Wolfgang West's shoes were always going to be hard to fill.
As the father of Outrageous Fortune's infamous West family, he was the quintessential anti-hero — a ruggedly handsome Westie with sparkling blue eyes who just happened to be a career crim.
But the name "Wolf West" meant nothing to 14-year-old Reon Bell.
Outrageous Fortune first aired on July 15, 2005 (coincidentally Bell's 5th birthday), the show's six-year stint coinciding with his childhood.
The show existed in a past-his-bedtime netherworld — Outrageous Fortune's sexed-up content wasn't for the consumption of kids. So when Bell read through a script for a show called Westside and a character named Wolfgang West, nothing clicked.
In mid-2014 Bell had just completed a stint as a bully on Shortland Street, and his agent thought him ideal for the role of Wolf, so alerted him to the upcoming audition and sent through the script.
But it was only after his Mum, Heidi Rose, read the script for a second time that she clocked that Westside was an Outrageous Fortune prequel.
"I knew then that it was going to be a very big deal," she says.
Sitting next to his Mum in an elegant Mt Albert eatery, Bell could be any 14-year-old boy. But he's articulate, and has the sort of striking features the screen loves.
He explains that after his Mum's discovery, Google helped him join some Outrageous Fortune dots. "But I really didn't realise how important that would be," he confesses.
Bell encapsulated the young Wolf perfectly, and he was cast to play him in the first two episodes of the show, which take place in 1974-75.
But the decision process took a while, and Bell and his Mum had doubts that he'd been awarded the part. "He had to have his hair longer for the role, but after a few weeks it was getting a bit out of control," says Rose.
The haircut never happened. "I was at home and mum called up. She said, 'I've got some bad news; you're not going to get your haircut ... you've got the part'!"
Bell was well used to working in front of the cameras, but he'd never been in a starring role before. And there were curly scenes to navigate; in one, the young Wolf asks for a girl's knickers, in the other Wolf kisses a girl on the lips.
"I felt a bit funny about the scenes, but I realised it didn't really matter," he says thoughtfully. "I wasn't doing anything really bad — it was just a bit awkward."
In fact, Bell's main bugbear was nothing to do with the scenes. Instead it was the daily use of blue contact lenses to emulate the vibrant colour of the adult Wolf's (played by Grant Bowler) eyes.
"They felt so horrible," says Bell. "I never got used to putting them in, but I consider myself a master of removing contact lenses now!"
Anyone who has spent time on a film or television production set can testify acting isn't all glamour and accolades. It's hard slog — long hours, endless takes, subject to the whims of weather — and it can be a challenge even for an adult.
Child and teen actors have to learn to put up with discomfort, tiredness, the juggle of work and school. But for kids like Reon, the hard work is all worth it. "It's just my thing," he says. "I've been acting since I was 8 and I find it so rewarding and fun."
Acting was also Antonia Prebble's "thing". Prebble plays Wolf's screen mum Rita on Westside, a reprise of a role that appeared in flashback in Outrageous Fortune. The celebrated actor has been on New Zealand television for years, but she doesn't come from drama stock.
She acted in summer holiday programmes as a child and landed an agent at age 12. By 13 she had her first screen role, playing Trudy in the children's series The Tribe. It was challenging work, but she loved it.
"I remember being really tired," she says. "And we filmed in winter, and I was sick a lot of the time."
Landing the role was a dream come true for young Prebble. But she had to balance her arduous schedule with schooling. "There were four school-aged kids in the show. We had a tutor who helped us with our studies." And there were a few sacrifices along the way.
"I acted throughout my teens, and I missed out on some socialising and parties. But I lived at home in Wellington and I still had all my friends around, so it was fine."
Sacrifice, hard work and occasional discomfort come with the territory when you're a child actor. And that can affect parents just as much as kids.
Sheridan Eketone is a mother of four. Her youngest, Leila, plays Tillie Potts on Shortland Street. Eketone acts as chaperone for her daughter — balancing her many other responsibilities with the demands of keeping her daughter on schedule and up to date with lines.
In the four years Leila has been on the show, her character has been run over by a car, kidnapped and had her mother, Sarah (played by Amanda Billing), killed off. Leila, 4, has been too young to understand what her character is going through on screen, but Eketone has found those scenes challenging.
"When Leila was 2 there was a storyline where Tillie was run over. We had to train her to be floppy for a scene where she was carried into the hospital. There was a scene with her lying unconscious in a hospital bed — it was just so awful. The make-up artist and I looked at each other and burst into tears."
Leila's road to small-screen stardom was accidental. Eketone and her husband, Ronnie, were taking their kids for a walk through Wynyard Quarter when they met his oldest friend, a member of
's art department.
