The past nine months have been a whirlwind for actress Marianne Infante. After struggling for years to make ends meet to pursue a career in the arts, often surviving on two-minute noodles, she is now living her dream as the first Filipino character on Shortland Street.
And having a stable job on the TVNZ 2 soap has meant Marianne can take the grown-up step she has always longed for – adopting a dog.
"I always told myself when I achieved the level of adulthood where I felt like I could look after another being, I would rescue a dog," says animal-lover Marianne.
Growing up, her family had dogs and before she was ready to adopt one of her own, the star always donated to her favourite animal charities.
Then, late last year, the 26-year-old was scrolling through the Country Retreat Animal Sanctuary Facebook page, when she came across a wrinkly litter of Shar-Pei/ Labrador-cross puppies.
"I saw the picture and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, these dogs are so wrinkly and chubby, and have the fattest faces.' I just wanted to smooch their faces so much."
When she went to visit the litter, it was love at first sight when she spied sweet pooch Joey, named after the famous Friends character.
"When I met his litter, they were all asleep, except for Joey. He was the only one who snuggled up to me. I knew this was 100 percent my dog."
Though Marianne was elated to bring him home, she admits those first few weeks of looking after a puppy were extremely stressful.
"Joey has a very sensitive stomach and I had to rush him to the after-hours vet. I thought, 'Oh, God, I can't even parent a puppy!'"
Now he's settled in and karaoke-mad Marianne happily shares that Joey seems to have picked up her passion for singing.
"He's not a big barker, which makes him a terrible guard dog, but whenever I'm singing in the shower, he will pull out some notes, and howl and sing along with me. I was like, 'Wow, he's a performer too,'" she laughs.
In what has been a tumultuous time for all of us, Marianne is emotional as she tells just how much Joey's companionship has meant, especially through Auckland's 107-day lockdown last year when she couldn't see her family in Christchurch.
"There were so many days when my anxiety would be so bad that I would struggle to get out of bed in the morning. But having him around gave me a purpose and a motivation to get up.
"If I'm going to give him water, I also need to give myself water; if he needs to eat, I also need to eat. He reminds me of all those fundamentals that you need to do to get through your day, especially on those rough days," says Marianne. "He just makes me feel so loved. He is absolute comfort and absolute joy."
In July, Marianne will celebrate her one-year anniversary on the popular soap and the actress, who is also a producer at Proudly Asian Theatre, says that playing nurse Madonna Diaz and sharing her Filipino culture on the long-running show has been a huge honour.
"For so long, I've been waiting for a Filipina character to be in Ferndale that I was in disbelief that it was me," enthuses Marianne. "Being able to champion and celebrate my Filipino culture on screen is so fun."
Marianne was only 11 when she moved to Christchurch from her home in San Juan, Philippines with her parents Liza, 54, and Ruel, 57, and younger sister Mae, 22. Overnight, she went from always being surrounded by their large extended family, to barely seeing her own parents as they worked to build a new life.
"It aged me quickly," she tells. "I felt I had to pull my weight so I wasn't an extra burden on my parents. I recall thinking, 'We had it so good in the Philippines, why are we doing this to ourselves?'"
But seeing how hard her parents worked for their family has only made Marianne prouder of her heritage, which she celebrates whenever she can in her own creative work, including her recent short film Mekeni, which is the first Kapampangan-language film made in Aotearoa.
"I learned a lot watching my parents deal with migration and I will forever carry that with me. It made me really passionate about telling my parents' stories, to tell my ancestors' stories, and to tell my own story of being lost and figuring it all out."
With New Zealand's borders now finally opening, Marianne is looking forward to going back to the Philippines and reuniting with her family for the first time since 2019."It's been heart-wrenching because my grandpa's getting older and I want to be able to see him. For someone who is very family-oriented like I am, this time has been very hard for my heart because I never feel like I can be where I want to be."
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