Smacking actor Tammy Davis with a shovel, conveying heavy emotion without stressing her unborn baby and dramatically pretending to give birth while actually pregnant?
It's all in a day's work for "super-mum" Ngahuia Piripi!
The actress felt empowered filming action-packed summer series Shortland Street: Retribution while pregnant with her son Niau, whom she and her former Shorty co-star Teone Kahu welcomed in September.
"I felt like super-mum – it's so rewarding achieving all that while 30 weeks pregnant," she says of the TVNZ OnDemand series, which premieres following the soap's Christmas cliff hanger on Tuesday.
Catching up with Woman's Day, Ngahuia – who also has a 12-year-daughter, Owairea, from a previous relationship – says she's navigating being back at work while caring for Niau (pronounced "nee-yo") and preparing for her little cutie's first festive season.
"It's a juggle and we're still adjusting. The breastfeeding part's the most difficult. I'm lucky my partner's still at home and extremely supportive, so we're taking it one day at a time. Teone's just been so awesome. The other day, we were filming on location and he brought baby to set, so I could step away, feed him and carry on.
"Everything's going well and his big sister loves him. He's the boss of the house already, with everyone running around after him! He seems to be coping with Mum going back to work, so we're all happy. He's a good baby, so I'm very lucky and very smitten."
With his "beautiful blue eyes" and lighter complexion, Ngahuia – who turns 31 on Boxing Day – says Niau looks more like Teone, 29. She hopes both Niau and Owairea can one day learn from her efforts to juggle work with family.
"I hope they see that working hard pays off and while not every day's an easy day, it's about working through challenges, whether that's providing for your family or getting through a tough time. That's why I work so hard – for my family – and I happen to be able to do it by doing something I love."
After discovering she was pregnant, Ngahuia – who stars as Dr Esther Samuels on the TVNZ 2 drama – first told her co-stars Rebekah Randell, who plays Dawn, and Nicole Whippy, who plays Cece and shares her dressing room. While she wondered how she would juggle a baby with Shorty, the show's producers were supportive, writing her pregnancy into the script.
Ngahuia continued filming until two weeks before her due date, however, with Auckland's lockdown impacting production, she still had 15 scenes remaining when she went into labour, prompting storylines to be tweaked.
Luckily, Retribution was completed prior to lockdown. The special sees pregnant Esther head to Christchurch, where she finds her partner, undercover cop Curtis (played Jayden Daniels), entrenched in the world of gangs.
The darker plot was gruelling at times. "There were scenes I could feel my baby feeling how Esther was feeling," tells Ngahuia, who indulged in catering's caramel slices when pregnancy cravings kicked in. "I was pretending to be stressed or upset and I could feel my baby kicking, like, 'Something's not happy here,' but that's when you take a moment, compose yourself, talk to your baby and charge on through."
Describing Retribution as "the best Shortland Street work I've ever done", Ngahuia loved the high-action pace and filming her own stunts, and she took inspiration from Owairea's birth when it came time to pretend to go into labour.
"Trying to push, believably, without triggering anything in my body was interesting!"
In comparison, actually delivering Niau was "a breeze", she adds. "Even though it was a lockdown birth, Waitakere Hospital was really good. I had my partner there and had no complications, which was nice compared to what poor Esther goes through!"
Ngahuia, who is of Te Rarawa descent, spoke only te reo to Owairea for her daughter's first few years and says, "I'm trying to do the same with my son. We don't only speak Māori, but if we're going to the zoo, we'll learn animal words or at the beach, we'll learn about the sea."
At the moment, vocabulary lessons revolve around Kirihimete, and Ngahuia loves nothing more than seeing her children's faces light up when they see Christmas lights, decorations and presents.
"We'll have a nice quiet one at home and I hope his sister will help create some magic for him," she smiles. "Even if he doesn't understand it, he'll see the photos later and see how magical it was."
The family get a real tree "so the house smells like Christmas" and have an ongoing red-and-gold theme with decorations, buying a new one per family member each year.
And while Teone isn't as obsessed with the holiday season as Ngahuia, he supports her festive fun. "He's always there to help me create whatever Christmas I'm trying to create!" she smiles.
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