Twelve Questions: Teuila Blakely

Defiantly single for a decade, Shortland Street actress and writer Teuila Blakely is penning a book on living life alone. It won't please all her fans - or her conservative Samoan community.

Teuila Blakely says promiscuous women are judged far more harshly than promiscuous men. Photo / Babiche Martens
Teuila Blakely says promiscuous women are judged far more harshly than promiscuous men. Photo / Babiche Martens

1. Got a working title for the book yet?

So far, it's Sexless In The City. Or maybe Ms Understood.

2. Isn't that a a bit grim?

Actually it's anything but. I've been in the really unique situation of choosing to be single at my age [38] for 10 years now and I realised about five years ago this was really the life I wanted to live. Most women my age are attached but this book will be about how I am one of the most content women I know.

3. Have you felt pressure to be part of a couple?

Oh God, so much! There are real stigmas to being single - that you are lonely, or defective in some way or you can't get or keep a man or you are after other women's men. And people really don't want you to be single. After a while I asked myself, do I really want to be in a relationship or do I want to be in a relationship so my friends stop feeling sorry for me? And do I actually envy their lives? Turned out I didn't.

4. Are there downsides?

Of course, but I feel like this is the last right we are missing as women - the right to be independent, successful, content and yes, even sexual as single women. People are far more accepting of women being sexual in relationships but woe betide a woman being sexual outside of them. It's other women who object to that more than men. Promiscuous men are not judged badly - promiscuous women are. My mum will hate me for saying this but I have learned through being single that there is nothing wrong with being sexually free. I don't feel bad about it - if anything I'm having the time of my life.

5. Does that make you a feminist?

I call myself a womanist. I totally believe in feminism but a lot of that word comes with preconceived notions and the feminist ideal is often seen in a non-sexual context.

6. You were brought up Mormon. How will the book go down in that community?

In Samoan culture, this is as taboo as it gets. One of the reasons I got pregnant at age 16 (son Jared is now 20) was because sex didn't exist in my childhood. It was never talked about.

7. What was your experience of being a single Pacific Island teenage mum - young, brown and poor presumably?

People were cruel. White women could be really cruel. I was at Kmart buying a toy for my son's birthday and I got the price wrong and couldn't afford the one I had at the counter. A woman got mad 'cause I was holding things up and said "I feel sorry for your son if you can't afford to buy him a birthday present. Women like you make me sick. My husband and I work hard so you can sit at home on the DPB." I was 18 and actually working at the time. It broke my heart.

8. Was everyone like that?

To be honest, it's really hard in that situation. No one wants to help you or wants to be supportive. I lost lots of friends but there was a core group who stuck with me. But I'd grown up with racism. In Tauranga we were the only Samoan family. And I saw the way people spoke to my mother in shops. It wore her down and made her angry but she always fought back.

9. What's it like now, as a successful actress, and with lots more money?

I have enough now. When you're poor you never have enough. One thing I always have too much of is nice underwear and socks. 'Cause I never had matching socks as a kid and I hated that.

10. Is it hard ageing as a woman on TV?

Growing up Samoan one thing my mother never did was focus on looks. She focused on character and how clean we were. I still don't focus on looks and that's a good thing.

11. Your acting career began when you wrote your own play, Island Girls, and starred in it 10 years ago. Is writing your first love?

Writing and acting and music are all my loves, but yes, I adore writing. This book will just be the first - I've got lots of non-fiction books in me too, I'm writing a screenplay too!

12. What's the biggest misconception about Samoans in New Zealand?

That we celebrate each other's success. The tall poppy thing hasn't got anything on us - the Tall Poly syndrome is much worse. If you ask any Samoan who has been successful in the mainstream, they'll tell you about it. I called my production company Tall Poly.

- NZ Herald

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