Auckward Love actress Jess Sayer approached the role of playing infamous runaway millionaire Kara Hurring in tonight's TVNZ programme Runaway Millionaires with an open mind.
In 2009, Westpac accidentally put $10m in the bank account of Hurring's partner Leo Gao. Rather than alert the bank, the pair fled the country for a new life in China — making global headlines.
"Meeting Kara Hurring was surreal," Sayer told Spy.
"I'd just had my hair dyed to match hers, so when I walked into [Runaway Millionaires' producers] Carmen and Deb's office and Kara was just standing there – I think I just started giggling.
"I was so nervous, because I'd come to respect and admire her so much, I felt like I knew her even though we'd never met. But she just hugged me and then it was just … easy. We started talking like old friends and it was really quite special.
"I'd spent a few years in Rotorua and as we talked, we sort of realised the time we had spent there, had had a very similar impact on both of our lives. That was cool, finding a way into each other."
Sayer revealed she wore Hurring's actual sneakers to literally help her walk in her shoes.
Gao and Hurring's exploits captivated international media for two years and the hunt for New Zealand's most wanted couple gripped the nation.
In 2012, Hurring was found guilty of 30 charges relating to the theft and received nine months' home detention and was ordered to pay $11,830 in reparation. More than $3m was never recovered.
"It's a big responsibility playing someone who is still alive, especially someone who other people have a lot of personal feelings about. I think it was important for me to reveal what I had learned about her; both through the script and through meeting Kara in person," Sayer said.
"I also think it was good that I didn't know about Kara's story before I was gifted the role.
Lots of people I've spoken to have their own opinions about Kara and the decisions she made, but I came into the process very open-minded."
The feature follows the couple from Rotorua to five-star hotels in China and then to back alleys as Hurring was left by Gao with no money and a 6-year-old daughter.