Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

Kiwi's gender-bender role big break

A young Kiwi actress is planning her next Hollywood move after going through a gender-swapping twist in a US television show.

Angela Zhou is one of the main stars of the fifth and final series of hit American show Hell on Wheels - screening in New Zealand on Soho.

Her role on the Emmy-nominated show - which takes place during the building of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the 1860s - has been a rollercoaster ride. She played a Chinese girl disguised as a boy to get work on the railroad.

In the final series she abandons her disguise and becomes the main love interest of the star, played by Anson Mount. The 24-year-old told the Herald on Sunday she had more auditions lined up in the US.

But the former Macleans College student still dreams of coming home.

"I will define 'making it' as when I can still be in the industry but I can move back to New Zealand. I can't imagine having kids or starting a family anywhere else."

Zhou's journey to Hollywood began after she won a $400,000 Robertson Scholarship at 18 and attended prestigious Duke University in North Carolina, studying politics and economics.

But once she graduated, a burning desire to perform drove her to gamble on being an actor in Los Angeles. Landing the role in Hell on Wheels was a "huge break".

"The first day we took a private jet to Victoria Island and then it hit me, this is what that big break feels like." And playing the opposite gender initially "terrified" her. "They hired a gender consultant for me, to prepare for the role," she said.

Angela Zhou disguised as a boy in Hell on Wheels
Angela Zhou disguised as a boy in Hell on Wheels

"We went out for a night in town and I was dressed as a dude. It was during the semifinal of a hockey game and I even went into the men's bathroom. It was a very odd experience indeed.

"Even on my worst days acting I'm like, 'at least I'm still doing this'. This is awesome, there's nowhere else I'd rather be."

- Herald on Sunday

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