"Who would have thought," muses actress Goretti Chadwick before breaking into peals of laughter at her own punch line, "that 25 years after being introduced to Shakespeare at school I'd be on stage in Sydney performing with a chicken".

Goretti (baptised Maria Goretti after a Catholic saint, but Letti to family and friends) was encouraged to audition for The Performing Arts School (now Unitec) by Max Cryer, a Y13 tutor at Auckland Girls' Grammar School.

"He told me about the auditions for The Performing Arts School, coached me, wrote a reference and spoke to my parents about me going.

"I didn't realise I had acting talents, I just took drama so I could hang out with my mates. I was a little bit annoying in Max's media studies class but really disciplined in his drama class."

Advertisement

Her start at drama school was, however, rocky. Goretti found herself, for the first time in her young life, an ethnic minority of one.

"Only two Samoans started the course and then the other one dropped out. It was a difficult time for me. It was such a foreign world — they were referencing people I'd never heard of. I hadn't been exposed to the arts world and I wasn't used to being in a room full of men."

She "grew up", graduated and has a steady career of performing and writing including, since 2010, with Anapela Polataivao (director of Wild Dogs Under My Skirt), as comedy duo Pani and Pani on Fresh, a Saturday morning TVNZ youth show with a Pasifika focus; co-hosting (as a Pani) two series of Game of Bros (Māori Television); appearing in the new TV3 sitcom Mean Mums; and since last year performing as Mama, the sole (human) character in the award-winning play Still Life with Chickens.

"Mama is way older than me so I've taken bits of everyone's mums — the writer's, the director's, my own — and rolled them into one interpretation," Goretti says. "Mama has a big heart and is tough but lovable. She's been suffering from empty nest syndrome for a long time when along comes this rogue chicken and, unexpectedly, a beautiful friendship develops.

"The chicken is the star of the show, and I'm not ashamed to say that. People come up and compliment me afterwards but they really want to talk about the chicken!"

Although she dismisses the "easy stereotype" of a Samoan mother being a cleaner, Goretti believes there are many similarities between Samoan mothers, whether they be a lawyer, doctor or stay-at-home mum. "You see that nice polite woman? Well, when it comes to protecting her children, you'll see another side of her that you don't want to mess with."

Samoan mothers are also notoriously generous with their food. "They make and serve so much food that you think you must be facing the electric chair the next day. I swear my weight goes up and down depending on whether my mum is visiting."

As a teenager in the 1970s Goretti's Samoa-born mother Telesia had a dream — for her children to be born in New Zealand. So when her sister Nina needed help in Auckland with her young children, Telesia came, soon meeting "the charmer" Jack Chadwick, another Samoan who was like a brother to Nina's husband. The two families raised their children together.

Advertisement

"There's no fleeing the nest in my family," laughs Goretti, the eldest of three. "We've all built accommodation on our homes for our parents so if they're not with me in Auckland, they're with my siblings in Melbourne or at their own place in Apia."

Work commitments will keep Goretti away from Samoa this year, the first time she hasn't been able to make at least one visit.

"It's like I'm in a different space there. My lifestyle is the same but I feel more grounded there. My husband, who is not a spiritual person, feels the same thing. But my reasons for not visiting are all good — I've got a lot of work on, including plenty of writing for television which I really enjoy."

Goretti also started an online business last year — Le Masina (The Moon, because she was working on it at night) — offering organic soaps and body oils, which she began making to treat her own eczema.

"No matter what the artform is, my goal is to highlight the Pacific," she says. "I use organic coconut oil from Samoa and Tonga and as many ingredients as I can from Aotearoa and the Pacific, things like vanilla and kawakawa. My goal is to go back to Samoa and start my own factory with my own coconut plantation."

Making the products is, she says, an extension of her acting and writing. "I play with organic ingredients but have no idea how it will turn out — it's for the public to purchase and review.