Odds are that Beth Allen and the character she plays on Shortland Street, Dr Brooke Freeman, wouldn't be best buddies in real life. For a start they're streets apart style-wise: ultra-fashion-conscious Brooke is usually decked out in clingy silky blouses, high-
waisted skirts and high heels; but Beth usually gets around in jeans and a T-shirt. Brooke's hair is painstakingly straightened and her make-up is always at hand; Beth prefers the bare-faced look and lets her natural curls run riot. Brooke watches her calorie intake carefully; but Beth doesn't deny herself sweet treats.
Chatting between bites of chocolate slice at a cafe just down the road from her Grey Lynn, Auckland flat, the down-to-earth 24-year-old looks much younger and prettier minus the heavy make-up. But as she's come straight from the set, she still sports that "Brooke leftover" - straight hair.
Each morning hair and make-up artists slave for an hour and-a-quarter to perfect the Brooke look - and that's before the costume department gets its hands on her.
"Today I was wearing pants on set rather than the usual skirt and I was like, 'Wow, look what I can do with my legs'."
Certainly Shortland Street's latest vixen has been putting those pins to good use. Since she strutted onscreen in July, the enigmatic, eye-catching locum has been doctor-hunting, playing off Chris and Kip while having a secret affair with the equally mysterious Dr Ethan Pierce. Brooke, an intriguing mass of contradictions, is assertive yet vulnerable, kind-hearted yet manipulative, gregarious yet aloof - so while we haven't much warmed to her, we don't hate her yet either.
Recently we've learned that, despite her pricey clothes, she's certainly not rolling in dosh: she is concealing her tiny, grungy digs from her colleagues. And she has a touch of kleptomania, stealing cutlery and glassware from flash restaurants.
Last week, Chris discovered that Brooke changed her surname, because her father is Grant Marsden, a business tycoon who skipped the country after insider-trading accusations. Brooke has never recovered from the humiliation of going from Little Miss Rich to penniless when Daddy lost the lot. More mysteries will be revealed soon.
As a young teen, when Allen had a "huge crush" on Dr Johnny Marinovich (Stelios Yiakmis), the avid Shortland Street fan never imagined she'd one day end up as the resident player, vying for the attentions of "Dr Love". But a part on our stalwart soap was always on the cards for Titirangi-born-and-bred Allen, who at 14 came close to getting the Shortland Street part of Erin Kingston.
Instead, she took on the role of Amber on the international-hit TV show The Tribe.
Post-Tribe came a film-and-history BA at Auckland University and occasional acting parts, including guest roles on TV series Power Rangers, Xena and Outrageous Fortune. "I mainly played models and Power Ranger girlfriends who tended to have the depth of a puddle," says Allen. "Brooke's got a bit more to her, definitely."
Written with Allen in mind, the part appealed partly because of the character's complexity, and partly because of the challenge of playing someone so different to herself. She's starting to get recognised when out and about. "I thought I was going to get away with it with my curly hair but I was in Lynn Mall yesterday and people were looking sideways a little bit, mainly middle-aged men." Suddenly realising how that sounds, she blushes.
Puppydog doctors aside, her character of Brooke has also had to spurn the attentions of lesbian nurse Maia Jeffries, played by former schoolmate Anna Julienne, who used to regularly beat Allen in speech and drama competitions.
"I finally got to get my own back," Allen says. "I'm kidding - we laughed a lot in that scene."
And Allen hopes Brooke will be batting those eyelashes for a while to come. "She has enough depth that she does have room to move as a character, though I still don't know if I'd be her best friend."
* Shortland Street screens on TV2, weeknights at 7pm.