Body

The health scare that sent Brokenwood Mysteries actress Fern Sutherland to Canada for respite

The Kiwi star opens up about taking time out in North America.

By Amy Prebble

Despite her success on The Brokenwood Mysteries and The Almighty Johnsons, talented New Zealand actress Fern Sutherland recently considered giving up acting altogether.

The 31-year-old was completely exhausted from keeping up with a demanding work schedule, exercise regime and her own incredibly high expectations of herself.

"My body was literally tired, in every sense of the word," she tells. "So I had to find out what was going on."

Fern was subsequently diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome.

"I had an absent period for quite a long time. I have cysts on my ovaries and, associated with that, crashing blood sugar levels and energy spikes, crazy mood swings and weight gain, and all of that kind of thing," she says.

"Your ovaries are a part of your body that you don't want to have to think about and you just kind of assume that they're going to tick along nicely."

Fern worked with an endocrinologist who basically told her she was over-training.

"It was really interesting because a lot of women she was treating were yoga teachers, fitness bloggers, personal trainers, dancers or marathon runners. They're people you look at and you're like, 'You are super healthy!' But they all had lost their periods."

Fern learned to be kinder to herself, and to exercise less while eating more to help get her hormones in balance.

"It's been a big learning curve for me. I thought I was going to have to give up acting because I can only be a certain size or else I'm not going to get any work!"

Fern's quick to point out that she's not obsessed with being skinny.

"That's not me, but I am really hard on myself generally and one way that was coming out was just me flogging myself at the gym, and it was interesting that my body was rebelling against that."

Another concern was her bone density, which was very low.

"When you lose oestrogen, your bone density decreases. My endocrinologist said I was on track to get osteoporosis, so it was like, 'Okay, if I don't sort this out I'll end up in a wheelchair and I won't be doing much acting anyway!"

Fern says her recent move to Canada has given her the space to recalibrate.

"A lot of the stuff I'm doing, I could have done in Auckland," she tells. "But here nobody has any expectations of you, no-one knows you. You're a bit freer to rethink what you're doing and get rid of the things that aren't serving you any more.

"I was doing quite a lot of heavy weights and cardio. For whatever reason, that was not great for me. Now I do heaps of kickboxing, and I'm way fitter and I actually have more muscle.

"I'm a bit thicker, but I feel healthier and more energised."

The actress and her landscape architect partner, Jarrod Kilner, decamped to Vancouver after filming for Brokenwood finished this year.

Fern says she's trying to "crowbar my way into doing some acting" in Canada, while Jarrod (35) has picked up work on "fancy houses in Whistler".

"Lots of our buddies in New Zealand were having families and buying houses, which is super cool and we're really excited for them, but I think we felt we wanted to get some stuff out of our systems and we'd been thinking about Canada for a while."

Although she hasn't had any auditions yet, Fern has an agent and picked up a retail job to make ends meet.

She's also absorbed a few tips on how to break into the industry from iZombie actress Rose McIver.

"She is so delightful. She's invited me to things and been a good source of insight into how things work here. It's quite uncharted territory for Kiwis, but KJ Apa also works here and I've been trying to work out a way to visit Frankie Adams in Toronto because I think that would be really fun!"

She might not call New Zealand home right now, but given Brokenwood's success internationally Fern is still finding herself meeting fans.

"I've been recognised a lot, which I was not expecting! When I started my retail job, I didn't tell anyone that I'm an actor. Customers would come in and be like, 'Oh my God! It's Kristin.' My co-workers were like, 'Are you famous? What's going on?'"

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