When Westside actress Elizabeth Dowden decided to try her luck by moving to the bright lights of Hollywood, she never expected to find love along the way – least of all with an American.
The easy-going Aucklander, 25, was shocked at the plastic-fantastic lifestyle of the Los Angeles locals when she first arrived.
She laughs, "Kiwis are so honest and I assumed everyone would be like that over in LA too. Then I found out everything was a lie. I met so many strange people that I'd never think of being in a relationship with!"
But that all changed when Elizabeth – who plays escort Theresa on the popular Three series – got to know producer and actor Matt Felker, 38, just over a year and a half ago.
"One thing that is different between Matt and every other person is that I felt like I've known him forever," she says.
"It sounds super-cliché, but I felt extremely comfortable around him as soon as I met him. He's extremely supportive and I couldn't really ask for anything better in a partner."
And the feeling is mutual, with Matt – who has previously dated Selma Blair and Minnie Driver – explaining that Elizabeth's laid-back Kiwi attitude was a refreshing change.
Teasing his blushing girlfriend, he tells, "The most adorable thing about her is that she can eat so much food! It's the antithesis of everything LA, where everyone is eating lettuce that costs $500 and drinking designer vitamin-infused water. Meanwhile, she's straight up downing pizza and hot dogs. It's awesome!"
As they relax in their Californian home with Matt's Maltese cross Rosie, the pair reminisce over the early days of their relationship and how it almost never happened.
"I was in LA for pilot season and we met over a dating app," recalls Elizabeth.
"We had just started chatting when he broke his ribs skiing, so our first date kept getting put off. After that, we were talking on the phone one night when all the electricity in my house went out.
"I've never dealt with anything like that because this was my first time living away from home, so Matt ordered 50 battery-powered lights online and sent them to me until we got an electrician. He was my saviour before we'd even met!"
Elizabeth and her friends figured the grand romantic gesture meant he was either the nicest man in the world or a serial killer. Laughing, she remembers, "We decided no-one could ever be that nice, so it had to be the serial killer option."
And Matt doesn't blame her, adding, "After my rib healed, we arranged to have dinner, but on that day, someone backed into my car as I was washing it in my driveway so I had to cancel. I bet she just thought she was being catfished."
Elizabeth nods, "I had completely written him off, but then the date eventually did happen. I came over to his house and we went out for dinner. I met his dog, who doesn't really like people, but the moment she saw me, she ran up and sat on my lap. It was super-sweet and a pretty good first date."
The loved-up pair have managed to make their relationship work despite often being on opposite sides of the globe. Elizabeth explains, "I go for jobs that shoot in Australia, the US and Vancouver, and he's going to Europe soon. It's just a strange business where you're all over the show and you can't really ever plan anything."
But while she was filming Westside in New Zealand last summer, Matt managed to visit her in Auckland for a few blissful weeks.
He recalls, "I liked everything about the country. I'm into triathlons so I could run, bike and swim – I loved it. We also went to Waiheke one day and had a great time."
It's Matt's endless support that's made the tough, cut-throat world of Hollywood that little bit easier for Elizabeth. She explains, "Sometimes I just burst into tears, but then once I get the crying out of the way, I realise that I can't give up and it does help having someone supportive by my side."
One of the actress' most recent gigs saw her become the face of a range of robot-like digital humans, designed by the artificial intelligence company Soul Machines, which are meant to be emotionally responsive and incredibly intelligent.
"They're halfway through developing my face and when it's finished, it will be used in banks and things," Elizabeth tells.
"I got the part because they needed someone to be able to move every single muscle in their face singularly to be able to create it. I just randomly happen to be really good at that!"
Beaming proudly at his girlfriend, Matt quips, "No-one in LA is qualified because their faces are full of Botox, but not Elizabeth!"
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