Actress JJ Fong has joined Shortland Street in time to sing a charity single for Starship in the show's Christmas cliffhanger. The Step Dave and Go Girls star co-created the comedy web series Flat3 and Friday Night Bites after noticing a lack of Asian Kiwis on screen.

1 You've joined the Shortland Street cast as Filipino nurse Ruby Florez. How would you describe your character?

Ruby's a young, fun-loving nurse who joins the plastic surgery team with Drew McCaskell and Finn. She manages to stir up a bit of drama but not intentionally. She wants to be a good friend to Nicole but secretly falls for her. There's this intense chemistry and attraction between them which leads to a kiss. Nicole is married with a child so things get very messy and complicated. She's not a home breaker, just an example of how good people can do bad things.

2 How was your onscreen kiss with actress Sally Martin - is she a good kisser?

Yes she is! I felt so comfortable being with her. She's the nicest, easiest, professional person to work with. I can't actually remember my first on screen kiss because there have been a few. My first "girl kiss" was with Shara Connelly in Go Girls.


3 What was it like being on the Shortland Street set for the first time?

My first day was really nerve-wracking. Shortland Street's so iconic. It was unlike anything I've ever done before. Just the pace; it was fast and furious but everyone was so supportive. I got a bit starstruck meeting Michael Galvin. I was like, "I used to watch you when I was a kid." He's so funny. On set I'm probably closest to Grace Palmer who plays Lucy. We already knew each other, so hanging out together's nice.

4 You've recorded a single to raise funds for Starship children's hospital. How did that come about?

It's actually a song that Lionel Wellington who plays Leroy and I sing in Shortland Street's annual Christmas cliff-hanger. We recorded a remastered version in the studio to raise money for Starship. Being able to donate my time and love to these kids is very special and will make my Christmas this year that much more enjoyable. The single's out tomorrow (15 December). You can buy it on iTunes.

5 Why did you create the comedy web series Flat3 and Friday Night Bites?

Perlina Lau, Ally Xue and I decided to try it about four years ago because we'd never seen Asian girls doing comedy. We just wanted to have fun and make the kind of diverse content we love. We created the characters and I asked Roseanne Liang to write and direct for us because she was the only female Asian Kiwi writer-director out there at the time. She made My Wedding and Other Secrets. We formed a production company with Kerry Warkia and so far we've made three seasons of Flat3 and our new series Friday Night Nights is on TVNZ On Demand. Asian Kiwis have told us they really relate to it but people of any ethnicity can because it's just about three girls flatting together in Auckland. It's about love, friendships, jobs, boys - all that sort of stuff.

6 Do you think diversity has become more prevalent on screen in recent years?

Yes. Shortland Street's always been quite progressive in having a diverse cast, like they have Tash who is transgender. My characters on Shortland Street, Go Girls, Step Dave and Brokenwood Diaries were all written as specifically Asian but I also audition for other roles now.

Actress JJ Fong says her first day on the Shortland Street was really nerve-wracking.
Actress JJ Fong says her first day on the Shortland Street was really nerve-wracking.

7 What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Pukekohe so I'm a country girl, through and through. Dad's a market gardener. It's a family business started by my grandparents who came from Canton for a better life in the 1920s. My brother and I have never been interested in taking over the family business. He's a chef. Our parents have always supported our career choices. They're not the traditional sort of Chinese parents who want their kids to be a doctor, accountant or business person. They're really fun people. We're very close. Dad's been a really strong mentor for me. He's taught me a lot.

8 Were you into acting from a young age?

No, I was really into dancing and art. I didn't try acting until I was in my 20s. I went to ACG Strathallan College in Karaka. I was a prefect and a bit of a nerd, always studying and quite diligent. In 7th form I was either going to apply for Elam School of Fine Arts or dance school. My parents pushed me to do dance because your body's only young for so long. I did a two-year diploma at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre in jazz, tap, hip-hop and contemporary dance. Music video-style dancing, real cool, sassy stuff. Then I did the musical theatre course, got really into jazz and formed a jazz duo.

9 Did you ever go to drama school?

No, I actually got rejected from acting school but then I kept getting work so I didn't need to. I did my first stage play with Auckland Theatre Company last year, Rupert, and learnt so much watching amazing, experienced actors like Jennifer Ward Lealand, Stuart Devenie, Adam Gardiner and Stephen Lovatt, mainly the confidence to own the character. They're like: "These are my decisions, this is my character and this is me." It's not arrogance, it's just knowing who they are that makes them so convincing.

10 What is it you like about acting?

I like how it pushes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me to find something different within myself that I've never found before. Each job I learn something about myself and then I take it to the next. It's just growing up I suppose. I'd rather do raw characters, the real gritty stuff.

11 Do you have a partner?

Yes, but it's highly top secret.

12 What do you like doing in your spare time?

Most of my spare time is spent making our web series. We shoot one weekend a month but there's a lot of work getting the scripts done, organising costumes and the art department. Us girls talk about it every day. It never stops. I love working out. I've started running half marathons. I love baking and cooking Italian food like pastas and lasagnas. I'm into health. I used to be carb-free but you can't keep that up forever. Now I take a more balanced approach.