if I wanted to get married full stop. Then after six months apart, one of the first things I said was, 'Yes, I want to marry you now please!'"
As the gorgeous couple welcomes Woman's Day into their apartment on Auckland's city fringe, 32-year-old Acushla-Tara shows off her beautifully designed engagement ring, featuring a peach-coloured morganite gem with a koru on the side.
"We were staying near this beautiful inlet in Camborne, north of Wellington," says UK-born Paul, 34, retelling their romantic proposal story. "Because Acushla was about to embark on her full-immersion [te reo] journey with Te Wānanga Takiura, I'd enlisted the help of a playwright friend, Hone Kouka, who generously agreed to help translate my proposal into Māori. When we stopped to sit on the waterfront, I asked her to marry me in te reo."
"I knew what he was saying and picked up some words," adds Acushla-Tara. "I remember weeping and saying between sobs, 'Can I just check that you're saying what I think you're saying?!'
"Paul then showed me the English version he'd written, before getting panicked about dropping the ring. He was like, 'You have to put it on!' because he'd seen too many YouTube videos where the ring falls into the water. Then we called our families. It was the perfect day."
The loved-up pair met as young thespians working at Wellington's Circa Theatre.
Paul was performing in a play called Tribes, in which he played a deaf character. Acushla-Tara knew sign language from her sister Melissa, who works as an NZSL interpreter, so she helped teach him how to sign for the show.
"Some time later, we started courting and then we were cast in Arthur Miller's play A View From The Bridge as the two young lovers, Rodolpho and Catherine," recalls Acushla-Tara. "No one else knew we were together, but everyone commented on what great chemistry we had. It was all very romantic and gave us a great foundation. Then we had our first spat onstage during a Q&A about the play. Voices were raised!"
In 2016, Paul – who immigrated to New Zealand with his family as a teen – felt a real hankering to go back to live in the UK. He asked his girlfriend if she wanted to join him and she didn't hesitate.
While there, Acushla-Tara, who's of Ngāti Maniapoto descent, landed the role of Pui Sonova in the BBC drama series Creeped Out. She also joined London-based Māori group Ngāti Rānana, who performed in a kapa haka scene in season four of hit Netflix show The Crown. "You won't see me, but I was there," she says. "It was a freezing- cold night on set standing in our kākahu [cloaks]."
Acushla-Tara and co-star Richard Flood in The Gone.
The duo agrees that if it weren't for COVID, they'd still be living in England because they had no intention of moving back. "I returned in January 2020 as a surprise for my family," explains Acushla-Tara, "and to do Emilia at Pop-up Globe for two months. We were in our last week of performing when the company got shut down, borders closed and my flight home got cancelled.
Paul recalls, "We kept saying to each other, 'I'll see you at the end of April', then, 'See you at the end of May.' Then it got to June and I told her I'd come back because in terms of the pandemic, things were better in New Zealand."
Both born performers, Paul and Acushla-Tara had this photo taken for fun at a "random place in Camden".
The pair planned to return to the UK by the year's end, but then they got great acting jobs and Acushla-Tara decided to enrol in the year-long full- immersion course.
She says, "I called Paul and said, 'I've done a thing. I think we're going to still be in New Zealand next year.' But he was incredibly supportive. In every sense, it's been the best thing to be home. Our careers have never been better and we're close to family."
This month, Acushla-Tara is preparing for her "most challenging" role yet in award-winning play Prima Facie. The one-woman show follows Tessa Ensler, a barrister at the top of her game, as she moves from bar table to witness stand and experiences the legal system from the other side as a survivor of sexual assault.
"It's going to be hardest thing I've ever done," says Acushla-Tara. "I first saw the play when actress Jodie Comer was performing it at the National Theatre in London and I was intensely moved.
"It's a heavy story but also an important one to tell – from the 'other side' of the team that's so often vilified for defending alleged perpetrators."
Some of her close-knit whānau will finally see their girl perform on stage for the first time in around eight years. Raised in Taranaki, Acushla-Tara is one of nine children – and a third of the first set
of IVF triplets to ever be born in Aotearoa!
"My incredibly kind grandfather Cliff is actually the reason we're alive," smiles the rising star. "He paid for the second round of IVF that created us – and then we were born on his birthday.
"Mum used to paint our nails a different colour so she could tell who was who and because of the triplet thing, we didn't know how to socialise!
"We were those kids who would hold onto their parents' legs, so Mum sent the three of us to drama classes when we were younger, to make friends more than anything."
Allen and Linda Kupe shared their historic IVF journey – which resulted in the births of Acushla-Tara and her sisters Chelsea-Renee and Melissa-Sue – with New Zealand Woman's Weekly in 1991.
Paul laughs hearing this. "Well, it worked! Look how social you are now!"
Despite being a high-energy person, Acushla-Tara says her favourite dates with her fiancé are surprisingly low-key.
"We love doing a cryptic crossword together in a café and I never would have thought I'd be that person. He's gently passed that love on to me.
"Or we do Lego! For our ninth anniversary, Paul got me a Lego bouquet of wildflowers that we did together. Given my frugal nature, I might even be holding that bouquet when I walk down the aisle!"
For now, the couple has planned their overseas honeymoon, but the wedding is still very much in the works.
Achushla-Tara wept when her beloved proposed, but an overjoyed "Yes!" wasn't far behind.
"We have an idea of what the wedding's going to look like, but no date and no venue," admits Acushla-Tara. "But it will either be at then end of this year or the beginning of 2024.
"It's very possible that our honeymoon – we're going to Rome, London, Ireland and LA – may come before the wedding! It'll give us the chance to say goodbye to London that we never had."
Acushla-Tara stars in Prima Facie at Auckland's Herald Theatre from 21 June to 9 July. For tickets, visit https://www.aucklandlive.co.nz/.
  • undefined: Fleur Guthrie

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