Shortland Street is well known for its controversial and attention-grabbing storylines, and no one knows that better than former cast member Holly Shervey.
Returning to the iconic soap this week for the first time in three years, the 32-year-old admits she's had to learn some important lessons about public backlash since her last foray in Ferndale.
"If there's something negative said, it can hurt," tells Holly. "I came back to the show wanting to tell the best story possible and as long as I'm doing that, it overrides anyone else's opinion. When I was originally there, I wasn't able to do that, so it's actually nice coming back and not worrying about what people are going to say."
Holly first joined the show in 2018 as the scheming Zoe Carlson and within months she had made national headlines thanks to her character's storylines.
Controversy exploded after Zoe was brutally sexually assaulted by a masked man targeting female residents of Ferndale. Many fans of the show deemed the scenes of the attack too gruesome for 7pm viewing.
While Holly says it was a privilege to bring such an important issue to the small screen, she admits she has never been happier to wrap a day of work.
"It's an exciting challenge as a performer to rise to the occasion of a role like that, but also the relief of it being over was just amazing. You're sitting in this heaviness and you don't want this sad energy to be around, but you have to be in it for the character."
She adds that dealing with the public response was also very difficult.
"I remember after we did that storyline, I was out for a morning run and a woman stopped me and just yelled the word 'rape', and that was really confronting. I find it interesting when people can't differentiate between the person and the character."
Despite all of this, Holly says she is delighted to return to the beloved series, which celebrates 30 years on air this year. She shares that her favourite part of working on the soap is getting to work alongside the talented cast and crew, especially iconic Shorty star Michael Galvin.
"When I originally auditioned, the idea of being a character so involved with Chris Warner was really overwhelming," recalls Holly, who dreamed of being an Olympic runner before she caught the acting bug. "And then I met Michael, and he's one of the coolest people. He's super- chill and humble, and he's really curious about people. When you think of Chris Warner, you don't have that expectation, but when you're hanging out with him, it's just easy."
When she's not causing trouble for Chris Warner, Holly is busy producing her own successful web series, including Auckward Love and her latest award-winning project Millennial Jenny.
Holly writes and stars in the series, which streams on YouTube and Instagram, alongside her fiancé, Almighty Johnsons actor Emmett Skilton. While some say mixing business with pleasure is a bad idea, for the pair who got engaged in 2015, it is the perfect recipe for success.
"I don't know how we do it," she admits. "Maybe it's because we both love storytelling and we both love each other so much, so we both want the best for each other. I think that's why it works."
The pair met in 2014 through a mutual friend when Emmett, 34, was invited to a brunch thrown in honour of Holly's birthday – and sparks flew right away.
"I'd had a big crush on him since I saw him in a theatre show, so I was into him from the get-go and apparently he was too, which was really cool," she shares.
A year after they started dating, Emmett got down on one knee in a romantic proposal while on a trip to Los Angeles. Though Holly was elated, she admits the question took her by surprise.
"We'd never talked about it, so for a second, I did wonder if it was a joke. It blew my mind," Holly says with a laugh. "But it wasn't. And he had asked my dad and my grandma for permission. It was really sweet.
"I've heard people say, 'Marry your best friend,'and I'm doing that!"
After postponing their wedding twice due to changing Covid rules and restrictions, Holly says she is looking forward to finally making it down the aisle with the man of her dreams.
"We keep picking dates and then it keeps changing, so I don't want to put a date out there again. But hopefully there will be a wedding this year. Hopefully, I haven't just jinxed it!"
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