Like father, like daughter, there is no more apt explanation for the dynamic duo that is Stuart and Laurel Devenie.
The acting and directing pair currently grace our television screens on two of New Zealand’s most popular TV shows – Laurel (34) on Shortland Street, and Stuart (66) on The Brokenwood Mysteries, but when they shimmy down to real life, the Devenies can be found in Whangarei. And as much as they try not to, they will most likely be chatting about work.
“You do end up talking shop a lot,” laughs Laurel.
“Well, we do talk about other things too, such as politics and the like,” adds Stuart. “There is a vocabulary that exists with theatre or television, and what’s wonderful is being able to talk to Laurel with that vocab and to develop our own. We’re also very lucky Gillian, my wife and Laurel’s mother, understands the theatre.
“Even now, she’ll be the production manager or sewing costumes for some crazy project I’m doing, so she’s kind of right in there,” agrees Laurel.
Stuart continues, “It’s a family cottage industry sometimes when we all get together to work on the same things, which is great! The family that plays together, stays together, I suppose.”
With a vast and successful film and theatre resumé, Stuart’s appearance on the season finale of The Brokenwood Mysteries was a breath of fresh air, not to mention a chance to work with some old friends.
“It was great working with the likes of Elizabeth McRae and Ian Mune on something together, and just being old, experienced actors allowed to explore these wonderful characters,” he says.
“What was particularly nice, after being in TV for 45 years, overwhelmingly I do comedy and always anal-retentive villains. But this was a fully normal person – well as much as you can be in Brokenwood,” he laughs.
Meanwhile Laurel, who plays nurse Kate Nathan on the much-loved soap, is deeply involved in one of Shortland Street’s history-making storylines as the mother of the show’s first transgender character Blue Nathan (played by Tash Keddy).
“There’s something about her edge and her clumsiness that felt like I could fit into, and I’ve really enjoyed that,” she reveals of her character.
“That’s one of the amazing things about Shortland Street, it’s always pushed the envelope in those social areas,” says Stuart, who has appeared on the show three times.
It’s clear to see the tight bond they share and Stuart is quick to point out that although he may be the more experienced actor, he’s learning a lot from Laurel.
“One of my teachers is my daughter and that’s a wonderful privilege,” he says.
“I wasn’t the kind of father that built go-karts, but I could help Laurel when she showed an early interest in the work. As she’s got older, we’ve used each other as sounding boards and I’ve found her youthful perspective on things has helped me retain the freshness in my own work.”
“Dad’s understanding of a character is beyond anyone I know, he can just always go deeper and unlock something,” Laurel adds, in a game of compliments between the two.
And Stuart has watched bemused as Laurel’s path has inadvertently followed his. It’s something that was never her intention, she says, but after a year at university, she realised it wasn’t for her.
“There’s been a pattern, which is quite spooky!”
Stuart laughs of their similar theatre work.
“There were lots of different things I thought I might do, but I fell in love with theatre at high school,” admits Laurel.
“I expected I’d get a degree but found university quite isolating and realised I needed to go to drama school. It wasn’t necessarily about being an actor, it was about the lifestyle of engaging with a diverse range of people and ideas. I’ve always admired Dad’s curiosity!”
Stuart recalls those tough years after Laurel graduated from drama school where he watched her struggle to find work.
“I was biting my nails and thinking I can’t intervene because if she can’t get through, then she’s not going to be able to make it in the business.
“It’s a difficult time for young actors,” he explains. “I wanted her to be able to get through that by herself. I knew I’d be there on the other side for her. And when she did get through, I was thrilled because it gave her strength.”
“It’s funny you say that, Dad,” Laurel interjects. “You and Mum allowed me to do that and didn’t tell me to do a law degree when things weren’t going my way. You allowed me the time to figure it out and keep on going.”
Well, as Stuart says, the family that plays together, stays together!
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