Dumped actress throws hissy fit and goes Awol from set in protest

By Stephen Cook

Dumped Shortland Street star Nicola Kawana was so angry about being written out of the top-rating soap that she went Awol from the set during the filming of her character's last days.

Kawana was axed from the show in dramatic fashion this month, after producers believed they had exhausted all credible storylines around her character, feisty hospital chief executive Huia Samuels.

South Pacific Pictures, the maker of Shortland Street, would not comment on the departure last week. Kawana said she had signed a confidentiality agreement that prevented her from speaking. But sources close to the soap said the actress was so wild about being given the heave-ho that she didn't front up for work for several days.

She turned up to film her exit from the show but did not arrive on set for other scenes involving her character.

This created major disruption to Shortland Street's tight filming schedule, as one actor was away ill, and Michael Galvin, who plays Dr Chris Warner, had to rush from the set to be at his daughter's birth. Episodes are filmed seven weeks ahead of broadcast. Editing, picture and sound post-production take place after filming, so the weekly episodes are finished and ready for broadcast four weeks before they go to air.

Sources told the Herald on Sunday that Kawana was clearly not happy about being axed after 18 months in the role, and had decided to make a noise.

South Pacific Pictures would not reveal any details of the storyline, but it is understood Kawana's departure has created new and dramatic plotlines involving several other main characters.

Initially, the role of Huia Samuels was going to be limited to a few episodes, but producers decided to keep her on the show for just over a year and a half, developing several storylines around the love triangle between her character, doctor Craig Valentine (Renato Bartolomei) and fellow doctor Sarah Potts (Amanda Billing).

One source told the Herald on Sunday that Kawana, who has previously starred in Mataku and Mercy Peak, had no right to feel aggrieved about being axed. That was the nature of the business, and as Shortland Street had been around only 14 years, an 18-month stint was reasonable. The actress had also been given seven weeks' notice, the source said.

Kawana joins Donogh Rees (nursing manager Judy Brownlee), Pua Magasiva (Vinnie Kruse), Calum Gittins (Jake Valentine), Phil Brown (Hamish Flynn), David Wikaira Paul (Tama Hudson) and Amber Curreen (Shannon Hudson) as the latest high-profile departures from Shortland Street.

In 2001, the show made headline news after 14 cast members were either let go from their contracts or decided to leave.

This was part of a revamp of the show which saw many new characters introduced, and a move toward more culturally diverse storylines.

The casualties

It's the soap for actors with a death wish. Shortland Street has killed off 38 characters - and some in quite unbelievable fashion. Here's a selection of the most memorable:

1995: Darryl Neilson, drowned.
1995: Nurse Carmen Roberts, brain haemorrhage.
1996: Bernie Leach, beaten to death with a candlestick.
1999: Oscar Henry, killed in an explosion.
2001: Rangi Heremia,drug overdose.
2003: Dr Geoff Greenlaw, froze to death in a chiller.
2004: Dominic Thompson, killed in an explosion.
2005: Norman Hanson (played by Jacob Tomuri), car accident after battling Maori demons.
2006: Dr Li Mei Chen (played by Li Ming Hu), lethal virus.

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