Life after Shorty: Sam Bunkall's next big role

He may have been faking it as a doctor on TV, but the actor is just the tonic for teens, something he can’t wait for his own toddlers to be!

By Donna Fleming
It was a dream role that he was incredibly grateful for and when his nine-year stint as Dr Boyd Rolleston on Shortland Street came to an end two years ago, Sam Bunkall admits he was "pretty sad". But there's been a silver lining to hanging up his stethoscope.
Not only has it given him the chance to appear on other iconic Kiwi TV shows – like a forthcoming part in the next season of The Brokenwood Mysteries – but it means he's been able to devote more time to the most important role of his life: being a dad.
Sam and his wife Natasha Daniel are parents to Rufus, three, and Juniper, one, and life is pretty full-on, he says, as he helps his son to search for a misplaced toy while chatting to the Weekly at his Auckland home.
"We both juggle work with the kids – it's very much a tag team operation – but it's good that our jobs mean we can do this," says Sam. "There's quite a load, especially as we have chosen to do re-usable nappies instead of disposable ones, so the washing alone is a full-time job!"
Natasha, 36, known as Tash, is also an actor, as well as a producer and writer, and she says if Sam, 40, had still been doing long Shorty hours, things would have been a lot trickier.
"It's been fantastic having him around to take some of the load with the kids," tells Tash, who appeared in the movie M3GAN and is a producer for Proudly Asian Theatre. "I feel like he was meant to be at home with us a bit more when the kids are so dependent. We're very fortunate to be in this position."
He's an adept hands-on dad now, but Sam admits he had very limited experience with babies and small children before having his own. Playing a father on Shorty was an eye-opener as it meant working with twins Lachlan and Connor McCartney, who played Boyd's sons Remus and Romulus. "I hadn't really had much to do with kids and when they said Boyd would be having them, I was like, 'Oh, okay, how do you hold one?' It was pretty scary to start with."
Sam's Shorty family, played by Lachlan and Connor.
A sense of trepidation about being in charge of a small person wasn't helped by the horror stories other parents shared when Tash was pregnant with Rufus. "Every interaction I had with other parents was basically a five-minute spiel of being told how hard it was going to be, followed by, 'Oh, but it's great'," Sam says. "I also kept getting told to sleep as much as you can before the baby arrives, which is pretty useless advice because it's not like you can store sleep up!
"I was feeling pretty anxious about the whole thing and I definitely think we could do better for new parents by not projecting every negative thing to them."
Positive advice like taking turns to see to a newborn's needs would have been useful, believes Sam.
"We were both getting up every time he woke up for the first three weeks," he recalls. "Tash had had a 28-hour labour and a C-section, so I wanted to do as much as I could to help her. But after three weeks, we were both absolutely exhausted, so after that we decided to tag team. And that worked out really well."
Rufus was born while Sam was still on Shorty, and talking to his colleagues and fellow dads Ben Barrington, who plays Drew McCaskill, and Michael Galvin (Chris Warner) was helpful. "It was great in our downtime to be able to bond over being dads. They were so supportive and I was so grateful. I was also thankful to the make-up team for hiding the dark circles under my eyes!"
Things have been a lot easier second time around with Juniper, not just because Sam and Tash got straight into a routine, but also because she's a particularly relaxed wee girl.
"Juni is very chilled and very different to her brother," shares Sam. "Rufus is chilled 50 percent of the time and the other 50 percent he is, shall we say, passionate. We used to refer to the noises that came out of his mouth as the 'banshee scream'. People would go, 'Ha, ha,' then they'd hear it and say, 'Oh, okay'."
An only child, Sam always knew he wanted kids at some stage. And after meeting Tash in 2015, he knew he wanted them with her. Despite being in the same industry, they didn't get to know each other until Tash was invited to a surprise party thrown for Sam.
"We'd crossed paths but never really had a conversation – just seen each other from afar," recalls Sam.
"We had a conversation at the party and after that, we became best friends," continues Tash. "Sam was really great, and he helped me through a break-up and then once we got together, things moved really fast.
"Sam proposed to me after seven weeks, which was pretty amazing because neither of us are really very spontaneous."
"It was very out of character for both of us," explains Sam.
"But when you know, you know," smiles Tash.
After seven weeks of dating, Sam popped the question. "When you know, you know."
Sam definitely knew Tash, to whom he's been married for six years, was "the one".
"When you're on a show like Shorty, and so much of your day is spent being in a fake relationship, it's this unique and weird experience of seeing a relationship from the inside. It helps to clarify what you're looking for in real life and what you're not.
"A friend told me to write down what my ideal person would be like and I wrote a list of traits, like shared politics, which was quite important to me, as that's how you view the world and what's important to you.
"My friend also told me to write down what this person would look like, so I did, and then I turn up at my surprise party and there's this person who was everything on the list!"
The only box Tash didn't tick was height. "I'd written tall, and I know Tash thinks she's short, but in my eyes she's tall."
He's full of praise for the way Tash juggles demanding work, including writing a short film and a series, with being a mum. Meanwhile, Tash says it's been great to see how fatherhood has changed Sam.
"It adds more layers and depth, which is a cool thing to watch, and you gain more appreciation and love."
Although he's no longer on a five-days-a-week TV show, Sam also balances parenting with a pretty busy workload. Along with acting roles and plugging away on a script he's writing, he has two part-time jobs, one teaching speech and drama to school kids, and the other as an educator with Rape Prevention Education.
"We have a programme called Bodysafe, which involves going predominantly to schools, but also places like alternative education centres, and talking about sexual violence and consent, and healthy relationships," tells Sam. "I fell into it 12 years ago because a friend worked there and I continued doing it when I was on Shorty. If I had a morning off shooting, I'd say, 'I've got some time, send me to a class.' It is such an important thing to think about and I find it incredibly rewarding."
He misses Shorty, but Sam's about to pop up again on another iconic Kiwi show.
His knowledge of sexual consent proved helpful on the popular TVNZ 2 soap when it came to the storyline about Ben King (played by Jamie Irvine) raping his colleague Esther Samuels (Ngahuia Piripi). Sam reviewed the script and was able to point out a couple of ways things could be framed slightly differently. He was proud of the way Shorty handled a very sensitive subject.
Sam loved his nine years on the show. "When they said they were putting Boyd out to pasture, I was pretty sad because it was a great job and I loved the people and the steady work as an actor, which is rare in this country. But I feel grateful that I got to do it for so long."
Shooting the episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries last year was "the perfect thing to do coming off the back of nine years of Shorty", he adds. "There was a lot of crossover, with the same production company and a lot of the same crew, so that helped me to feel not entirely out of my comfort zone. It was great fun to do."
With on-screen wife Nivi Summer.
He had auditioned for the TVNZ series The Gone, but was not surprised when he didn't get the part. "It was the day after Juniper was born, so there wasn't a lot of sleep the night before!"
Sam's getting more sleep these days, and while he's enjoying this stage of Rufus and Juniper's childhoods, he confesses he's alsolooking forward to them being teenagers.
"Most of the experience I've had with young people is with teenagers and I enjoy being able to have meaningful chats. People say to me, 'If you think having kids this age is hard, wait until they are teenagers,' but actually, I can't wait. I'm genuinely like, 'Bring on the teens!'"

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