Real Life

Movies & mental health: Aaron and Emma’s full-on life

The Pike River actor has the best therapy at home
Aaron standing behind EmmaPhotos: Tessa Burrows

Becoming an actor was never on Aaron Jackson’s radar. But since being “discovered” by a talent scout while working on a Wellington construction site and becoming a familiar face on our screens, the father of three says it’s been “the ride of my life!”

It was in 2010 that a casting agent fortuitously walked past and spotted Aaron’s 1.9-metre stature, before striking up a conversation with the apprentice builder.

“Her line was, ‘You have an interesting face… would you consider doing an audition?’” recalls Aaron.

“I thought she was joking, so I turned her down. The next day, she returned, saying, ‘Seriously. I really want to see if you will fit in a role I have for a local film. You’ve got a look I’ve never seen before.’”

So during his smoko break, Aaron memorised some lines and agreed to do a screen test. “The other builders were all there watching me,” he laughs. “They couldn’t believe it. I must have looked like such a fish out of water, but I got that role as a post-apocalyptic cowboy.

“It was an amazing experience. Coming from a single-parent family in Whanganui, with only a black-and-white TV, acting was something you could dream about but was never really attainable.”

Aaron standing behind his bother and sister in the '80s
A teenage Aaron in the ’80s with his mum Glenys and sister Alena.

With an obvious natural talent for acting, Aaron has enjoyed somewhat of a rapid ascent. He went on to score a role as a US marine alongside Hollywood legend Tommy Lee Jones in the World War II film Emperor (it was only his fourth acting gig) and landed a bit part in the Netflix drama Marco Polo, before playing “psychotic thug” Hayden Crowhurst on Shortland Street.

Soon Aaron will appear in the new feature film based on the Pike River mining disaster of 2010. 29 men died in the incident and their bodies never recovered. Written by Fiona Samuel, Pike River follows the aftermath of the explosions. Filmed on the West Coast last December, it worked in close collaboration with family members involved in the real-life tragedy.

“I played one of the deceased,” explains Aaron. “I did some background checks and found that one of his most striking features was his bald head. So I took all my hair off.

“I didn’t know there were going to be local people on set who knew my character, but they all commented on my likeness to him and I had to really respect who I was playing because they weren’t looking at me, they were looking at him.”

A family photo of Aaron and Emma sitting under an autumnal tree with their sons around them
Boy zone! The proud parents with sons Arlo, Oscar and little Bodie.

Alongside his acting, Aaron, 44, is also a senior firefighter in Christchurch. He lives there with wife Emma, 37, and their three sons, Arlo, six, Oscar, five, and two-year-old Bodie.

The couple first met on an Auckland film set for the American TV drama series Spartacus.

At the time, Emma was working as a dresser for film and television, but she didn’t think much of her brief encounter with Aaron.

“I’d been tasked with a very important costume for an actor, who was Aaron,” she shares.

“So while I was sorting this costume, he was trying to catch my eye and flirt with me the whole time! However, I had my blinkers on because dressing oiled, muscly men all day for Spartacus was just part of my job description.”

Aaron in Shortland Street
Playing Shorty thug Hayden.

Adds Aaron, “Emma was striking. I remember her coming in with these amazing blue eyes and I thought, ‘If I can just get this woman to look at me, we’re on!’ But she would not lift her head.”

Unbeknown to Emma, she had made such an impression that he rang and told his mum Glenys about her. A year later, the two saw each other again at a party. However, it wasn’t until they found themselves both living in Rotorua that a mutual friend put them in touch.

Emma was working in a youth mental health facility and discovered it was where her true passions lay, after having herself experienced “significant” depression and anxiety in the past. 

The New Zealand-registered occupational therapist has now launched a new arm of her business. She’s now coaching anxious and overwhelmed men through burnout, stagnation and life’s other complex challenges.

Aaron and Emma on their wedding day.
The couple tied the knot in 2016.

They also brought Aaron on board for social media and relatability. “He keeps things light, where my default is to get a bit serious!” tells Emma.

She says the 12-week process pulls the threads together from her own life.

“We both found that being overstimulated was an unexpected part of our parenting journey. We’re raising very busy, very loud little boys.”  

Aaron continues, “But even though our kids are taking front of stage at the moment, we always try to make opportunities that come our way work.”

For more on Emma’s therapy work, follow her on Instagram

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