They thought little of the meeting until they were emailed a few weeks later by the art department to say South Pacific Pictures was looking for a baby to play the role of a 12-month-old Tillie. "I thought it seemed like a really cool idea, but Leila was actually 14 months at that stage, so I thought she was too big," says Eketone. "But it turned out they wanted her anyway."
Leila was a pro right from the word go. "She was amazing," says her mum. "She'd go to anyone and she never cried. In fact she was so laid back, they struggled to get sound bites of her crying!"
Leila's family ensures there is a clear differentiation between her and Tillie. "When we go to the studio I always ask, 'What do you think Tillie will be wearing today?' There is no confusion around Tillie and Leila."
Leila loves being on set and it shows — in between takes acting alongside Bree Peters (who plays Dr Pania Stevens) she giggles and says it's her first "back and forth" dialogue, but although Peters forgets some lines, Leila is flawless. "She was incredible," Peters enthuses after the take. Eketone says she took the acting business in her stride.
"She understands the process and knows exactly what to do when the cameras role. And she's incredibly good on set. The only time she was any trouble that I can remember was once when she had to wear pyjamas — she didn't understand why she was wearing them in the day."
Duane Evans jnr is also in pyjamas as he waits for the call to go on set for a scene with onscreen dad Vinnie Kruse (played by Pua Magasiva). He has been playing Michael Hampton-Rees since last year, but his acting resume far predates that.
The 11-year-old has been appearing on stage and screen since he was a 2-year-old, modelling children's clothes for Style Pasifika. He also starred as a young Billy T James in the 2011 feature film Billy, and won Best Actor award at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival for his role as Jacob in the short film I'm Going to Mum's.
His mum, Tutavera (who has worked in stage production with husband Duane for years), said her son's talent appeared early.
"It was really from the time that he could talk. He was always a directable child," she said.
Dad Duane snr elaborates: "He did an ad about cervical screening when he was 3. His mother and I were also in it, but it was based around him. The director explained to him that he would be looking at a photo of his Mum, who had gone away. He needed to look sad. When they started filming he started crying. Everyone was amazed."
Evans jnr juggles school with work — often getting up at 6am to be on set. He says it took a while to get used to. "When I started I found it hard to go to school after a morning of acting, because my head would be blown," he says with a cheeky grin. "But I'm getting used to it all now."
His attitude, aptitude and acting ability won him one of the best agents in the business, Gail Cowan, who has represented the likes of Anna Paquin. She says she was delighted to get him on her books.
Cowan is a passionate advocate for her actors, and only too aware of how the unscrupulous can take advantage of children when it comes to the high-stakes world of film and television.
"Under New Zealand law, child actors aren't classified as employees. They are subcontractors," she says. "There are guidelines within which production companies are meant to act, but these aren't enmeshed in law. Children need really good representation to make sure they aren't taken advantage of."
Without a proper contractual agreement, there was nothing stopping children from being forced to work extremely long hours for poor pay.
"The standard New Zealand acting contracts stipulate what hours should be worked, but some international production companies don't use these. It's the agent's job to ensure their clients are looked after.
"This is particularly important when it comes to kids."
Cowan mainly deals with established talent. As well as having the proper "look" for onscreen work, young actors needed to be dedicated to their craft and have parents who supported them all the way.
"It's actually very hard for children to make it in this industry. They and their parents need to be dedicated to training, to taking acting classes and develop their skills.
"Getting an agent is a really big step — there's a high attrition rate."
Back in Mt Albert, Reon Bell looks unlikely to fall victim to the capricious gods of acting any time soon.
His stint on Westside prefaced a role in another television serial, 800 Words.
He plays the nerdy friend of a young Australian boy who has relocated to New Zealand in a transtasman drama to be shown soon on the Seven Network, before a run in New Zealand later in the year.
He doesn't have any work lined up in the next few months — he'll be concentrating on school — but his acting dreams are still shining bright.
In the meantime he's been more concerned about the reaction of his mates at Mt Roskill Grammar after Westside aired last Sunday.
Acting's in his blood
She was the flame-haired heroine of one of New Zealand's most celebrated children's television shows. He is the youngest son in a Kiwi comedy about family life in the 21st century.
But although Kirsty Wilkinson and her son George Beca have childhood acting in common, they aren't a traditional acting family. Wilkinson's acting career ended long before George was born — but there must have been something in the genes and George's talent emerged early.
Wilkinson played Rachel Matheson in
Under the Mountain
in 1981, a psychic twin who helps defeat the evil slug-like Wilberforces in the dramatic retelling of Maurice Gee's beloved book. And the show was a big deal; compulsory viewing for a generation of Kiwi kids.
Although she enjoyed being on set, she hated the attention it garnered and her passion for ballet took over from acting shortly after the show finished.
She says her early experience didn't affect George's decision to act and his experience has been very different from hers.