KATHERINE HOBY finds that acting - as opposed to acting up - is paying off for Leighton Cardno, star of a new TV3 drama as well as Shortland Street.

After being expelled the first time around, Leighton Cardno has gone back to school.

The 24-year-old Shortland Street star says acting in the show is like being back at drama school. He is constantly learning on the job.

Just to set the record straight, Cardno wasn't kicked out of drama school. In fact he walked into a theatre job two days out of the Unitec School of Performing Arts' three-year course.


He was, however, expelled from secondary school and fired from a job at a service station.

He says he "fell into acting." After a smart mouth and excess energy got him into trouble at school, he signed up for a performing arts course in Bay of Plenty and was immediately hooked.

Theatre experience led to television work and, last year, Shortland Street. He notices the difference between stage and screen.

"Every minute counts on TV," he says. "Shortland Street is so fast, moment to moment, and so time-pressured.

"It's also about looking the other person in the eye and telling them the truth. It keeps you grounded."

There is no possibility of becoming big-headed or arrogant on the New Zealand-made show.

"You are just a little jigsaw piece in the scheme of things and that is constantly being brought home," he says.

"It is almost like being back at drama school. It does become intense, heated, and at times frustrating, but it is exhilarating too. I'm loving the fact that I'm learning and being constantly challenged."

He says his character on Shortland Street, Dr Adam Heywood, is "everything that's serious in me - and that's not much."

The Heywood family - Adam, his mother Barbara and troublemaking brother Marshall - are a relatively recent cast addition.

"We're people you can relate to," he says. "We're the middle-class striving family, never learning lessons," Leighton says. "We're good for the Street."

During his first month on Shortland Street, Cardno was also making the last of Being Eve, a new teen drama expected to air on TV3 this year.

"It was weird, creatively," he says. "I had to think of a new character while living the old one."

He plays Ned, the brother of main character Eve, and finds it hard to pin down what that person is like.

"Ned was the character who has the loosest facets of me. I'm still trying to get my head around him.

"Adam is high-focus on being a doctor, Ned is equally high-focus on watching television. He's the sort of person who would wear jandals to a funeral."

He thinks the writing and filming of Being Eve was revolutionary.

"It's fantastic, a real breakthrough in drama. It's very with-it and cutting-edge."

He was terrified when he started in the drama. "I had 14 scenes a day, whereas I had had 14 scenes a week at any time before that."

Now he's just happy. "I'm learning, working with great people and getting paid for it. What's better than that?"

He says he is focusing fulltime on the Street at the moment and not peering too far into the future.

"I'm not looking at being a Ken Barlow, though," he says, referring to William Roache's character on Coronation Street, who has been in the show since it began 40 years ago.

And does he think his old school principal would be surprised to see him making it on the small screen?

"I'm sure if he's seen me he's spluttering away ... and still thinks I have a smart mouth."