● My first job was ...

working at a Chinese takeaway in Mairangi Bay, where I grew up. I would have been 15 and worked there for a couple of years in weekends and holidays. It was hot, greasy work that exacerbated my teenage acne but paid very well in cash and hot chips.

● It taught me ...

the value of working hard as the dinner rush was full-on and you don't want to mess with hungry North Shoreites. It taught me the value of food prep and, to this day, I am still an excellent maker of hamburgers. It's all about the order in which you place everything, plus a well-buttered toasted bun.

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● My big break came …

when I was down in Christchurch, a wide-eyed student at the Fringe Festival, which had local and international tutors teaching various fringe arts like mime, acting and physical theatre.

I was billeted with Michelle Hine, who was teaching clown and who gave the most memorable and moving performance impersonating a monkey, which I still remember more than 30 years later.

It was in this magical time that my then-dodgy agent sent me the audition for a new TV series, called Gloss. Michelle was kind enough to coach me and when I went to the audition, I nailed it - thanks to her.

Gloss was a ground-breaking series for New Zealand, sophisticated, funny and driven on both sides of the camera by women. I had the wonderful Ilona Rogers as my mother who taught me about the art of acting on camera and how to be a kind, caring, professional team player. It still is a highlight of my career.

● The last job I quit was …

I've never actually quit a job but considered doing so in a four-month tour of Educating Rita in Oz, but when my agent told me how much I'd have to pay the producers I soon changed my mind. It was actually a great show and I loved playing Rita and all the tricky bits that went along with a low-budget tour have faded into fond, funny memories now.

More recently, last year in fact, I did try to quit Shortland Street - The Musical because I thought I was letting the team down and couldn't do the job justice. I tried to encourage the director and writer to find someone who already knew how to dance while doing complex harmonies. They told me they believed I'd get there and so that was that.

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I did end up getting there, although I was in such a high state of anxiety for the rehearsal period that I missed my own 50th (I was at the party in body alone) but I ended up LOVING doing the show and hope it's the start of many musicals to come!

● The most famous person I've ever met is …

Tom Cruise. During drama school I worked in my friend's gift shop at the Ritz Carlton in Double Bay, Sydney. That was back when everybody stayed at the Ritz Carlton.

Tom was in town doing Mission Impossible 2 and Nicole was doing Moulin Rouge. Their two kids, Bella and Connor, would come into the shop every week with their lovely nanny and spend their pocket money in our awesome kids' section. Bella and I got along really well. She was quite a serious girl and we'd discuss at length the merits of a pencil case versus a sparkly pen with feathers on top.

One day they came in and I waved at Bella to join me in the kids' section but I couldn't help notice the shop had gone deathly quiet, so I looked around and there's Mr Tom admiring our large display of smelly candles. I ignored him and Bella and I proceeded to do our thing, going over all the new possibilities for her and eventually agreeing on something shiny, girly, fabulous and new.

At the counter she pulled out her plastic bank coin bag to pay and that's when I told her very seriously that she needed to ask her parents for more pocket money so she could buy a decent purse, because this - and I held up her plastic bag - "just won't do". She considered the plastic bag and solemnly agreed. I could see her little brain working out who was going to be the softest touch to hit up for a raise.

They left and the women in the shop breathed again. But then Mr Tom came back and, with that full-voltage smile and charm oozing out of every pore, leaned over the counter so I could smell his minty, fresh breath and put out his hand: "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name."

I shook his hand and told him my name and he said, still holding on to my hand: "Thank you so much, Lisa, for looking after Bella the way you do, I really appreciate it and I know she does too." And with that he floated out, flapping his little white angel wings, which he had back then. So that was that.

He's the most famous. But the most fun I had was learning the Texan Two-Step with Luke Perry at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles while we were filming the Women's Day ads. I had such a crush on him when he was in Beverly Hills 90210 and he was nicer than I could ever have imagined and even better looking in person. He also gave a great shoulder massage. Rest in peace, you lovely man.

● The best time I've had on set/stage was …

That's a hard one, because bar a couple of times it's been three decades of absolute joy. McLeod's Daughters was definitely a highlight, especially when we were on the horses and working with the animals out in that beautiful landscape. Bridie Carter and I would pinch ourselves, mid-muster, and go, "Is this really happening? Are we being paid to do this?"

And Shortland Street - The Musical, despite my initial fears, ended up being an absolute blast of a show to do, so much fun. Just before that, in Palmy, I did That Bloody Woman, which was a very special role playing Kate Sheppard and telling the story of our Kiwi women getting us the vote, all wrapped up in an irreverent punk rock musical. We had a gorgeous cast and creative team who really bonded, the show sold out and it ended up being an extremely special experience for me and one that I will always treasure.

● But the worst was …

in Oz, thank goodness - go Kiwis! One was that tour of Educating Rita I just told you about, only because it was so lonely and exhausting driving the length and breadth of that country. There were only three of us and neither of the others wanted to play with me outside work. One did beer and cricket in his motel room and the other did free crackers and video games in hers. For four months.

The other was a film I did a couple of years back, which is the worst job I've ever done and the worst acting I've ever done. It involved a full-on daily war between the producers and the director, rewriting the script with the director until the wee hours of every morning, an actress who acted in slow motion and wouldn't look at me if there was a better camera angle for her face and the lead who'd nod off during our scenes whenever I was talking to him and having my close-ups.

● My dream role would be …

one I'm writing for screen, which I can't tell you about yet. For stage I would love to play Martha from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Violet in August: Osage County. And when we do a female version of Waiting for Godot, either Estragon or Vladimir.

• Lisa Chappell performs in Auckland Theatre Company's season of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, September 11-26. See atc.co.nz